Tom Peters, yes, THE Tom Peters is on the show! And he has a new book to share to the world called Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism. If you’re one of those people who have yet to experience the magic of the guy, Tom is quite simply one of the most influential management thinkers of our day. A prolific writer known for his iconic book, In Search of Excellence, Tom almost single-handedly created the entire management guru genre. Today, he reunites with his mentee and former second-in-command, Steve Farber for an extremely insightful conversation. For those who know Tom, you know you’re in for a treat. For those that don’t, rest assured that you will be. You might want to get something to write on for this.
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Excellence Now (And Forever) With Tom Peters
Do I have a good one for you? You’re going to want to read this at SteveFarber.com/podcast because my guest is the legendary Tom Peters. You probably fit into 1 of 2 categories when you hear Tom Peters’ name. Category number one is, “Who’s that?” Category number two is, “The Tom Peters?” If you’re in category number one, you are about to make a transition into category number two. Tom Peter is quite simply one of the most influential management thinkers of our day. His original claim to fame was a book called In Search of Excellence which came out in the ‘80s.
Since then, he’s written another eighteen books. He’s got a new book called Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism but here are a couple of stats that you may find interesting about the legendary Tom Peters. He’s been at this work now for many years. He’s given over 2,500 speeches in all 50 States, 67 countries around the world to 5 million people plus. He’s taken 7,500 flights, flown 5 million miles, has nineteen books with a total of 10 million or so copies sold, 600 syndicated columns, 250 miscellaneous articles, 3,000 blog posts, close to 100,000 tweets by now, and he is, as you can imagine, incredibly prolific.
I don’t think this is any exaggeration, he has been credited with single–handedly creating the entire management guru genre. He was the first guy to write an incredible book, hit the stage, and start teaching people to implement these incredible ideas and he’s been at it ever since. He’s also one of my mentors. I was the Vice-President of Tom’s company from 1994 to 2000. This is a little bit of a reunion here as well and it’s a great conversation and so many gems. Get out a piece of paper if you still use that, an electronic sketchpad like I use, your device, or whatever have something to capture some of these ideas because you don’t want to miss any of this or go and read it at the website. Here it is. My wonderful conversation with the legendary Tom Peters. Enjoy.
Here we are. Tom Peters, welcome to the show. It’s so great to see you.
It’s so great to see you, Farber. I refuse to use your first name because you never use your first name.
I do have a first name. It’s not often used, however.
You’ve erased it even your passport.
I have to admit, whenever I see you, whether it’s online or like this, it’s been a while since you and I chatted. I get a little nostalgic. As I was preparing for our conversation, I was taking a trip down memory lane. I want to take you there for a second because I want you to know the impact that you’ve had on me. I know you know that and you’d say, “I know, whatever,” but I want you to know it from me and I want you to know it in this way. My first day at the Tom Peters’ company was on May 4th, 1994.
I remember it was that day because in my first day at the office at 555 Hamilton Avenue in Palo Alto, I walked in, starry-eyed kid basically, and there was Tom Peters. You were sitting there on the first floor of the office surrounded by piles of this book, The Tom Peters Seminar. You were sending it out to 1,000 of your closest friends in advance. This is that book that I got from you on that day. This was before we were on a last–name basis. It says, “For Steve, welcome and congrats on a running start. Tom, 5/4/94.”You'll love this interview with the legendary @tom_peters – arguably the most influential business and management sage of our age. Click To Tweet
That’s cool. Do you know what the Tom Peters Seminar was, that book? The book was in ‘92 Liberation Management came out and it was 900 pages long. The doorstop. That’s one of the viewers said in Businessweek. He was a good friend. He said, “If you don’t like the book, it’ll make a great book.” A doorstop to which I responded fine with me. The royalties are the same. The Tom Peters Seminar was essentially the short version of that book.
I remember that was the first time you had written a book with actual pictures in it and stuff. The formatting was very unique.
With that, we have to take a two–second interruption. Thank you to my friend, Ken Silvia, who designed several of our books thereafter. He’s a 200% great guy.
Very cool stuff. This was also the time where I remember you said you discovered the power of lists. Your writing style started to change. You started to write more lists like your book. It’s essentially a list as well.
You lied about starting then but you’re right about the importance. Back when In Search of Excellence came out, the number 1, 2 and 3 books on the list were Ken Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager, In Search Of Excellence and John Naisbitt’s futurist book. The name of which I can’t remember. Ken Blanchard had been my roommate at Cornell and I ran into Kenny somewhere. He said, “Do you know why we’re number 1, 2, and 3?” I said, “No, Kenny. I have no idea.” He said, “It’s because we all have lists.”
He had a list of three. John had whatever he had. We had the eight basics of excellence and then to get reinforcement out there in the Bay Area, and you may remember it. I doubt that it exists anymore. There was a magazine called Sunset Magazine. The boss was a guy by the name of Bill Lane. Bill attended one of my seminars in Palo Alto. It was after the hard paperback that’s come out. He said, “I bought your book for everybody in the firm. I bought another copy of the paperback. The first page has a list.” There it is.
Fast forward to now, you’ve got Excellence Now, Extreme Humanism, but the pre–cursor book that’s already available on Kindle is Excellence Now: The Forty-Three Number Ones. It’s a list of number ones.
Lists work A. Storytelling works B. There are a million books on storytelling now but the one vignette I remember was one of the first books on storytelling was a guy who worked for the World Bank and gave presentations. He said, “What I learned about stories was a good story that could wipe out 250 pages of analysis and unreadable graphs.” It’s not funny because as we go through all this conspiracy theory stuff, we see people getting literally engaged to insane stories but they are such powerful nuggets. You’ve used them forever and I’ve used them forever. I hope and it’s true, at least in your case, it’s mainly been for the good but stories are as bad powerful as they are good powerful. Two hundred eighty characters or less for up the entire world. Where are you living?
I’m in San Diego.
One of the good guy. Our Palo Alto is not what it used to be and I’m unhappy.
I want to get to that. One other little bit of nostalgia especially given what you said about stories. When I first started at the Tom Peters Company in ’94, I was an aspiring writer and I had written at that point a bunch of essays on customer service and shit like that. I drummed up the courage to share them with you. I left them in your office. The next day, I came into the office and on my chair was a note. I’m going to read it to you. It was from your pad. You said, “You can tell a story and write, my friend. I’ve barely dipped into your stuff. I’ve been trying to get ready for a trip but I love what I’ve read, Tom.” I carried that note with me for years. It made such a huge difference and it took you five seconds to write it.
Thank you for what you said. I appreciate your response.
You’re welcome. For a guy like you has reached, no exaggeration, millions of people over the years, it might be easy for you to forget the individual personal impact that you can have on people but given what’s you’re writing about now is exactly to the point. This is what you’re focusing on. I want everybody to know this simple quote from the introduction to the new book or at least the pre-released version of the book. You said and I quote, “People are not an important part of the show. People are the show.” That’s my 43 years in a nutshell. It’s all about the people and the connection.
I’m not very good at this thing. I say somewhere there that the term human resources should be removed from the English language because I am not a human resource. Let me tell you about human resources. I was an only child born on November 7th, 1942 in the middle of the night. My father finally got in to see my mother early in the morning and there I was, his only child. He looked at my mother and he said, “Evelyn, finally, our own little human resource.” He did not say that. There’s something else I wrote in another paragraph or down there and some guy wrote something and he was saying, “People are our number one asset.”
I said, “I’m not an asset. I’m Tom. If I do good work for you, I will be doing good work as Tom, not an asset.” You do this for a living. You’re at least as good at it as I am. Those are insanely important things. I say one thing on the little note that you were kind enough to say. A guy, I don’t know if you met him or not who attended a seminar of mine was from 3M. I still remember his name who was Tate. He came to some reunion and he had retired. We were talking about thank you notes or something. He said, “Let me tell you the power of a thank you note.”
A tough engineering company he said, “A guy came up to me and thanked me for a thank you note that I had sent him fifteen years ago that he still had framed and hanging on his cubicle wall.” Now, some people who are reading this would say that’s the biggest crocker crap in the world. I would stand in front of them and yawn like crazy. It doesn’t surprise me. I got lucky and I’ve always said the number one key to my success was the correct choice of parents. One thing my mother was a fanatic about was the two words, “Thank you.” My description of it is you’re opening presents at Christmas time, you’re halfway through the presence, she calls a stop, you sit down, and you write the thank you notes for the first half before you can start opening. That’s almost true.
Does it blow your mind, Tom, that here we are, sitting in 2021, and we’re still talking about thank you notes? Shouldn’t this be ridiculously obvious to everybody? For some reason, at least not in the context of business. Why do you think that is?
I’d love to blame it all on business schools but only 85% of it. In the practical terms that we deal with and then I’ll try to circle back to the philosophic. Hiring practices are all screwed up. We quote a guy in the book whose name is Peter Miller. He Founded and runs a successful biotech company called Optinose. His wonderful one-liner was, “We only hire nice people.” That’s fine but the part that was important to me is he said, “As you can imagine, being a biotech company, we have some slots that are only fillable by people who have a bloody degree when you can’t even pronounce the words in their degree but I learned the funny thing. Even with that degree, there are a lot of people who have it. don’t hire the jerks.”
I’m not necessarily a fan of the EQ test that Goldman has but in terms of EQ, Emotional Quotient, and I’m an old fart now and I’m rude about this in the book. I hire for EQ 100% of jobs. If you hire for EQ 100% of jobs multiply that by ten in your selection of managers. In particular, one of the things I say that I religiously believe is the number one asset in any company is its first-line managers. There’s enough research to support that point. It sinks a large ship, not a small ship but people can get better at these things. On the other hand, it would help a lot if we would hire nice people. It’s not that hard. He goes on because it is a middle–sized company.
He says, “That all one–liner is true. One rotten apple boils the basket. I’m so intense about the culture of this organization that I can’t take a chance on that but I don’t know, Steve.” Somewhere in the book probably I said, “I’ve written nineteen books. My family would love to have you buy all nineteen because the royalty stream would be good but here’s my dirty little secret. They’re all about exactly the same thing. You don’t need to bother, just pick one randomly off the shelf.”
“Let’s go for the new one.”
I’m all for that. It’s true.
Let me ask you a question about that. One of your lists in this new book is what do you call your seven commandments leadership amidst soul crushing tumbled and they are these. Be kind, be caring, be patient, be forgiving, be present, be positive, walk in the other person’s shoes. The phrase that I’m hearing a lot now is building on as related to the title Excellence Now. If I could put parentheses behind now, it’s the words more than ever. What I’m hearing is now more than ever, these things are important.
Not only that. I don’t think crude terms is the right choice of words. The other point that I’m making during this period of time going back to last March 2020, the way that you behave, Ms. or Mr. Leader during these months will define who you are as a professional human being for your whole effing life. This is the ball game. The other part of me relative to that list which I don’t know where it came from, but I don’t think it’s all bad. We’ve got this list and the list is very short hand, be kind, be caring, be patient, and be forgiving. I said, “I can reduce it all to four words. The four words are, don’t be an asshole.” What you preach for a long time is a good thing not to be an asshole in general, but it’s a good thing times a thousand right now.
Smart alec remarks is you’re a boss and Zoom meetings are your thing. One of the women or guys has got three kids at home and everything else. You show up right on time for a meeting, you’re that guy, I look you in the eye and I say, “Farber, I am giving you a bad review for this meeting. I’m giving you a bad review because you showed up on time for the 9th straight meeting. I know damn well the shit you’re having to deal with at home. Feel free to miss the meeting, come late to the meeting or what have you. As far as I’m concerned, nine on–time arrivals in a row, that’s bad behavior.”
You mean it. We do a crappy job of selecting people. We do a lousy job on the first–line managers, I think. It’s that old thing. You’ve said it, now I said it 100 times. We promote somebody because of their technical skill. They can add one-on-one and get to faster than anybody else and not their people skill and leadership is, “Sorry for all that time you invested, Tom. Getting your Cornell Engineering degree but now you’re a leader. Here’s the percentage of your job which is about people. One hundred, no rounding error.”
As our colleague, Dick Heller used to say, “What happens a lot is that people get good at job A. They’re so good at job A but they’re promoted to job B which is managing the people who do job A.” It’s an entirely different. Not only it’s a different skillset. It’s a different attitude and a different level of connection.The term 'human resources' should be removed from the English language. Click To Tweet
Engineering always with a number and then give you a good answer. There’s a little vignette somebody sent me that I put in the book. This was in a University of Pennsylvania article. An agency that does home services for the elderly. In a way, it’s technical. You do to some point a nursing assistant or PA or what have you. In this charming business, the average turnover is roughly 70%. This group said, “Let’s see if we can figure out a way to hire people who stick around.” They changed their hiring practices. One of the things that was part of being hired was you went to a little social engagement.
I‘m working for the organization and I look for such things as this far I listen. When he listens does he paying attention to me? When somebody else starts to talk, he shut up even if they were talking over him? A dozen things like that. They also ask, “What’s your away from the workplace? What’s your community involvement? You don’t have to be a scout leader. You don’t have to be the head of this or that but what are you doing in the community to make the community a little bit better?” As they use the precise words, they said, “We started hiring less on degrees and more on these personal attitudes.” For those who like numbers, and this is a nice precise one with a decimal point, the average turnover in eighteen months went from 70% to 1.7%.
The number of hospitalizations of their clients dropped by about 40%. The length of the hospitalizations of the clients who had to go to the hospital, the length of stay went down by 25% and I believe those numbers. I love this, Farber. I’m so delighted it’s in the book. Google did a study of its best employees and its best teams. Google doesn’t F around on things like that. It was thorough methodical. Eight factors associated with best employees. The first seven were soft stuff. Does she listen? Does he contribute? Is he respectful of other people’s views? Number eight on the list was STEM.
They did the same thing for teams. Google was one of those disgusting places that ranks you and I as an A-player or B–player. The wonderful thing in innovation was the B–teams beat the hell out of the A-teams. The same stuff. I respect your idea. Particularly in the techie world like that. One of the ones at the top of the list of the B–teams was no bullying. Once again, it came out so perfectly. Eight traits, seven of them the soft stuff. The fact that it was great and this home services company is unbelievable, fabulously wonderful. The fact that the same damn thing holds down to the dotting of the I’s and the crossing of the T’s in the techiest of tech firms know the humankind, that’s lovely. It’s like, “You can’t hide from me, dude.” You can’t say, “You can’t get away with that one. You can’t do it in my world.”
The other part of it too which I’m sure you read in the book and you’ve heard me say for a million years relevant to my world is, “The world would be a hell of a lot better off if women were running it.” We’ve already seen that during COVID but I believe the same thing is true times whatever in the world of enterprise. What I love because I do have that hard notes background on issues like women as better leaders, find me a container ship and I’ll fill it up with studies which support that point. It is not anecdotal.
Why do you think that is? I know I’m overgeneralizing, is it because of a more natural desire to connect and be present with other people? What’s going on there?
I have to put an asterisk on it because I always get in trouble. When I say the research says, “Women are, by a long shot, better leaders than men.” I am so clear about this because I get beaten up. I am talking about a bell–shaped curve. There are very shitty women leaders and there are incredible men leaders but on average, a woman leader is and I always have to put that asterisk because somebody nails me to the wall appropriately. It is more attention to one’s fellow human being. My favorite book title in a long time is something written by a woman by the name of LouAnn Lofton who is at The Motley Fool and the title of the book is Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl: And Why You Should, Too. Women beat the hell out of men on investments.
The main reason is because men get into their bloody competitive things and they take long shots on shit and women are a lot more steady. What’s important to this little bit of our conversation was one of the biggest studies which was reported in the Harvard Business Review is done by a guy who I know well who you may know, Jack Zenger, “The women outscored men on 12 of 16 traits,” but what they said and underlined including the traits that are thought of as the hard traits like, “Delivering results.” You deliver better results if you have a team of people who gets along and is appreciated.
My favorite other thing is Louann Brizendine. She’s at medical school, UCSF, University of California, San Francisco. She’s a neuropsychiatrist. She wrote a book called The Female Brain and it has a jillion details but the one that I love and I believe I’m accurate by the age of five days, your identical sister twin is making three times more eye contact with her fellow human being than you are. I don’t know how the people who are reading this blog will think but that to me is a bomb going off. It revealed itself at the 72–hour mark.
It reminds me of Kouzes and Posner’s research. This was from a while ago. I’d be curious to see if they’ve updated this particular element of it. They have their five practices of exemplary leaders. When they did the comparison between men and women, what they’ve found is 4 of the 5 practices, they were essentially even across the board but on the practice that they call encouraging the heart, women scored higher than men. According to their model, all five of the practices are important. You have to do all of them. Women, in general, are better leaders because they score higher in that one. It’s that hard connection. As you know, I wrote a book called Love Is Just Damn Good Business and people are not accustomed to hearing that word in the business context.Once you’re a leader, 100% of your job is about people. Click To Tweet
They’re even less accustomed to hearing it from a guy who looks like me. I’ve literally had people come up to me after a speech and say, “It took me a while to figure out what you were saying because I was confused. You step that on stage. You look like a football player and you’re talking about love. I had to get my mind around that.” My point is the stereotype is that this love, connection, compassion, caring, eye contact, and presence, that’s all women stuff that guys have to learn but it’s not the case. There’s apparently some societal leaning. It’s maybe societal or biological that gives women a bit of an edge in that but as human stuff. It’s not male–female stuff.
I’m sure you know this quote but it’s one of my favorite ones of all which speaks exactly to your word. A guy who was a lot tougher than you was a former Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi who was Bill Belichick on steroids. He was a really good one. My favorite Lombardi line was, “You do not have to like your players but you must love them.” That brings me to tears. My only problem with Jim and Barry’s conclusion which I buy obviously is most of the research says the women outscore the men on damn near everything. There’s a big study by a guy named Lawrence Pfaff that I report a big study, a lot of people, high end, and all that stuff.
Women outscored men on 20 out of 20 traits. As he said, “Let me give you a break. Only 15 of the 20 were with statistical significance.” I adore both Jim and Barry and because we’re often dealing with tough guys, I don’t want to fall into the trap. I don’t want to say, “Women are better at boy shit.” They are tough as hell but I love your book title. I have a term that I guess it’s not quite as clean as love that I use in that list of 43 and then in the big book. The number one trait of effective leaders and it is called Give a Shitism.
I stole it in a way. There was a guy I knew, his name is Barry Gibbons and he was a Brit. He ran this thing called Chef and Brewer for one of the big companies. He came to the United States and he ran Burger King and he turned it around. I remember in his autobiography, he said, “I didn’t have a vision for Burger King. I didn’t have a mission statement for Burger King. What I wanted was 250,000 employees from the checkout line to the accounting line. Two hundred fifty thousand employees, each of whom gave a shit.” I stole directly from Barry. I’m going to go back to this thing that we said, practical, pragmatic hire for it, promote for it. I do believe that you or I can become a better listener but it would be nice to start on the opponent’s 20 yard line instead of your own 20 yard line to use football language that day before or two days before the Super Bowl or whatever. I’m not a good macroeconomist. I don’t know what we’re going to do with all the unkind people.
The message about hiring people who give a shit. Hiring people who like people, however you test for that whether it’s inviting them to a party like you talked about, some assessment, or seeing if they make eye contact with you when you’re doing an interview. There’s also, I believe, a responsibility on the leaders in the company to do the best they can to create an environment that people are going to love working in. I can hire great people then squash them with the wrong culture.
One of the people who we reported in the last book, and again, it was a guy by the name of Richard Sheridan who is in Ann Arbor and runs a sizable software company. He wrote a book and the book is called Joy, Inc. He said, “Joy is our core value. It’s the only value that really matters.” You read that stuff and you say, “I’ll see what I believe it.” I saw it and I believed it. You’re absolutely right about that.
It reminds me of the classic, Rosenbluth’s book, The Customer Comes Second. Do you remember that one?
Yes. Lovely Hal.
Again, way back then, just as true if not more true now is that if you build a culture on a team where your employees come first then your customers end up coming first.
My very sophisticated, fine English line for that was, “If you want to wow the customer first, you got to wow the person who wows the customer.” There’s another book that came out a few years ago, the same deal and it’s called Patients Come Second. In a lot of hospitals, everybody or most everybody is treated chattel. Funny little stories and not every CEO has to do this. 1 of the 2 authors was MD CEO. He texts over a hospital and I guess it was in the summer. They had a big picnic. I’ve seen some of these things. There was something where you could throw a ball at something and if it hit it, there was a person sitting on a chair who got dumped. The CEO did that and he was a guy on the chair. I imagine people were a little shy at times. They weren’t throwing it at him. They were throwing him at that target where it was. I loved the fact that he did it and it is cool and impactful. I don’t know, Steve. I said it’s Farber.
I do recognize both of those.
I know you do. I know your name is Farber. We hired you when you were Steve. One day, you came into my office and showed me your passport where you had reversed your names legally which was fine with me. I don’t know why we have to have this conversation. I got two degrees in engineering and two degrees in business. All both from good schools. I said, “If you want to understand my work, you have to show me a certificate of graduation from the third grade.” It is not intellectual.
It brings me back to this phrase now more than ever. I’m sure you’ve had the same response. When the pandemic hit, people were locked down, the isolation set in, and the uncertainty, fear, and all that stuff, I started hearing that, “Now more than ever, compassion is important. Now more than ever, connection is important. Now more than ever, love is important.” My response to that was it‘s always been important. It’s not like suddenly, out of nowhere, these great revelations but what has happened is that our current circumstance has brought it to the forefront so we’re getting less resistance now.
That’s what I would say. It’s a 100% and it always has been 100% but in extremis, we can get more people to listen. As I’ve heard a lot of people say, including myself, and I’m sure you, “We then can pray that what happened that was quite a bit more humane during COVID–19 times will last when we put it in a bit of a high Richter earthquake in the direction of more humane leadership.”
I’m hopeful. I’ll admit that I’m at my core perpetual optimist and I’ll tend to err on the side of a rosier picture versus a more dire one. I believe that a lot of this will stick when we go back to normal in terms of how we communicate and travel, etc. I also see how short of an attention span we have and how quickly we forget circumstances that happened a week ago, a month ago. Suddenly, they have a different meaning than they did when we were in the middle of it.
That part concerns me, but I do believe, and I’d like to get your take on this, that when you focus it in a business context that as business people, we have this great opportunity to create whatever it is that we want as a microcosm of what’s possible in the world at large. As business people, we could set the example for the rest of the world and not only could we but we should because we have a lot more control over what’s going on in our business.You don’t have to like all your people, but you must love them. Click To Tweet
There’s one important asterisk to what we’re saying. I don’t think you’re quite as bad at this as I used to be but the “management guru set” tends to focus on the Fortune 500. That’s their reference point. The reality is 6% of Americans work for the Fortune 500, 94% don’t. Everybody works for a business. What I wrote I said, “Business is not part of the community. It is the community like the organization thing.” I’m afraid to say my cynicism level at my age is pretty high. I’m not that hopeful about the Fortune 500. The good news is I don’t give a shit about the Fortune 500. the person I want to influence the SMEs, the small and medium–size enterprises, the person running a 30–person shop, a 6-person shop, or an 80–person shop.
I think my bias and I’m correct, you and I have a much higher chance of “selling the message” to that person in part because she or he can see huge differences in a short period of time in a widespread way in an 80–person organization, let alone a ten–person organization. It’s important to focus. I’m coming and I’m shouting at myself to focus on where the people are and the people are not in the Fortune 500 companies. I had an old McKinsey friend, his name is Dick Foster. He and his colleagues did a longitudinal study of the thousand biggest companies.
These guys are more quantitative than me even in my dreams. They did 40 years of performance and, these are publicly traded, not one company outperformed the market over a 40–year period. The notion of a good, big company is a joke to me. There was this wonderful life of an economist and I can’t get out of my head. He said, “People always ask me, ‘I want to start a company, how do I build a good, smaller company?’” That was it. The response was, “It’s simple. Buy a big one and wait.” Statistically, there’s a lot of truth to that.
To your point, it is true. I do find myself focusing more on small to midsize organizations. For the reason you said and then some. The reason you said was it’s easier to sell the message to a woman running 100-person shop. Not only that, it’s easier to help that person implement the message and change the company and get results. To give a shameless plug for my team operationalizing love concepts, not concepts of practices, we’ve helped quite a few companies make it on the best place to work lists. What is it that they have in common? They have 100 people or 200 people in them.
They’re not competing with Fortune 100 best place to work. They’re competing with other companies about their size to get on that list because it’s obvious. You can make significant change in your company when it’s smaller and faster. The caveat to that is even in big companies, an Apple, let’s say. I do have influence over my team and it’s not like every company has a culture. Every place in Amazon is the same culture. All the negative press they’re getting about their culture. My team within Amazon can have an entirely different culture because of my influence of what we do together.
Nancy Austin and I co-wrote A Passion for Excellence in 1985. Our term for that was pockets of excellence. I also remember in that first book in ‘82, one of the companies we focused on was an auto parts company difficulties now called the Dana Corporation out of Toledo. Their boss was a guy named Rene McPherson. Ren taught me what you’re saying. He said, “I had my factory. I had my division. Nobody can stop me from making it a great place to work. They wanted to stop me but my results were much better so they couldn’t fire me.” It’s a wonderful laugh line but it was the way I will say. We don’t have time to talk about everything.
This is too long of a conversation. There are people who have to be let go because they don’t fit. We could talk for an hour about that. The McKinsey way, for all the problems McKinsey is having, but in my day was give people a 2nd chance, 3rd chance, 4th chance, 5th chance, 6th chance and if we’re still not getting anywhere then time to go. Remember that as somebody who didn’t know whether I’d be on the winning or losing side of that, even then, I didn’t have the training, I appreciated the fact that they didn’t toss somebody out on their ear. They kept Farber around for another year and he was the biggest jerk in the world but they didn’t toss him out to the wolves in short order. That’s also part of the process of decency.
You’re right. That is a whole other conversation because then you get into that whole dynamic of, to what degree is that jerk affecting the performance of the people around. There is such a thing as tough love. Sometimes love looks like, let’s call it liberating a person from this company to find their purpose elsewhere.
It has to be done. I do my broken record act again, hire people you get off on, for God’s sakes. I’ve got to add an asterisk to all this. I’ve thought about it three times. I know that you’re the most brilliant author in the world and I’m one of the most brilliant authors in the world. In the 21st century, my favorite business book by a country mile was written by a woman named Susan Cain as a one word title, which is Quiet. She makes the case for introverts. In my book, one was dedicated in part to her. I said in my little dedication paragraph. “I love Susan Cain because she made me feel a true ass.”
Fundamentally, I had been conned by the people who were noisy, I loved it after the book came out to be able to pound on people means I’m ignoring 45% of the population. That’s criminal and stupid. Her book on introverts, anybody who doesn’t buy it, read it, then read it again, it is so powerful and so clean. It’s not a complicated issue and this and that and the other. It is life changing. She’s trained as a lawyer so she’s not a softie.
I’m sensitive to your time. I want to start to bring this in for a landing. We should have booked a week for this conversation. I would have loved that.
We can do that. This is what I have lived for. You said that book 43 number ones. The number 43 was not chosen lightly. Many years ago, I began the research that led to where I am now. That was the reason for the many years. Many years of saying, “Take care of people and good things will happen to your bottom line.” St. Peter is watching in the gate when it’s all over. You’re on third grade diploma.
I want to circle back on the nostalgia wheel one more time before we wrap this up. First of all, I want to say that having this conversation with you after being out there, working with my own body of work, I went off on my own, and I left the Tom Peters Company in 2000. It’s been a long time. it’s A wonderful reminder having this conversation with you how deeply informed my work is by you and the ideas that I learned from you at the formative time in my career. Those were incredible years for me in a lot of ways. I was only there for several years but significant in a lot of ways. My all-time favorite Tom Peters quote I would like to share with you.
Am I going to be okay when this is over?
You’re going to be fine. My favorite quote and it was from an interview that you did somewhere. I don’t even think it was from a book. You said, “If your company is having trouble attracting fabulous people, it’s because your company sucks.” It’s freaking brilliant. It’s a classic Petersian wisdom. My little bit of nostalgia is I vividly remember a company meeting that we were having. In fact, I remember the venue. The whole scenario was in Scottsdale, Arizona. We were out there as a team. We were doing a big project for Sun Microsystems and then we tagged our company meeting at the back of it. You came in to say hello and inspire the troops. You said, “Repeat business is for wimps. If we’re not pissing our clients off to the point where they don’t want us back, we are not doing our jobs.”
I remember laughing so hard that I was hardly able to breathe. Looking around it at some of the faces of Boyd Clark and Ron Crossland. The guys who were running the company at that time and they go like, “This is not the best growth strategy for our company.” I wanted you to know that a little bit of nostalgia but having looked back and seeing where we are now, as you look ahead into a post-pandemic world which no doubt about it will come, what are you thinking? Let’s talk about the business world overall. I know this was going to be almost impossible for me to ask you to do but a couple of minute taste of that. Where do you think we’re headed?
Let’s not talk about we. Let’s talk about the company you and I run or own or what have you. The two words that are in the title of the new book are Extreme Humanism. We’ve had the pandemic and we are being more aware of the racial injustice. Before that, awareness took place or before the pandemic took place, what we had and what we have is an artificial intelligence tsunami heading at us in incredible speed. A couple of guys from Oxford had a study which said, “50% of American white–collar jobs will be at risk during the next twenty years.”
We got that big one. A lot of the argument of the book is we can succeed with great people making great products. One of the things that gets left out and I wish we did have more time is I focus on the number one differentiator being extraordinary design. Not meaning pretty but Jony Ive who was the former Apple design chief said, “Products and services that make the world a teeny bit better.” That’s being human. That’s humanizing our products and services. I want to say that and then I want to say something that’s not contradictory but sort of is. Given AI, I can imagine an incredible amount of shit hitting the fan over the coming years. We will need universal, basic income, and so on. What I also remind people when they go on a rant about this is to have a problem twenty years from now, we’ve got to get through the first nineteen years.
The first question is, “What do I do on the 6th of February 2021? What do I do on the 6th of February 2022?” There will be dramatic change but I’m short–termer in that regard. This is also very consistent with the message of love. My comment meant to be provocative is small as almost always more important than big. It is the tiny touch. I wish I had the book at hand. I used as my epigraph for the entire book for The Little Big Things in 2010, a quote from Henry Clay, the statesman, and it said something like, “It is the small courtesies which stick in the mind the longest.” The way I translate that into our everyday work is, “I don’t have to thank Farber when he got $1 million sales. Everybody is going to tell me he walks on water.”
It’s thanking Farber because he was busier than hell and Jane who is his next–door neighbor work was killing herself for a deadline. Even though Farber was dead on his butt, he spent a day helping Jane do her thing or Jane did her day. It’s the little stuff beats big stuff 100 to 1. I get a little weary of disruptions and that sort of thing. My definition of love, a little thing, or whatever you want is it’s a crappy day outside.
You’re the boss of a nine–person organization. On the way to work, you stop, you buy a bunch of flowers, you take the flowers to work, you put them in a vase, and there’s a teeny bit more color. Those are the things with our kids and with our families. That’s the memorable stuff. The guy we talked about who had a little handwritten thank you notes still on his walls a dozen years later. That’s not an anomaly. That is the norm.
To remind you, this note from 1994.If you want to wow your customer, the first thing you need to do is wow the person who wows the customer. Click To Tweet
Does it mean I’m responsible for all your bloody books? I would be thrilled out of my mind because I do love the stuff you do. I love your taking the word love. If this isn’t an inappropriate thing to say, operationalizing it in the best sense of that word and giving people the opportunity to understand that. I’m old but resume virtues versus eulogy virtues is a big deal. It’s what are you be remembered for. One of my slides somewhere, I’ve got a picture of a tombstone and on it, it says, “$17,382,615.14 when the market closed the day he died.” Never been a tombstone with net worth on it.
That’s what a great place to bring this conversation for a landing. Tom, I can’t thank you enough. This was wonderful for so many different reasons. I’m sure our audience are going to love this and come back to it many times. It’s been wonderful. Thanks so much for being with me.
Thank you. Sorry, it’s not face–to–face. It is fabulous. I appreciate all the things you did for me and now all the things you’re doing for the world, for your clients, and for your workmates. You’re a good guy, Farber. You have some good days every now and then which is the most asked for in life.
That’s that sounds like a good thing to put on a tombstone.
- In Search of Excellence
- Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism
- Tom Peters
- Tom Peters Seminar
- Liberation Management
- The One Minute Manager
- Excellence Now: The Forty-Three Number Ones
- Article – Why Good People Still Can’t Get Jobs
- Warren Buffet Invests Like a Girl: And Why You Should Too
- Harvard Business Review – Review by Jack Zenger
- The Female Brain
- Research – What is the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership Model? By Kouzes and Posner
- Love Is Just Damn Good Business
- Joy, Inc.
- The Customer Comes Second
- Patients Come Second
- A Passion for Excellence
- The Little Big Things
- Twitter– Tom Peters