Community building is a key element of any successful business. Companies who have a well-connected network and create a strong bond with the people tend to thrive in the long run. In today’s episode, management guru Tom Peters joins Steve Farber to discuss the immense power and value of building a community to drive a business forward. He shares actionable tips on partnering with other businesses and forging meaningful connections with your target audience. Tom explains how turning them into long-lasting relationships can create better results and deliver a valuable impact to the community.
Listen to the podcast here
The Power Of Community Building In Achieving Business Success With Tom Peters
Welcome to another episode. My guest is once again the legendary Tom Peters. Legendary sounds like a bit of hyperbole but in the business world as it relates to Tom Peters, it ain’t hyperbole. For the uninitiated among you, Tom’s original claim to fame was a book called In Search of Excellence, which came out many years ago. It was credited rightfully so for changing the landscape of what it means to do business, not only in the US but around the world. A global impact, certainly.
He’s written many books since then. His newest book just came out, Tom Peters’ Compact Guide to Excellence. Starting with excellence and ending with excellence, Tom, because you say that this is your last book. Did I read that right or did I hallucinate?
It’s my tenth and last book, yes.
It’s like the rock band that does the farewell tour ten times.
Let’s not go there because my wife and I went to a Brian Wilson thing and it was sad. The people who are handling him were abusing him. I subsequently read that’s kind of the conclusion. Farewell tours have other definitions. The other problem is I had my 80th birthday in 2023 so legend takes on a significantly different thing.
Let me say one thing that I have to say to everybody. Introductions which are quite lovely like yours, this is a huge thing to me in life. When incredible things happen to people, the first 97% was luck. Perfect timing. I was writing something and I said, “I was born White, male, American in a post-war middle-class city with two intelligent parents.”
That was the all-important first 99% and then we’ve gone from there. It’s not because I’m trying to do wokeism or any of that stuff. There are three kinds of people I hate in this world. I hate mass murderers, child and spouse abusers and successful people who think they deserve their success. We don’t. You’re driving down the road and a mosquito flies into your eye and you kill an eleven-year-old kid who’s crossing the road. Every day brings 100 opportunities to do major f-ups.
I’m going to say most people who were born under similar circumstances have not had the kind of influence that you have had. Enough about you, let’s talk about your work. When you and I first met, which was 1994 when I first joined the Tom Peters company, you were on book number 4 or 5. I’ve read all of your books. I consider you to be a mentor. You probably bristle at that word but I do.
No, I don’t. That’s very kind.
I’m in love with this book. The reason is, to me, it’s a true example of essential. We think of essential as a must-have but essential as the essence of your work. It’s so inspiring and quick. I finished it in like, I’m not going to say ten minutes but it was less than 1 hour, that’s for sure. Tell me a little bit about the book.
Relative to my last comment about luck, the book has two names on the spine. Me and a woman by the name of Nancye Green. I got introduced to Nancye. She is on everybody’s list of the top 100 designers in America over the world. In her spare time, she does things like being Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Parson School so she’s at the top of her game.
I wrote an earlier book years ago that she worked on and I gave her a page that was called Special Acknowledgement. I was sitting down to work on the Special Acknowledgement and I thought, “What’s magic about this book is the look, feel, taste, touch and smell.” That’s Nancye’s design. I’ve been writing about design since probably the time you and I met.
I’ve said it’s incredibly important and I mean it’s incredibly important, even though I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. With this book, I understand it. The medium is the message. I do want to say one thing, I’m thrilled to read the book. What we’re hoping that people will do is flick through 10 or 15 pages. I’m taking this more in the workplace situation. Find 2 or 3 things that ring 1,000 bells. Sit down with 8 or 10 people with 2 of the quotes and spend a couple of hours.
The thing about the book is to some extent, it’s a book of quotes. They’re the best effort to organize it. What’s missing in this book is Tom Peters laddering on for 1,000 words after every good quote. I’m not trying to denigrate myself but a little commentary, cut to the chase. I’m thrilled with what you said because I’ve never particularly liked the book I’ve written but I’m in love with this one. There’s Nancye.
The experience that it gave me in reading it is it’s also essential that it’s the essence of how you’ve approached your work. I remember you told me something in probably one of the very first conversations we had when I first joined the company. You learned from your mentor using other people’s “research.” The important thing isn’t to necessarily do your original research but use other people’s research and interpret it, frame it up and apply it. That’s what you’ve done throughout your whole career.
That’s exactly accurate. It did come from my closest friend on Earth who’s no longer on Earth who was my PhD thesis advisor at Stanford. A variation on that theme or more of the same, I’m not doing many auditorium speeches. When you go back to my standard auditorium speech, there’s Tom Peters at the podium and there is a monster screen with a PowerPoint slide on it.
I never had a chart, a graph or one effing word that I said on those charts. It would be a quote from Anita Roddick of The Body Shop. As far as I was concerned, I was incidental to this whole thing. I didn’t start a company like The Body Shop. I didn’t start Virgin Atlantic. I don’t give a damn if you don’t listen to me but you effing look at that quote up there. You cannot deny the Roddicks of the world and so on. It was my crutch in the best sense of the word. Don’t listen to me. What do I know? I’ve never run more than our company that maxed out at 25 or 30 people. These people did it with thousands of people, trillions of jobs and excellence in every sense. That has been the shtick in a way since the beginning.
You could call it shtick or your approach. You’ve done it so beautifully and succinctly in this book. These are what all these brilliant people have to say. Let me put it into a framework and emphasize certain things that I, Tom Peters, think you need to pay attention to.
That’s fair because even this little book is broken down into thirteen sections, which is a word for chapters. They’re relatively short but they’re the key ideas. You’re right.
I want to talk about a couple of those. Central themes, as you call them. Can you have thirteen central themes? I guess you can because that’s what it says.
Given that I once wrote a 900-page book that’s called Liberation Management, you got as many themes as you want.
They’re all central.
Absolutely. No questions about that.
You talk about business as a community. That was one of the things that rang my bells. Let me give you a theory and I’d love to hear your riff on it. I’ve been saying that given this divisive and polarized world that we live in, the opportunity in business is to create an example and a model for what’s possible. When a business is running as a community, you’ve got people from very different backgrounds, both ethnic, gender and political. All that gets pushed aside to focus on a common mission. If it’s done right, it’s done beautifully. Isn’t that an example of how the world capital T and capital W could work? What do you think about that?
A) I think it’s right. B) I would chastise myself for not having used the word community enough in the past. What drove it in a way is the research all around the world. This Gallup stuff is crystal clear. 20% of people are engaged in their work and 80% are not. I’m sure you’ve got audiences from all around the world but there is an American centralism to this.
Despite the election, we were up to our eyeballs and shit and it’s fair to say into a scary level. It isn’t silly at all. I’ve worked with some friends and we said, “What if we could make 20/80 or 80/20? What if 80% of people felt engaged at work,” to stick with the theme a minute ago and then I’ll go further. I bet that if 80% of people were engaged at work, there wouldn’t be so many people who are raw meat for radicals.
The other way I’ve said it, which is again saying the same thing, I said, “I know you love your family. You spend time with them. God bless you. The real reality is unless you were born with a silver spoon, you are going to spend more waking hours of your adult life in the workplace than you will even with your kids, wife, uncles, aunts and grandmother.”
It’s your life in a crude way but it pissed away the workday and life. That’s crude but it’s true. I haven’t looked it up in the anthropology books or the social psych books but a group of people can be a powerful community. Yes, it’s a huge word. My definition of a community is the community includes you, me and our colleagues. It includes the cities and towns where we have offices. It includes our vendors and our customers, which either makes it a bigger community or a set of communities. I don’t care which one. This is kind of indirect or direct.Your community is composed of you, your colleagues, the places you operate, your vendors, and your customers. Click To Tweet
One time I said to somebody, “I have an ideal job and I bet you won’t guess. My ideal job is to be in charge of a 53-person housekeeping department, whatever that translates into, in a 300-room hotel.” I chose 53 for a reason. I may be wrong. This is a few years ago but it’s pretty much the same. Fifty-three, at that point when I first said it, was the number of active-duty players on a National Football League Team Roster.
I said, “Look, there are 52 of you and me. We are 53 human beings attempting to be of service to the world, each other and so on.” I live in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. There’s no difference between you, women, men and me in a 53-person group and the bloody New England patriots. We’re both trying to do the same thing at some level. I believe in a community from stem to stern and I’m irritated that I haven’t used the word enough in the past. I may be using it too much but I’ve got some catching up to do.
It’s an opportunity to show what’s possible when you bring diverse people together to do something like that. I had that conversation with a client of mine and he pushed back a little bit. He said, “I like the sentiment of it but is it that in a work environment, you can do that because people choose not to talk about the other stuff?” Is it transcending all of that or is it just because we don’t engage in those conversations? Political, for example, in a work context.
I’m sure you can talk about extremes. If I was running a 50-person workplace, I would’ve tried not to allow the pre-election stuff to be the preoccupation of the group over the last two months. I don’t have any problem with that. I’m going to come back to the center of your comment in a minute. First of all, in a way, it’s total crap.
In 1970, the late economist Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman, wrote the infamous article in New York Times in which he said, “Corporations have no social responsibility.” When he wrote that, 50% of corporate profits went to shareholders and the executive team and 50% went to people, research and the like. My old and discredited friends at McKinsey took a look at the data in 2014. There’s no reason anybody should believe what’s going to come out of my mouth next because I still can’t believe it, except it’s true. Nine percent of the profits go to workers in R&D. Ninety-one frigging percent go to share buybacks, shareholders and executives. That’s criminal with a capital C.
It used to be 50/50.
50/50 to 91/9. To me, that is criminal. Relative to your point, my McKinsey pals did another study and it was of companies that invest in the long-term and companies that invest in the short-term. It covered 50 years’ worth of data. The ones who invested for the long-term kicked ass in every department starting with profitability and growth.
The things we’re talking about are not like, “Let’s avoid the soft stuff.” It’s total bullshit. That was key in every sense of the word. I have this stupid little equation. After all, I was trained as an engineer. It doesn’t summarize the conversation but it’s called K equals R equals P. Kindness equals repeat business equals profit. On the other cool quote thing, which is more directly associated with what you were saying, a very successful business person said, “Your customers will never be happier than your employees.” To me, that is as close to a profundity as you could have.
On a corporate level, kindness is about reinvesting in your employees, their training and their development.
My comment on training, I know it’s been a huge part of your life. Training is two things and we can talk about both of them. Asset number one in the organization is your complete set of frontline managers. Capital investment number one is training. I believe both of those things are significant to a degree. Training works, training pays profitability, growth, job creation and all those things.
I don’t go to church very often so this is neither the preaching of an evangelical nor a Lapsed Presbyterian in any way shape or form. My whole track record of which you are a teeny part I suppose is the people I’ve worked with and the degree to which they grew as a function of being around me. Of all places, I was in Mumbai. I’m standing here and it’s a room full of people. Directly in front of me is a four-star general in the Indian Army. He ran the damned Indian Army.
We got into a little bit of a discussion about this. He said, “I’ve got an opening for a general. Steve Farber and Tom Peters are my two top candidates. I could look at their profitability,” or whatever the equivalent would be in the military. He said, “I only look at one thing. I chase down the people who have worked for Farber for years and examined the degree to which their careers grew and flourished because they hung out with Steve for years. I’ll do the same thing with Tom.” I wish you and I could make that indelible in everybody’s mind. I love it because it comes from a general, as opposed to somebody trying to make a better widget. You are as good as the degree to which the people you have worked with have grown.
Once upon a time, I wrote a book called Greater Than Yourself. The whole premise of Greater Than Yourself is that the greatest leaders become the greatest leaders by making others greater than themselves and by lifting other people above themselves. This is the other thing I want to get your take on. To me, that’s an act of love.
I wrote a book that came out in 2019 called Love Is Just Damn Good Business. It’s been the core of my platform for a long time. When I look at the word kindness, on the one hand, it’s the entry point into this discussion and it’s still not strong enough. This is why I chose to use the word love because the first reaction for a lot of people is, “Really?” It’s got all that baggage associated with it.
The bottom line is you need your customers to love what you do for them. You can’t make that happen in a meaningful and sustainable way over time unless you have an environment that people love working in. You can’t create that kind of environment unless you love them yourself first as a leader. It all comes back to that.Make your customers love what you do for them. You can't make that happen in a meaningful and sustainable way unless you have an environment that people love working in. Click To Tweet
Let me reinforce what you said in a way that maybe interests a few people. My parents had no money. The United States Navy paid my way for four years through Cornell University Engineering. There’s a group of Navy people called the Navy Seabees and their combat engineers. I went into that part of the Navy. The year I graduated, we got into Vietnam.
Eight-hundred-person battalion goes to Vietnam. I get a commanding officer. His name is Richard E. Anderson. He insists that the definition of a Seabee is you build fast and perfectly. Nothing works. You’re out of material. Your machines are broken down. That’s what the hell we do. His output was fantastic. I swear to God that Captain Dick Anderson loved every single one of his sailors.
I hate the term tough love. It wasn’t tough love for God’s sake. You would kill yourself for Captain Anderson. You could go more living down than fly to the moon. The other important thing I would say is I consider him ahead of my father and equal to my mother in terms of the two human beings who have contributed the most to my life. He had a great smile.
I remember one time I was running from point A to point B. I’m a very junior officer. He said, “Tom, how come you’re the only person in this battalion who never salutes me?” I said, “Captain Anderson, I love you dearly but I don’t have enough time for that shit.” There are a lot of colonels you could have said that to whom you would’ve been in the brig in fifteen minutes but that’s who he was. He laughed hysterically. He said, “I got to remember that one.”
In that kind of scenario in the military, when you say, “I would die for that person,” that is a literal statement.
The famous Lombardi quote, “I do not need to like my players but I must love them.” Whoever is the toughest person you and I have ever met, Vince Lombardi scores higher on the scale. The Green Bay Packers were not exactly the gentleman’s club of the National Football League. That was a Lombardi quote, which I don’t know whether you use it in the book or skipped over but it is a quote that I have loved.
When you start looking for it, you’ll find a lot of that. We didn’t make this stuff up. It’s just based on observation. When you start looking for it, you see a lot of love and kindness. You pulled it together in a way in the book where you talked about hiring nice people and cultivating and engendering kindness. Favor people with a Liberal Arts degree over somebody with an MBA. Is our best defense against the artificial intelligence tsunami? When I read that, I was like, “Absolutely.”
Incidentally, which supports that point, the guy who said, “We only hire nice people,” runs neither a burger shop nor a hospital but a biotech company. The thing he said, which I love, was, “Tom, some of the research department degrees which our people have, you wouldn’t even vaguely understand what the degree name was. I made this great discovery. Most obscure degree in the world, there are a lot of nice have that degree. Hire them and don’t hire the other ones.”
Nancye reinforces. He has a conversation with Steve, this amazing 4.2-grade point average from MIT or whatever it is. “I would die to have you on my team.” At the end of our long conversation, you run the gauntlet and you’ve got 7 or 8 interviews, 15 minutes long. It can be a junior person in finance, a senior person in purchasing or a receptionist.
It’s a random set of your fellow human beings in the company. Every single one of them has the power to say, “Nope, Peters didn’t cut it.” I’ve got to add two little bits of the same thing. You may remember who the authors were. They were fabulous people. A couple of people wrote many years ago a book called Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic.
The Mayo Clinic, back in 1922, comes at the top of our medical service healthcare list. Two comments. This time, you’re interviewing surgeon Tom who came from Massachusetts General Hospital as the smart human being you ever met on Earth and so on. What I don’t know is you have a pen in your hand and I’m the interviewee.
Every time I use the word “we,” you write it down. Every time I use the word “I,” you write it down. In simple English, if the “we” don’t outnumber the “I” significantly, sorry, you’re not coming here. That supports all the things you’ve always said and goes back to Dr. Mayo in 2014 who introduced the idea of what he called team medicine.
You don’t see that cooperation in the average healthcare institution. It’s all bureaucratic but Mayo still lives up to that. There’s some woman who was a surgeon. She’s a lot more technical than either you or I. There’s a quote that came out of that book. She said, “I am 100 times more powerful here than I was in my prior job because everybody is supporting each other and trying to make each other successful.”
I want to get back to the we versus I. I’ll get there through it in a slightly different route. The other thing that struck me in the book is the whole discussion about introverts. You drew a lot on the book called Quiet Power, which you said was your best book of the Millennium. It was profound for me to think about that. The idea is that we tend to put attention to extroverts and outspoken people. What about all the quiet people in your organization?
There was something in that context where when people are given a chance to solve a problem alone, first, they get better results. It reminded me of this. There’s an African proverb. I’ll paraphrase it. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” My edit on that is if you want to go far fast, go alone and together. That’s what that said to me. Give people a chance to go in first and then share.
Sometimes, it is slowing down. There’s one of the pieces of research she had that I saw was wonderful. We’ve got two groups solving problems. Group of extroverts and a group of introverts. This is boring as hell because it’s obvious. The extrovert group comes up with 17 ideas in 30 minutes. The introvert group comes up with 3 ideas but they work those 3 ideas until they were 1 million miles long. I’m not saying the extrovert ones are all bad, they probably aren’t.Extroverts can come up with 17 ideas in half an hour. Introverts can develop only three ideas, but they would work on them until they are a million miles along. Click To Tweet
The other thing she said too, which is horrifying is, extroverts are considered smarter and more physically attractive. They’re another five variables of the same sort. I had a wonderful dinner somewhere. It was outside of the country with Susan Cain, the author and Dan Pink. When I was introduced to Susan, I said, “What was it like to write 200 pages, each one of which called me an asshole?”
Right after I read the book, I went and spoke to the senior team of a multi-billion dollar semiconductor company. I said, “I read this book and it says that all you people are idiots. You and I have systematically ignored 45% of the population and not looked at them.” We had fun with it after that. The other thing which I love is Susan is an extraordinary human being in every dimension and was trained as a lawyer.
We’re not talking about somebody who came from nowhere. She writes like a lawyer in the best sense. It’s good, straightforward, logical thinking. There have been a million great books including yours. Some of mine aren’t all bad but she wins my 21st Century award because I despise that she went so far out of the box. For me and I hope others, she did call me a jerk de facto. Tom Peter’s a great guy who writes about people. He’s extraordinary. People accept that except for the 40% who can help you.
Most of us who do this kind of work tend to fall more into the extrovert category at least in the way that we show up in the world.
The only reason I don’t agree is I’m a loudmouth who speaks at 1 million miles an hour. Susan had an introvert/extrovert test. I came out way on the introverted side.
Not surprising. That’s what I mean. The way we show up in the world, in other words, the assumption that people make is that we are extroverts because we got up on stage and we talk at a loud volume. The assumptions that people make about us are going to be congruent with what you said about what people think about extroverts, even though we might be very introverted.
I said to somebody, “If you want the perfect illustration, my wife Susan and I are having a cocktail party. It’s at the end of the year or Thanksgiving. There are a whole bunch of people around, our friends and so on.” At some point, Susan or one of her lieutenant best buddies comes over to me and said, “Tom, you are the host and you have been talking to Steve Farber for 45 minutes and the party’s half over.” What I discovered in Susan’s book is one of the classic illustrators of introverts.
It’s because you got comfortable there and you want to stay there. I get it. Speaking of talking to me for 45 minutes, I know you have a hard stop coming up here pretty soon. It’s a couple of things as we bring this for a landing. We could do this for hours, at least I could.
Yes, I could too, Steve. Let me be clear. We will continue it if you want to because you’ve got a show. I’m more than happy to be your annoying guest who comes on every eight weeks or something like that. Even if we did a little fifteen minutes, this has been ludicrously fun. It’s been worth a damn but it’s fun.
That says it all. It’s worth a hell of a lot more than a damn if it’s been ludicrously fun. You harken back to MBWA, Management by Wandering Around, which came out of Hewlett-Packard’s early days. You bring it into the current day of management by zooming around. The concept is to get out there and hang out and talk to people. That’s how you learn.
What I’m interested in and this is a conversation for another time, is give me your quick take on it. In this post-pandemic era, when people are coming back to the office, what’s happening in a lot of places is people come back, look around and go, “What happened to our culture?” We have to rebuild. There’s a re-culture in some ways. We live in this more of a hybrid world where the water cooler is virtual and sometimes it’s literal. What should we be paying attention to as far as building a great culture in the modern era?
Let me start with something personal. My suspicion is you may be in the same boat. When the pandemic started, conversations like yours and mine or twenty people on the other side of the screen, I assume they’d lose all their intimacy. I was 100% wrong. I’m known, as are you, as a very energetic speaker. Susan laughs at me.
She said, “Tom, you finish one of these hour zooms and you are precisely as exhausted as you used to be when you walked off stage after talking to 1,000 people.” The ability to transmit emotion, personalization and so on is there. It’s got to have effective leadership. One other thing early on during the pandemic, I realized I did have some modest reputation in the world and I was sitting on my ass.
I asked my colleague, Shelly Dolly, who runs all of our affairs. I said, “Shelly, do something stupid. Call all the people we’ve had podcasts with. Tell them Tom would like to talk about leadership amidst the pandemic,” which I knew nothing in particular. I did. It’s in the book at the beginning or the end, my pandemic scorecard of eight things.
If you can find it, you can read it on your next show. I should have it right in front of me. Here’s what I said. “Here’s my deal. I’m leading a twenty-person team. We do have meetings a week.” Maybe this will be a little bit truer for women but you’re Steve Farber. I come up to you virtually at some point and said, “You’re doing great work but I’m going to take a couple of points off of your evaluation.”
My reason is that we have had twenty meetings and you have shown up on time with a smile for every single one and been productive. I said, “What I happen to know is that you’ve got 2 parents in assisted living facilities and 2 relatively young kids who are going to school. This is an order, Steve. Please don’t show up all the time.” Those kinds of exchanges are entirely possible and as powerful as face-to-face.
I’m going to stop you there because I’m going to get in trouble if we go over your time. I know you’ve got to go onto another thing. Let me build on what you said as a way to wrap up our conversation. First of all, thank you, Tom. This has been incredible. I found what you were looking for. COVID-19 leadership, the seven commandments according to Tom Peters are these. Be kind, caring, patient, forgiving, present and positive and walk in the other person’s shoes. It’s beautifully said. Not bad, Tom. Keep it up for the next book. It’s been great having you here. For all of you reading, thanks for joining us. Until next time, do what you love in the service of people who love what you do. Thanks, Tom.
The title of your whatever we’re calling this meeting is perfect. This has been an incredible treat for me. I’ve always thought the world of now you’re 200 years old and I’m 250 years old. To use your word, my love affair continues with the intensity that it had many years ago. It’s another phrase I don’t like. You’re doing the Lord’s work as we used to say.
I use it at the end of this book. There was a David Brooks quote in one of his columns. He contrasted what he called resume virtues versus eulogy virtues. The resume virtues are 7 degrees each for the 4.0-grade point average, promoted 9 times as a high net worth. Eulogy virtues, to state the obvious, are what they say about you at your funeral. It’s exactly the opposite. I used to use this PowerPoint slide and one of them didn’t have a quote. It had a tombstone. On the tombstone read $17,237,684.19, the net worth of Tom Peters the day the market closed on his death day. Ain’t ever been a tombstone with the network.
That’s right. Thank you, Tom. It was great having you here.
Thank you so much. I am thrilled about the new book that you’re working on. Please give all my love to Mr. Crus and Mr. Posner the next time you see them.
- In Search of Excellence
- Tom Peters’ Compact Guide to Excellence
- The Body Shop
- Virgin Atlantic
- Liberation Management
- Greater Than Yourself
- Love Is Just Damn Good Business
- Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic
- Quiet Power
About Tom Peters
Tom Peters is coauthor of In Search of Excellence—the book that changed the way the world does business and often tagged as the best business book ever. Seventeen books and thirty-five years later, Tom is still at the forefront of the “management guru industry” he single-handedly invented. What’s new? A lot. As CNN said, “While most business gurus milk the same mantra for all it’s worth, the one- man brand called Tom Peters is still reinventing himself.” His most recent effort is The Excellence Dividend: Meeting the Tech Tide with Work That Wows and Jobs That Last (Vintage, 2018). Tom’s bedrock belief: “Execution is strategy—it’s all about the people and the doing, not the talking and the theory.” In November 2017, Tom received the Thinkers50 Lifetime Achievement Award. (Effectively, all of Tom’s written and speech material covering the last 15+ years is available— free to download—at tompeters.com and excellencenow.com.)
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! https://www.stevefarber.com/podcast/