Tom Peters's Latest: How to Fend Off A Stale Career

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HE Pursuit of Wow'' is about what one might expect from author Tom Peters.

His critics will likely deride this as another exercise in `lite' management by a self-promoting, liberal guru offering half-baked, fortune-cookie counsel. And they'll label it inconsistent.

His fans, however, will love it.

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Since catapulting to fame and fortune by co-authoring ``In Search of Excellence'' in 1982, Peters has kept his star in the modern-management heavens via seminars, a nationally syndicated column, and a semi-regular stream of books.

This paperback sequel to last year's book, ``The Tom Peters Seminar,'' sounds a familiar theme of elevating craziness above all other business gods. Sure reengineering, total-quality management, empowerment, and the rest of the politically correct techniques are worthwhile. But Peters doesn't dwell much on these.

Peters is a stirrer.

Sprinkled with live examples and off-hand observations from his travels, Peters insists that true corporate success depends on serendipity. The only way to plan for it is by mixing heavy doses of zaniness with discipline. To stay on top in a world where product life cycles are shrinking from years to months, he insists, companies and CEOs must be ``chameleons not bound by consistency.''

His heroes are ``crazy in their passion for their dream.... But utterly Prussian in the pursuit of the details that make dreams come true.''

Peters's advice, packaged in conversational bites that seldom last more than a page, seems aimed at keeping products and organizations (by definition, the people in them) from stagnating and sliding into obsolescence.

Managers can achieve personal renewal (``little R'') by reading, attending seminars, taking three-week vacations, and visiting customers. But to ``fend off the staleness that most of us don't see overtaking us,'' Peters advocates the ``Big R.'' That is:

* Spend a year working in the inner city or third world.

* Grab a three-year lateral assignment/demotion to a location or division totally foreign to you. (Do interrupt a fast-track career at age 34 for this.)

* Take two hours off in the middle of the day, at least three days a week, to do whatever.

* Quit a good job with nothing particular in mind for a next step (for example, drift for six months to a year).

That may be invigorating for a wealthy management guru living on a 1,300-acre farm in Vermont. But what about the salaried slaves with mortgage, college, and car payments? Peters acknowledges most people can't afford such radical changes. But his point is, ``Do you have the moxie to consider a radical restructuring of your affairs [that could end up refreshing your family rather than punishing it]?''

To his credit, Peters allows he may be inconsistent. He includes such disclaimers as: ``Beware of easy solutions and rules laid down by management gurus, starting with yours truly.''

Nonetheless, this book probably should be read at all levels of an organization. While consistency and persistence are virtues, most would agree that ruts are an anathema to progress. Yet, most of us favor security and the familiar over change.

A friend, who is a computer analyst, says of this book: ``I like how I feel afterward. Peters inspires me to take action.'' For months, he had been stewing about a new product Microsoft ought to create. After reading ``Wow,'' this friend is now lobbying the software giant to hire him.

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