Potpourri: Insights From Tom Peters: Self-help
Watching a presentation by management guru Tom Peters is like taking the proverbial sip from a fire hose – while blindfolded. Business insights cascade from the “In Search of Excellence” author, consultant, and speaker as he roams a crowded room wearing a wireless microphone while scores of PowerPoint slides flicker by on an otherwise empty stage. You don’t know where to concentrate at first. Peters somewhere in the audience? The visuals? His voice? But uncertainty of how best to pay attention fades with the realization, “Wow, this guy sure is throwing out a lot of useful stuff!” So you settle back, stare into space, and simply listen, occasionally glancing at a slide or at Peters ambling by.
When he appeared in our area it was my first Tom Peters encounter although I had read “Search.” His preparation and depth were strong. Up at 3am before this session, he had culled hundreds of constantly updated slides for those most pertinent to this audience, and then employed them as starting points for hours of monologue without notes.
From this stream of insights most audience members surely found nuggets of wisdom. As for me, the following are the Peters’ tidbits that resonated and seemed to have lasting implications: (If you want more, go to tom.peters.com.)
Failure is good, success is boring – This was close to a mantra. If you are not failing then you are not taking the risks necessary for the greatest success. “Put yourself in harm’s way – you will get more interesting,” he said. If you take the easy route you will not reach your potential.
Peters said he once had to introduce Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. While researching his remarks, he asked a Walton colleague for the retail icon’s most remarkable attribute. The man said that was easy, “Walton was absolutely unafraid of failure.”
Peters took this appreciation of risk even further by urging leaders to reward excellent failures and punish mediocre successes.
“It’s the women, stupid!” – The business world is closer to feeling the full force of the skills and talents of women. While they are not yet fully represented in top executive suites, in almost every other way women are bringing to bear an almost gender-specific knack for team-building, intuitive decision-making, and creativity. They also seem to sidestep most of the counterproductive aggression that men sometimes bring to management and negotiation.
Several years ago I began to realize that 70% of my consulting business was conducted through and with women. Now I know why.
Design matters. Design is the wellspring of branding and the reason we fall in love with something. It is the primary differentiation among products. When you think about it, especially now that women are beginning to “rule” with their more refined aesthetic sense, it behooves all of us to ensure that our products and services are marketed with “feel” and “sensory appeal.” Upon hearing this, I immediately began to rethink the creative look of my company materials and website.
Age power will rule the 21st century. Peters said Italy has more people over age 60 than under age 20. It’s a harbinger of the coming population shift toward more older people impacting every aspect of society. Smart employers will tap that growing mass of experience while savvy marketers and product/service creators will take aim at the unmatched disposable income.
“If you play against less than the best, you will get worse!” While obviously meant for the business environment, this Peters admonition was driven home to me recently on the racquetball court. I had adjusted my playing habits to specifically seek matches with tougher opponents. Two things immediately happened. I lost more often. My skills improved more rapidly. We have all seen it in the work world. If you want to drive yourself to a higher plane of excellence then you must measure yourself against the best.
In conclusion, we learn from experience since there is no substitute for reality. As a practical matter, however, we cannot reasonably rely upon the school of hard knocks to teach all. (You can’t jump into the deep end if you haven’t first learned to swim.) Therefore, we must rely upon teachers like Tom Peters to point out the potholes as well as the blue skies so we can often avoid unnecessary grief and more quickly discover the joys of greater achievement.