In a world powered by information, it is the people who are curious who truly hold the power. Allowing yourself the time to develop more curiosity to learn more and inspect the world around you is the gift you should be giving yourself, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. Tom Peters is the co-author of the bestselling book, In Search of Excellence. With Dr. Diane Hamilton, Tom illustrates why having more curiosity is key to thriving in the world and attaining the success you want to achieve. If you’re ready to set your mind towards your personal search for excellence, there’s no better place to start than this engaging dialogue between Dr. Diane and Tom.
We have Tom Peters here. He has written what is considered the best business book ever. I don’t think I need to say more. This is going to be an incredible interview.
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The Triumph Of The Curious With Tom Peters
I am here with Tom Peters who is the co-author of In Search of Excellence, the book that changed the way the world does business and often tagged as the best book ever. He’s written sixteen books almost 30 years later and he’s still at the forefront of the management guru industry. He has single-handedly invented What’s New. 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.” Thinkers50 gave him the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. In 2014, he made it to The Most Influential Thinkers list. He came in behind the Pope and Stephen Hawking but ahead of Elon Musk. It’s so nice to have the one, the only Tom Peters here.
It’s absolutely my great pleasure. The only thing I chuckle at is it is true that I won a Lifetime Achievement Award but when I won the award, I wore a T-shirt. My wife and I in Boston went to some one to one and a half-hour review, which was a Monty Python thing with John Cleese. They were selling shirts in the lobby and the shirt has stenciled on it “Not Dead Yet.” I said, “I know the definition of a Lifetime Achievement Award.” It’s like, “How did you last this long?” I also am aware incidentally that this is not an amusing topic as we have this conversation.
Monty Python, that’s one of their funnier skits. I love that you’re a Monty Python fan.
I’m such a Monty Python fan that I went to some meeting and it was one of those serious coaching meetings or something. One of the last questions was, “If you could come back again as anybody else, who would you be?” As you can imagine, we had Winston Churchill, Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, and so on. They got to me and I’m supposed to be serious. I said, “That’s the easiest question I’ve ever been asked, John Cleese.”
He is the best. I don’t know if you could do the silly walk as well as he could do.
The only thing that John Cleese did that I was thinking and maybe it’s because of what I said. Did you see the Life of Brian?
Yes. Look at the bright side of life or you’re missing it.
The Brian problem was I saw it on Christmas Eve and I thought, “You will get something like this sacreligious on Christmas Eve, and you are destined for hell.”
That’s the best ending song of any movie though and I think we need that song.
When you said that I can see the image.
I can too. I’m a huge Monty Python fan and John Cleese is right up there with one of the best guys ever.
I’m a chicken and it’s embarrassing. He started out doing his own organization. They did little management things for meetings. It was and it was a big deal. He was making some serious money. At any rate, he was used to working with mortals and I was doing something in London. He attended the whole first half-day of a seminar of mine. I met him and he wanted to do something with me. Here’s the punchline, which I still can’t believe and I’d have to talk to a shrink. I chickened out. I couldn’t imagine doing something with somebody that potent. It would have probably been a ball.
You don’t still hang out with him or talk to him?
No. First of all, how do you give a seminar with 700 people there with John Cleese sitting in the front row? The fact that I survived it is a miracle, but he’s a lovely guy. You’d like to spend 25 minutes with him at a cocktail party.
Cleese is in A Fish Called Wanda.
That was Jamie Lee Curtis. What a pair.
I wish they’d make another one. That was funny. I love that you have a great sense of humor since we’re getting to know each other. It’s fun to know a little bit more of the background. You and I have not yet met. I was at the Thinkers50 in London in 2019 and I know you’ve won the Lifetime Achievement for that. I was lucky enough to get on their radar for 2020. They recognize that your lifetime achievement is unbelievable. How do you wrap your mind around having the best business book ever?
Fortunately, my ego is not such that I think about it that way. This is a deep philosophical belief about things like that. My one-liner is I despise mass murderers. I despise child abusers. In third place on my list of things that I despise or wildly dislike is successful people who think they deserve their success. One time, I had this guy driving me around London. He’s a lovely guy. He had driven Mick Jagger around and we got chatting. He whipped his neck around at one point and I was doing okay by him. He’s said, “There are two kinds of people who sit in the backseat of this car.” I said, “Okay.” He said, “There are people who remember their roots and there are people who think they deserve to be back there.” I thought that hangs in there with Plato, Aristotle or anybody else. Here’s my real answer. The story of how In Search of Excellence got commissioned is an interesting story and I have no doubt, which is at least as much due to my coauthor Robert Waterman as me, is we wrote a good book, but the secret of success is we wrote a good book with incredible timing.
To go back, it was an ‘82 book. In the late ‘70s, the Americans who had come out of World War II were the only intact people running the world, the God’s chosen people and so on. In the mid-‘70s, the Japanese started to kick us around. Suddenly we were driving Toyotas instead of Fords. American management got challenged. You had that going on, and then there was a very bad recession in ‘81 and ‘82. We came out in October of ‘82. The week that we came out, President Reagan announced 10% unemployment for the first time since the Great Depression. I said to somebody, which isn’t true but it’s sort of true, “By the beginning of the next week, management books had moved from the back of the bookstore to the front of the bookstore.” Our timing was incredible. I need to tell you how little the publisher expected of the book.
Believe it or not, which dates me more than those things do, the price of a hardback was $9.95 or $10.95 and that was it. Our publisher priced In Search of Excellence at $14.95. The entire logic was, “It isn’t going to sell worth a damn but the people who buy it will be business people and they won’t care whether it’s $10 or $14.” Three thousand was the first print run for a lot of reasons. The other one that somebody said to me, which is common now and you know this better than me, is that the power of the story in management books. Prior to In Search of Excellence, people didn’t tell stories.
If you went through Peter Drucker’s books with a magnifying glass, you would find an extraordinary number of wise things but you wouldn’t find names. That was number one and number two, which I’ve had academics tell me, it was the first management book ever written with good new stories. The definition of a Harvard Business Review article or whatever is, “Your company stinks and these are some of the things you can do to make your company make a little bit less than it did.” We said, “We went down to Palo Alto. We found managing by wandering in two-year-old Packard around.” I’m like, “Isn’t that cool?” Nobody ever used those words in a management book before.
Positivity is definitely such a huge thing. Everybody wants to tell a story now so that has turned around a lot of books. I’m always looking for great stories on leaders and companies who have demonstrated curiosity since that’s my focus, my books and my work is about curiosity. Who are some of the most curious leaders or curious stories that come from people doing well because of curiosity in your experience?
Pretty much anything. I don’t remember where they used this line but if you ever read Vanity Fair and frankly, I’m not even sure they do it anymore, the last page is always a five-question interview with somebody famous. It could be from the media, science or whatever. One of them was with Mike Bloomberg while he was the Mayor of New York. One of their standard five questions was, “What would you say your most important trait is?” They asked him and he responded with one word, “Curiosity.” I don’t know what he’s written about this but one part of curiosity, which let’s forget the book did well, they’ve had some books that have done pretty well, and presumably they’re vaguely intelligible. There’s a principal reason for it and I think it’s curiosity. You can tell me whether this is the case or not.
Edward de Bono said, “The definition of curiosity is people think sideways instead of up and down.” I was not born a great athlete, but according to my mother I was talking by the age of about eighteen months and reading by the age of four. She turned me into a radical reader from birth and there’s nothing that doesn’t interest me. An awful lot of whatever success I’ve had certainly intellectually is because I’m interested in everything. A few years ago, I realized how badly behind I was with all the artificial intelligence stuff and so on, and I started reading. I’ve also said to people, “Do you know what I do for a living? You don’t have time to read so I do it for you and take the best lessons out.” He said patting himself or his mother on the back. I would call lateral reading an act of pure unmitigated curiosity because you end up pulling stuff from all over the place.
It’s definitely within what I researched. I looked at the inhibitors of curiosity because I thought if you want to get people to be more curious, you’ve got to figure out what’s stopping them. I found that there are four things which are fear, assumptions or the voice in your head, technology, and environment, which your mother would fall into that category. My mom taught me flashcards at the age of two and she always takes the credit for anything I’ve ever taught in my life. I can still see the flashcards in my mind. It said elephant, baby, and other words. She thought I could read but I just remembered what the card was. Our parents can instill that level of curiosity in us.
My mother was a history fanatic. A thousand years ago, there were these orange covered hardbacks called the Landmark Series and there were probably 100 of them. It was James Madison, George Washington, John Adams, and the other. She had me reading history and it has never stopped. I don’t know whether this was on your list or not, but this would be my number five on your list of four. I don’t know what the research says. I would say, women. Women are lateral thinkers and women don’t think. You know better than I that there is a boatload of brain science now and we do understand.
One of the best books I ever read was called The Female Brain was written by a University of California San Francisco psychiatrist by the name of Louann Brizendine. The term eye-opener is overused, but it was unbelievable. I learned an incredible amount. One thing is, and you know all these times 100, men are linear and logical thinkers. Women have got that side developed pretty well too but they’re also lateral thinkers. They bring human emotion into things and add complexity. I would argue that women are so much more curious. If a woman meets somebody at a cocktail party or whatever else, statistically speaking, you are going to know five times more about that person after a half an hour than I will.
Let me do my caveat because I get in trouble with the gender thing, which is huge for me personally incidentally. Ever since 1996, we are talking about bell-shaped curves and central tendencies. There are men who are good listeners, we haven’t found one yet, but it’s entirely possible. In general, in the middle of the bell-shaped curve, women listen a lot more effectively than men. Not all of us are completely off the charts negatively or what have you, but it is central tendency stuff.The principal reason for books doing well in the market is curiosity. Click To Tweet
There was a wonderful story. There’s this Duke basketball coach who’s called coach K. He’s won a million games. There was an article, it was the Sunday Times magazine about coach K and one of his secrets he said is he brings his wife to all the team meetings. The reason is that his wife sees things in what’s going on in a player’s lives that he would never see. She can smell a girlfriend problem from 100 yards away or she can smell a level of distraction. Men don’t physiologically see those things. I thought it was a fascinating observation.
It’s interesting because, in my research, I did find that women’s overall curiosity was less inhibited than men’s so it goes with what you’re saying. There was more of an impact on women on their fear levels, but they made less assumptions that held them back. With technology, they were about the same and in an environment, men were more impacted by the people around them. It takes years to get a lot of the data of what I’d like to see in general, but the first few thousands of people we’ve researched that we came up with. There are some differences and I touch on a lot of that in my next book that’s coming out on perception. Perception is so fascinating in how we look at things from different viewpoints or vantage points and we’re different.
There’s a bunch of literature that I’ve been reading for STEM. I threw it originally since my PhD days which was the mid-‘70s. Do you know the Kahneman book, Thinking, Fast and Slow? It’s all about cognitive biases. He started that research long ago and I love it. I may have put it in my last book. I was reading some more Kahneman and I went to Wikipedia and typed in the term cognitive biases and fell in love. There was a list in Wikipedia, which was the top 169 cognitive biases. My comment is if you ever think for one minute that you have ever said anything that is demonstrably true, you are nuts.
We have many filters with male, female, hot day or cold day. Nothing is intelligible by that standpoint. It’s humbling beyond measure. The stuff that I’m sure has to be central was the Daniel Goleman thing. It was about the leader’s levels of misperception. I happen to have an in-law who works for a giant company and was doing extraordinarily well. He got to that level where he would be considered for big things. He had some problems with employees and they did a big survey. The following is an exaggeration but only by 2%. He thought he was loved and he was uniformly hated. That is the most boring statement ever uttered.
The one that I loved is there’s a wonderfully trivial and non-trivial thing. There were a couple of social psychologists. They’ve attended 100 meetings, but they attended a given meeting and they did the meticulous recording. After the meeting, they asked the boss how many times he had been interrupted and how many times he had interrupted someone. He was off by an order of magnitude. He thought he’d been interrupted 100 times and he’d never interrupted anybody. That’s not it, but he thought he’d been interrupted 9 or 10 times and the reality was twice. He thought that he had interrupted people twice and he had interrupted more. It was a 180 flip. It wasn’t staggering because I know the literature like the back of my hand, but it was so stark. When I find things like that, I fall in love because I know that I can steal them with attribution.
It makes you wonder about witnesses and everybody else.
There must be a full truckload of good research on the unreliability of eyewitnesses. There’s a whole book done. It was The Gorilla Experiment.
I fell for it the first time. I can’t imagine that you miss it though, as you watch that.
You can’t imagine it. There’s a whole book that those people did. They call it the most famous social psychological experiment ever and it was the original authors of the whole book that had some predictable but wonderful titles like The Invisible Gorilla.
It’s like the cigar in the wall or whatever. Once you see it, you cannot not see it. It is fascinating to look at the human brain. That was what my interest was. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on emotional intelligence. I was thrilled to have Daniel Goleman on the show.
You couldn’t have asked him a question. You must have been shaking because he’s incredible.
He’s interesting because he’s gone on to more meditative self-awareness type of things, but he’s interested in what makes the brain tick. I am as well. It’s a fascinating look at behavior. I was fortunate to have Albert Bandura on the show.
When I got my PhD at Stanford, which was ‘72 to ‘77 with a couple of interruptions, Bandura was on the Stanford faculty.
He still lives on campus. I got to go to his house. It’s amazing. He lives right there. I was there after he was on the show. His brain is amazing still. He goes through to his research and remembers this and that and it was fascinating.
Do you know who else was on the Stanford campus doing research at that level when I was there? Daryl and Sandy Bem.
You had the honor of having them. Were they there in the ‘70s? What year were they there?
I was there in the ‘70s. They were doing gender research. I don’t remember the context or the question but it was something how hard it was how to break out of gender patterns and they did it with little kids. It was wonderful stuff and it was 1,000 years ahead of its time. At Stanford, Bandura was the real god intellectually, but the other god was Philip Zimbardo. While I was there is when they did the famous Stanford Prison Experiment. The Stanford Prison Experiment was, I would go to the streets of Palo Alto and I end up with 40 subjects. You are randomly assigned to be a prisoner or to be a guard. Within three days, the guards were beating the crap out of the prisoners. You couldn’t have anything wonderful out of that, but the wonderful part was Zimbardo had planned something like a fifteen-day experiment. Zimbardo was a tight ass researcher, but his girlfriend, significant other, whatever it was, forced him to stop the experiment after five days because it was truly getting out of hand. He wrote a book that was called The Lucifer Effect.
Milgram wasn’t there, was he?
Milgram was Yale.
There are many fascinating different research studies on what we are capable of, and the way our mind works is stunning. You mentioned you got your PhD there at Stanford. I’m curious about what you wrote your doctoral dissertation in.
My doctoral dissertation was subsequently on this topic. Do you do any of Karl Weick’s work? He was my god. He wrote The Social Psychology of Organizing among other things. He called my dissertation, The Small Wins Dissertation. It was talking about how small acts can have an enormous impact on 87 different dimensions. My thesis advisor, an interesting short form of his bio. He’s a son of an Albany cop, graduated from SUNY Albany at nineteen, got his PhD in psychological statistics from the University of Chicago at 21. A bright lad was he. Everything to him was heavyweight statistical analysis.
This came from my thesis advisor, Eugene Webb. Eugene was a tightass academic. He got the most popular teacher at the Stanford Business School fired because he had stolen two sentences without attribution from somebody else. James O’Toole who’s a big leadership person, wrote one of my favorite things that anybody has ever written about me. In his foreword, he said, “Tom Peters is the all-time champion for giving attribution for other people’s work.” I believe in that. At any rate, I wrote The Small Wins Dissertation. Karl Weick, who was a god in social psychology called it that. Somebody whose name I don’t remember at the Harvard Business School wrote an entire book on Small Wins and that’s fantastic but I was not even mentioned. I don’t work for myself and indexes but when somebody has a book that has your idea, as the title which is wonderful. Flattery is the most wonderful but a little teeny wee three-point type acknowledgment. It was the only time in my life I’ve ever been pissed off at something like that.
There are not many new ideas coming out anymore. A lot of people are doing that. I see a lot of that rehashing of things that other people have made famous. Do you think we’ve run out of good new ideas in the business world or are people getting lazy?
One argument you might make is there are 80 jillion leadership and business books now. How could there not be duplicates? I almost mean that. When Drucker and McGregor were writing management books, Bem is a little bit later. The management shelf at whatever was the Barnes & Noble of the time was probably three feet long. Now it goes practically from one end of the store to the other. That has to be part of it. The only disagreement I might have which again is my academic training is everybody is always building on other people. The most dramatic ideas in the world that gets back to In Search of Excellence. For some reason, those ideas were the ones who hit the sweet spot in terms of timing, but there is no brilliant creative thought that has ever been uttered by any human being that does not have 18,372 predecessors of people heading in that direction. We hit our home run with In Search of Excellence. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who wrote together hit theirs with whatever but we all have jillions of predecessors, so I’m not sure.
You’re mentioning many great former works and I know there are a lot of people who’ve written great things. I’m curious on who influenced you the most? Was it Drucker? Was it someone else in the past? Who do you think is your favorite?
I have admiration for Drucker but it was definitely not Drucker. I didn’t buy Drucker’s act. Part of it is what we’re talking about. Drucker was fine and said wonderful things and so on but he was not a research-based guy. My luck was to have this amazing thesis advisor. Everything that I did was based on reading. Number one was probably Karl Weick with his thin book called The Social Psychology of Organizing. I can’t show you my copy because I read it twenty times. Everything is underlined, magic marker, and so on. I gave it to Karl as a present and I said, “You’re an academic’s academic so I want you to know that at least one person took you seriously.”
How much relevant is it now do you think?
100%. I don’t know if you read any James March. Drucker said management was logical and these guys said it’s not logical. All of their stuff was about nonlinear behavior. That’s what I would call it. March and Simon wrote an administrative book called Organizations. Simon won the Nobel Prize in Economics for that book but it was all about the irrational, the nonlinear, the complexity of decision-making. Peter Drucker said, “There’s one thing you need to do as a manager and that is close your door and sit in your office and plan for an hour every day.” The guy who screwed that idea was Henry Mintzberg. Henry Mintzberg started looking at decision-making and the one-liner I remember from him, which I used 100 times was, “The average duration of a managerial act is nine minutes. The notion of somebody sitting around and thinking and planning logically hadn’t happened yet. It may happen someday.” Henry gave me faith that what I was doing was not lunacy.Women's overall curiosity is much less inhibited than men's. Click To Tweet
My own thesis advisor was more Socratic than an author. He wrote a book called Unobtrusive Measures that in the tight ass world of statistical analysis was popular. It was called Unobtrusive Behavior and it was about measuring things in a way that you wouldn’t think of measuring them like nose prints on glass at a museum to tell you who was looking at the exhibit. You talked about Bandura, it was that whole crowd. We had Bandura, Zimbardo, and the Bems on the scene. The best psychologist of all was Lee Ross who did the fundamental attribution error. It was all those people. I was supposed to be in the business school, but almost everything I took there was a guy by the name of Alex George. He was the most famous political scientist and he wrote about irrational decision-making in political science. Those were my mentors. These people were looking at the entire world in a totally different way than people had before. It wasn’t linear and logical. It was human behavior. Therefore, it was all effed up.
Human behavior is such a fascinating part that wasn’t included when I went to business school. I started ASU, not Stanford but in the ‘80s, everything was management. Nobody even used the word leadership back then, at least in my courses. I’ve taught thousands of business courses since then. I’m thinking of all the people I’ve had on my show like Kotter, Francesca Gino, Edmondson, and all the names who are popular now. You learn so much from the ones who focus on some of these behavioral aspects. I remember talking to Francesca Gino. She had a great piece in HBR about curiosity and I love that.
No matter who I had on the show if they were behavioral experts, if I asked them what came first, creativity, motivation or any of the things that they’re trying to work on in terms of engagement, anything in the workplace, they all thought curiosity came first. As we talked about rehashing things that have already been written or anything when I started to write about curiosity, I started to think that’s not new. What was surprising to me was nobody had found a way to determine what inhibited it. Nobody was measuring that. No matter what we study, there are many aspects that still need more research. There are many great books that are still coming out. I’m curious what your favorite book is in the last few years?
It’s certainly Kahnemans’ Thinking, Fast and Slow. I’ve been reading so much stuff for the past few years. The whole series of books from Sherry Turkle, a woman from Berkeley on how the new technology is making awful messes of our brain. She’s been a champion of that stuff. All of which incidentally, given the timing of our conversation and forgetting the nightmare part is incredibly important relative to this issue. Are we all going to work for home and what does that mean in terms of social psychological interaction, decision-making, etc.? I’ve been asked over and over again, the thing that Bob Waterman and I found in doing the In Search of Excellence research way back in 1977, was managing by wandering around in a two-year-old Packard. I’ve always said that’s the only idea I need. It’s not about managing by wandering around. It’s about leaders who are in touch.
At any rate, I have had 6,000 phone calls. The more accurate number is probably six with people saying, “How do you do MBWA in a world of WFH?” My answer, which I believe but it sounds like a cheap shot defending myself is, “Managing by wandering around is 1% physical and 99% metaphorical. It is about people who are leading by being sensitive and by being in touch.” I’ve been saying this and I’ve been tweeting like mad on it. I’ve said, “In this new world of WFH, EQ is suddenly ten times more important than it ever was. It was already more important than anything else.” With the exception of your work, did you read the best thing that’s been written in the last 100 years? I’m pissed off that I didn’t find it until after I’d written my last book.
That’s how I felt about Range. When I read Range, I liked it a lot.
Range was great. There were about 4 or 5 books like that at the same time. I’ve got them ten feet away from me on a shelf.
That were a lot of different ones that wrote curiosity types of books and it’s fun to read those books.
Range is your piece of cake and that’s a gross understatement.
With great stories like what you write, so I love that.
This comes from a Washington Post article. You may know the piece from December 20, 2017. Valerie Strauss is the author and the title of the article is The surprising thing Google learned about its employees and what it means for today’s students. The first paragraph goes, “Project Oxygen data from founding in 1998 to 2013 shocked everyone by concluding that among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM and mathematical expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills, being a good coach, communicating, and listening well.”
The second thing she wrote about was an equivalent study of Google called Project Aristotle. Google is one of those wretched places that classifies people as A people and B people. Project Aristotle found that the B teams were far more creative than the A teams because the B teams have people who listened to each other. The A teams, with all those people with 379 IQs, were most famous for intellectual bullying, but I love that. I was like, “This is what I’ve been doing for many years of my life and now I’ve got it all covered in two paragraphs.” It’s truly true. I said, “I’m royally pissed off that I didn’t find it until after my last book.”
When you’re writing a book and you’re near the end and you go, “I want to include that.” You can never stop if you keep finding stuff. That’s the problem. You’ve written many books. You’ve sold more than ten million copies. Is it more than that now?
Nobody has a clue. One of the reasons which I love is the first opening with China, which was Kissinger and Nixon. The only thing they could agree on was a scholarly exchange between the two countries. Four years later, I was one of the scholars chosen. I described it as a rat out of Nobel Laureates, then they got the P in the alphabet. At any rate, I was taken around in various places in China for 90 days, and what I’m telling you is accurate. In the course of the 90 days, I met seven publishers who had published In Search of Excellence and every one of them, it was the number one best-seller. What was my royalty yield? Zero because that’s when intellectual property theft was 100%. The point being is God knows how many copies of the book had sold. People have said 2 million, 3 million, 5 million, 10 million, I have no idea.
I was looking at some other statistics that you’ve made 2,500 speeches in 50 American states, 67 countries, over 5 million people. You’ve taken 7,500 flights covering five million miles.
People say I’m not totally arrogant, which I hope is true. Can I tell you the only statistic I care about? I found it in Wikipedia and it comes from something called WorldCat. From 1989 to 2006, which is a rather long period of time, In Search of Excellence was the most widely held book in American Library. That’s hot stuff. That beats the sales numbers by orders of magnitude. I can’t get over that. The only question I’ve ever asked about is, “Does that include the Holy Bible?”
What kind of stress did that put on you for the book after that? Are you going to continue to write or pass this?
I’ll continue to write until they tear the pen or keyboard out of my hands. The way I described it to people is I’ve said I only write a new book when I decided that the last book that I wrote was a total piece of crap. What happened with my second book is my office was in Palo Alto and we started having these five-day seminars. They were called skunk camps which came from the Lockheed Skunk Works. It was crazy people who wanted to make a difference in organizations. We had all these wonderful people and they kept saying things like, “What do you want us to do which was not a part of In Search of Excellence?” My partner and colleague, Nancy Austin, and I wrote our second book. It was called A Passion for Excellence. It wasn’t a how-to book in one sense but it was great, “Tom, you wrote this book called In Search of Excellence. Now, what am I supposed to do?” Nancy and I used our research activities and the people we met. It was an example as opposed to big things like, “What does Hewlett Packard do?”
My favorite thing in the book had a few photographs of two of the people who came to my seminar from Newark, Delaware, Bill and Vieve Gore, who had started the WL Gore corporation. One of the things I remember, and I still look at it every now and then because I adore them so much, is in the entire company, they had no job titles. Nancy and I were at Newark, Delaware with the Gore people and so on. I ran into this woman who I don’t know if she was an admin assistant or she was an assistant on a production line. She gave me her business card and Sarah Clifton was her name. “Sarah Clifton, Supreme Commander,” is what the business card wrote. That was the magic of the equality at Gore. We wrote that book that was the second book and on it went. At one stage of the game, which was incredibly important. I was ahead of the curve. My 1992 book was called Liberation Management.
All the stuff back in the days of In Search of Excellence was mainly industrial companies. I had this wonderful researcher working for me in my office, but she didn’t have that intellectual background. I was doing research for this Liberation Management book. Kathy Dolly Molly was her name. Kathy turned to me one morning and she said, “Don’t you get tired of writing about factories?” For some reason, it hit me right between the eyes. We started doing research on service companies. We did Chiat\Day, the advertising company that had done the great Apple advertisement with the IBM Lemmings running over a cliff. We did the predecessor of IDEO design, which was called David Kelly design. Their office was three blocks from my office. We started doing the service companies and had cases on those but it was a totally different book. That’s the way it’s always gone.
I did a book called The Pursuit of Wow!. Back in the days of newspapers and typewriters, I wrote a syndicated column for ten years, distributed by the Tribune Media Services. I got a letter from a publisher one day and he said, “You know you wrote a new book?” I said, “No, but that sounds good to me.” He says, “I’m going to take your columns and we’re going to strip stuff out of the columns and turn it into a book.” It still took a year and a half to write because it had to be edited and we added interviews and so on. It was just stuff like that, that happened.
A lot of people have followed your work throughout the years. I’m excited to see what else you write in the future. I’ve had the opportunity to see some of your interviews and some of the other things you’ve done, but I have the most important question for you. What is your favorite Monty Python line?
I can’t tell you. I can only tell you the movie it came from. It’s something out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
“He’s already got one,” might be one of my favorites.There's no brilliant, creative thought that's ever been uttered by a human being that doesn't have its predecessors. Click To Tweet
I was once interviewed in BBC by David Frost who was kind of a Dan Rather. The only point that’s interesting about that was the original Python group did not include John Cleese and John was a writer. Frost had a weekly show. Cleese was a researcher for Frost and then he ran into the Python who passed away many years ago. I love those guys. I saw a one-person show in Boston at a theatrical place called ART, American Repertory Theater, and Cleese was on stage being interviewed for an hour and a half. That was the whole thing.
That’s the best night ever and this was fun to find out that you are a Monty Python fan. I never will forget my 30th birthday. That’s what I did. I went to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail and I’ve never been the same since. It was fun talking to you, Tom. You have so much work that I could talk to you all day. I want to thank you so much for doing the show and I know a lot of people want to know more. I know they can go to TomPeters.com for a lot of your information. Are there any other sites or any other way to follow you that you’d like to share?
I’m a radically regular user of Twitter and my Twitter handle is @Tom_Peters. I do an awful lot of Twitter, which I love.
You have a thick skin for it sometimes.
Sometimes. I don’t want to get political, but I’m fast on Twitter blocking Trump followers. I’ve got a fast finger. That’s not quite true, but it is when somebody makes one of these things. “Don’t you realize that he understood everything that was going on about the pandemic?” That’s when I said to somebody, “I don’t use totally foul language but I do use words that I attributed it to my four years in the Navy learning how to swear like a sailor.” Can I tell you about my brilliance?
I would love that.
It was a tweet that I did. It was after Trump said he had total authority to do whatever he wanted. I said, “There’s a new rule that’s gone into place and that is six feet of distancing from any of your colleagues and friends, and 60 feet minimum distancing from anybody who is a Trump supporter.”
You keep up quite a good interaction with people. People who love Twitter will love following you.
It’s for conversation. There is an incredible amount of crap on Twitter. Have you read the horrible book about Silicon Valley, which is wonderful and true called Brotopia? It’s about the disgusting, contemptible, sexist crap that goes on in Silicon Valley. The thing that I loved about Twitter is I read the book, loved the book, and tweeted about the book. The next thing I knew, I was having a long-winded overtime conversation with the author and that’s happened 100 times. That thing is the delight and it’s all self-selection. You do easily get away from the crap stuff. The most wonderful one I’ve written, which I can’t remember the name of, is about how all hard-nosed data collection is biased against women.
I can’t think of it, but I know what you’re talking about.
It’s off the charts great. It’s the horrible stuff about the number of women who have been killed because all the clinical trials were done on men, and so on. If you want to figure out whether I’m a good guy or not, I found a pile of books sitting right next to me. Do you know what’s on top? It isn’t one of yours, I’m afraid to say. Range is on top.
It was Emily Chang for Brotopia.
Thank you for that. I also have the ones that make you sick at your stomach like an old book by Sinclair Lewis called It Can’t Happen Here. It’s a description of what we’re going through and the book was written in the 1930s.
Do you post those on Twitter? I’d like to follow your best list.
I don’t do lists but I certainly am referring to books about every fifteen minutes. Find this one on women and data pollution and find the author who was a woman, and grab her and get her on. I’ve got many piles of books in my room.
I’m going to look it up because I am curious. I don’t think I’ve read that book.
Go to Google and look up a book about data collection and bias against women.
Is it Caroline Criado Perez’ Invisible Women?
Yes. Put it on the top of your list. I’ve had some exchanges with her on Twitter and get her.
I’ll get her on the show. Maybe you can introduce us. It will be great.
The other one, which is a wonderful book, which you will approve of and you may have read. It is a deeply researched book about 400 pages long and the title of the book is Empathy: A History. The first endorser of the book is Daniel Goleman, but the author’s name is Susan Lanzoni. It’s just a simple title.
This has been great. Everybody’s home and they’re looking for things to read. There’s no excuse for people to be bored. It was fun having you on the show.
I was hunting for that Google thing and this came up at Twitter and this is good, Diane. I found it on Twitter. All the crappy things that employers have been doing to employees during the pandemic. There is something in Boardman, Oregon called Blue Mountain Community College and they sent a memo to all their employees. It’s six items. One, you are not “working from home.” You are “at home during a crisis trying to work.” Two, your personal, physical, mental, and emotional health is extremely important right now. Take care of yourself. Three, you should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours. Four, be kind to yourself and don’t judge how you are coping based on how you see others are coping. Five, be kind to others and don’t judge others in how they are coping based on how you are coping. Six, success will not be measured in the same way it was when things were normal. Isn’t that beautiful? It is antithetical to some of the crap you read about.
What company was that?
It is not a company. It is called Blue Mountain Community College. It is in a town I’ve never heard of called Boardman, Oregon.
If we heard more of that in different organizations, many people can breathe a sigh of relief.
The woman who sent it around is a professor there and she’s a poet and she’s won a poetry prize. I tweeted back to her and I said, “I’m proud of you for your poetry prize, but you’re going to have to split that prize with whoever on staff wrote that memo to people. I don’t know your poetry, but I know that that memo is pure poetry.”
It says exactly what people should be hearing. I’m glad we took the time for you to share that. That’s a great way to end because many people can use words of inspiration. This has been fun, Tom. Thank you. I learned so much from everything you’ve ever written and I learned even more on this episode.
Thank you. As you can tell, I maybe 200 years old, but I still love this material. I do have a great way at my incredibly advanced age, which lets me put it off. People ask me how old I am and I said, “Let me explain it to you. Remember that picture of Washington crossing the Delaware during the Revolutionary War? Look closely at that picture and in the back of the book rowing like crazy, you will find me.” I’m not quite that old. Let me tell you about my problem with old age during the pandemic. My problem other than the fact that statistically, it doesn’t help me actuarially. I know I’m old and I’m willing to be called an old person, but all of the categorization calls my people, elderly. You can call me a nasty old fart and I will have no problem with you at all. You can call me as old as an oak tree and I will have no problem. I don’t like the word elderly.
I hate the word gal.
That’s a horrible name.
Isn’t it the worst? Guys are fine. Gals I can’t take and I don’t know why.
My final word that that topic brings up is the #MeToo Movement is so overdue and it’s important. I’ve had people say, “There will be people who don’t deserve it to get hit.” I said, “We boys have been screwing up for the last several thousand years.” I’m sorry for the people who are collateral damage but bring it on. It’s fantastic. Harvey couldn’t get a long enough sentence as far as I’m concerned.
He’s in there for a while. All the things that you’re doing and what everybody’s doing makes up in some ways for some of the bad things out there. I know there’s a lot going on and this is going to be a different time of how we get through all this. I hope everybody takes time to rethink, become more curious, and read more from people like you who’ve written amazing things and others that we’ve mentioned on the show. Thank you for being on the show, Tom.
Don’t forget, we’ve had all this stuff coming out that says, “All the countries which are handling the pandemic well have women as presidents or prime ministers.” I love that.Take time to rethink yourself and become more curious. Click To Tweet
We’ll see changes and it’s too bad it takes things like this to draw attention to it. Hopefully, we will see something changes. Thank you again.
Thank you for your time and interest. I deeply appreciate it. I am still in a state of shock that I was late to call you. I’m trained as an engineer and I don’t take being lightweight.
I would wait, Tom, for your call any day and at this time, it’s amazing that anybody knows what time it is because every day seems the same.
I’d like to thank Tom for being my guest. We get many great guests on the show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com. You can as well find out anything you want to know about Cracking the Curiosity Code or the Curiosity Code Index. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you join us for the next episode.
- Tom Peters
- In Search of Excellence
- The Female Brain
- The Invisible Gorilla
- Daniel Goleman – Previous Episode
- Albert Bandura – Previous Episode
- The Lucifer Effect
- The Social Psychology of Organizing
- Unobtrusive Measures
- John Kotter – Previous Episode
- Francesca Gino – Previous Episode
- Amy Edmondson – Previous Episode
- Thinking, Fast and Slow
- The surprising thing Google learned about its employees and what it means for today’s students – article
- A Passion for Excellence
- WL Gore
- Liberation Management
- The Pursuit of Wow!
- @Tom_Peters – Twitter
- It Can’t Happen Here
- Invisible Women
- Empathy: A History
- Cracking the Curiosity Code
- Curiosity Code Index
About Tom Peters
Tom Peters is co-author of In Search of Excellence—the book that changed the way the world does business, and often tagged as the best business book ever. Sixteen books and almost thirty years later, he’s 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 its worth, the one-man brand called Tom Peters is still re-inventing himself.”
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