48. Tom Peters (part 10) changes his mind
Driving from the rear view mirror doesn’t work too well and of Tom Peters’ 43 excellent companies identified in In Search of Excellence a large proportion had a lot of problems in the next few years. Now I am not saying you should therefore ignore the last 9 installments. The ideas he explored give a lot of food for thought and there is a lot that is still valid in there and needs exploring by any business, whether small or not. But looking backwards will not answer the questions: it may give you some ideas.
For Tom Peters, looking back on the results of these 43 businesses in the next five years led him to write ANOTHER best-selling book in 1987, Thriving on Chaos. The thesis of this book was that “everything known for sure about management 15 years earlier is being challenged….. Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change”.
Well, I guess that explains why the excellent companies of his previous book were mostly no longer at the top of the tree. It was not that the previous book was wrong, just that the world had changed! Well, surprise, surprise, all businesses live in a changing world, and, although the pace of change may be increasing, this has always been so, so why so surprised?
The new business goal that Peters espoused was flexibility: “the winners of tomorrow will deal proactively with chaos”. This was to be the source of market advantage. And this was before the internet hit the world of business.
Peters came up with a number of what had been regarded as axioms which he said were no longer true. These were:
- bigger is better and biggest is best
- human involvement should become more specialised or be eliminated by automation
- that to win you need a big leap forward
Peters said these rules (if they ever were so regarded) were no longer valid and came up with 12 alternatives which anticipate a lot of more recent business writing (including Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell which I discussed in an earlier series). I will cover these 12 concepts in my next blog. They are particularly relevant to small businesses and to difficult business environments, so well worth pondering now.