219: Swimming In A Sea Of Confusion In Search Of Excellence With Tom Peters
How have you fared as a leader during tough times? In this episode, Tom Peters, Business Author and Speaker, joins Mitch Russo to talk about transmitting what you care most about to your team in search of excellence. From his time as a Navy Seabee to his work in the White House, Tom shares his journey and the lessons he’s learned throughout the years. Tom and Mitch explore the importance of mentorship as they talk about Peter’s mentors that have had the most impact on them. Tune in and take control of your business on your way to success through Peter’s commandments for leadership in tough times.
Swimming In A Sea Of Confusion In Search Of Excellence With Tom Peters
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Usually, I don’t introduce a new guest by telling a story about me but in this case, it’s important. I was in my mid to late twenties and I read the book after starting my software company in 1985 called In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies. I’ve got to tell you, I had no clue about how to run a company or had no real business even trying to start one but I did it anyway. Swimming in a sea of confusion, I grasp lifelines everywhere. One afternoon, I got this book because I heard it on a talk radio show and I couldn’t put it down. I started taking notes. I read it once, I read it twice. That’s where this journey began. I then found out that the author, Tom Peters, was going to be appearing in New York City at a convention or at a business meeting. I flew to New York to see him speak.
I was enthralled with this man and his amazing rants. I got on a plane and flew to another city to see him speak again. I did it again and the reason is that what Tom was saying deeply resonated with me. I went back to my little company and implemented it. Tom earned his MBA and PhD from Cornell. He also holds an honorary doctorate from many prominent institutions including the State University in Moscow to the University of San Francisco. After the Navy, he held a position at the White House and eventually went on to be a Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company. He went on to write eighteen books and he’s still actively sharing his power.
Not eighteen books, it’s eighteen books written by an engineer. An engineer normally cannot write a coherent sentence by the time we finish school so I’m proud of myself. When people say, “You’re an amazing writer.” I say, “Absolutely. I am a good business writer.” For those who are reading who are baseball fans, those who are old enough to remember when there was a Minor League System with A, B, C, D, and so on. I said, “Being a good business writer is like winning the batting title and Class C Minor League ball.” The hurdle is not high.
First of all, I have to welcome you to the show. It’s my pleasure and honor to have you here. I have to inform you as a fellow engineer, I’ve written two books myself and like you, I don’t consider myself a writer. I do know how to structure a process and how to explain a process so that others get it. I have a feeling that’s what you do too?
Yes. The thing that may be best about my books, which is what’s worst about them if you were a literary critic, is I’ve had large numbers of people say, “You write the way you talk.” This is to make sure there are exclamation marks. I’m going through editing and I’ve got a copy editor. She takes out all my exclamation marks and then I go through and put them all back in. She takes them out again. On the third round, I remind her that it’s my book, not her book.
The story I started to tell, Tom, is that when I get back to my office, what I did is I went and bought six books on quality. I put them spine facing out on the top of my desk and I called my software engineering team. It’s my office, every week, and I pounded on the table and said, “What are we going to do about increasing the quality of our software?” I never read a single one of those books. I was following your instructions. Amazingly, within four months, we started to see the bug count drop dramatically. Why? You taught me to transmit to my team what I care most about. It was incredible because, without that one tip, of which that was one of many, I would have never been able to get a product out of enough quality to win some of the awards that we did. A belated thank you for that and much more.Starting on day one, the best systems start going downhill because they get more and more elaborate. Click To Tweet
It makes perfect sense to me. Starting on day one, the best systems start going downhill because they get more and more elaborated. Some people decide that they’re going to play Sheriff and get angrier and angrier when somebody doesn’t do things exactly right. They lose the energy that made them useful in the beginning. I am a total fan of the idea of agile. I said to somebody when I stopped loving it was when they started capitalizing the A because, at that point, it became a religion with Ten Commandments and stop being a cool way to help you get things done with less muss and fuss. Six Sigma, I remember there were an article and a cover story in Businessweek. 3M was my favorite company In Search of Excellence. The title of this article was How Six Sigma Almost Killed 3M’s innovation process. When it’s great, it’s worth its weight in gold. You don’t do agile coaching on the side, do you?
When you capitalize the A, and when there become specialists who are making a ton of money by helping you figure it out and do it, those are biases of mine. They’re pretty decent biases. That’s true of everything. I live in Massachusetts and we have a lot of regulations as does every state for God’s sake. I was talking to the head carpenter about it. What he has to go through every year to get recertified. There are a few stupid regulations. The stupid comes when you pile one on top of another on top of another and all you’ve done is make communication less direct and made the whole thing more bureaucratic.
It’s like prescription drugs, you can’t pile one on top of the other because then instead of getting the benefits, you get all the side effects.
It’s funny because my doctor is a well-known guy. I would never allow myself to be vaccinated if we get a vaccine until it was the appropriate time and I said that to him. He said, “I will not vaccinate you until we know enough about the side effects.” I’m sure you’ve been reading it and I’ve been reading it. It’s like the ventilators which keep some people alive but make an awful mess of your life once you get off.
Tom, let’s go back to the beginning. I know readers enjoy hearing the beginnings of a person’s journey. Let’s go back to the thing that I’m most interested in, your time at the White House. What was that like?
I’ll do that but then your next question has to be, who is your most important mentor and what did that mean to you? The reality is the first 98% of what I know came from my first commanding officer in Vietnam in 1966. He is, at least, an equal, and if God doesn’t get annoyed at me, I would say he edges out my mother on the number one mentor list. We can talk about that as well.
Maybe you’d want to start with some of the lessons your commanding officer taught you?
The White House thing was such a god-awful mess. I will tell you one little story which has to do with things that look good that sometimes don’t end up that way. I was involved and I was running some White House-based program on International Narcotics Control. Most of the heroin coming to New York was getting leveled. Most of the heroin was coming in from Turkey. I and my peers did a brilliant job of getting Turkey out of the opium poppy business. What was the result? We shortened the supply lines by 5,000 miles and it all started coming from Mexico. My contribution was such a negative. Welcome to the world of unintended consequences.
Let’s go back to my commanding officer because it has a lot of resonance in particular with your engineering training. I have gotten out of Cornell, I’m 24 years old. I arrived and I was a Navy Seabee which means Construction Battalion. We were combat engineers who supported the Marines. That’s the bottom line. We built the roads and then they shot the guns and they got all the credit, but that’s fine too. I love to say that because Marines are usually so full of themselves as much as I love them.
I land in the middle of the night and the commanding officer in the battalion lines up the six junior officers in the battalion and he said, “Boys, I want you to have a good deployment.” He said, “I’m going to define it for you. A good deployment means you will do whatever your chief petty officers tell you to do, or I will hear about it.” To this day, when I put my top five list of things together, and I realized I’m not talking to people mainly from four. If you have a car dealership, you have four supervisors. If you have a 30-person company, you’ve got five supervisors.
My point is the sergeants run the army, the chief petty officers run the Navy, and the most important attribute, asset of any company is their collection of first-line managers. What I like to say to the big company people is, “Any idiot can be a vice president, but to be a terrific first-line manager is the alpha.” The research is there. It says that every variable, productivity, equality, innovation, employee retention, it’s all driven by the first-line manager. They do the surveys, why do people leave a business? They don’t care if you have a crappy, illegal business. You leave because you have a crappy manager. If you’ve got a great manager, you’re likely to stay. He starts us out that way.
I was lucky. I had two deployments in Vietnam, I had two commanding officers. In my writing, I have called them Captain Day and Captain Night. As I said to somebody, “All of my training and leadership after that was a waste because I had it nailed by the age of 25.” Captain Day was tough in the best sense of the word. He wanted the job done. He wanted to get it done without muss and fuss but, I hate to use a word like adored. He was respected by every one of the 900 people in our battalion. I won’t say loved or adored.
This is the essence, we knew that he cared for us and that he was looking out for us without any question whatsoever. He was also a no BS guy. He was not particularly worried about what his commanding officer wanted. As far as he was concerned, he’d gotten an assignment and the assignment there was to build a bridge over something. It was a nasty area where people shot at you and so on. The whole deal was getting the bridge done. No muss, no fuss. He did exploit me, I will admit. I had learned this thing in civil engineering that was a fancy chart. He said, “I’ve got an admiral visiting. Do me one of those charts and they’ll think I’m up with things.” In the commanding officer’s office, there was a big chart that I had written, which none of us used. None of us knew what we were doing but it looked good to the admiral.
My second commanding officer, he was not hated but pretty close. He was a bureaucrat. I can describe it perfectly. I was in an operations part and I had to write the annual report or the deployment report. We’re in a war and we’re trying to help the Marines by building bridges and roads and so on. I wrote my little report. I was called into the captain’s office. He looks at me and he says, “Mr. Peters,” that’s what junior officers are called in the Navy. “Do you not know the difference between the word palpable and tangible?” You don’t want to break into a crap-eating grin in front of your commanding officer but I said, “I don’t.”
As I said to somebody, “My first captain, Captain Anderson wanted to get the job done. No bullcrap, no reports.” This guy, and I’m being slightly unfair, would rather have had a report that was perfect about a project that was never finished than to have gotten the thing finished. I’m going to use this chance whether you’d like it or not, except you can always turn me off, to talk about you and I, engineers, and talk about the people stuff, and so on.
I’ve got an Engineering degree from Cornell. I only say Cornell because I want to make it clear. It’s a good engineering degree from a good school. Six months after I graduate, I’m getting off that plane in Vietnam. My chief petty officers did run the show but I was an officer and legally I was responsible from the next morning on for the lives of fifteen sailors in a warzone. The way the Seabees work is in Vietnam, it was nine months in the country, four months home, and nine months again.The most important asset of any company is its collection of first-line managers. Click To Tweet
I get home after nine months, and I’m not proud of all the pieces of this. The first thing I do is I go to Cornell, and I barge into the dean’s office. I don’t know how I got the nerve. I looked him in the eye and I said, “You F me over. I could have redesigned the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge with a blindfold on and both hands tied behind my back. I knew nothing about leadership. I knew nothing about people practices.” When we talk about the people stuff, it always gets me irritated when people say, “You’ve got to be good at the technical stuff.” If you’re good at all, you’re going to be leading a project within six months of arriving at which time the entire life you have therefrom is all about people.
I laid into it, and I meant every word of it. The good news was my first commanding officer taught me. I would not trade my four years in the Navy for anything. You mentioned the White House thing. I’ll give you the analog because it answers the question. About four years in the Navy, two assignments, first two years in Vietnam, and the second two years in the Pentagon. The Pentagon taught me my fascination with giant organizations. That was yet another teaching experience of the First Order. As I like to say and I put in my biography, “I was in Vietnam and then I went into a hot war, namely trying to survive the Pentagon.” It’s a throwaway line but it’s pretty close to true.
This is fascinating and of course, I’m enjoying your stories immensely. Let’s bring this back home. The small business owners reading this blog, they get to know the incredible Tom Peters sharing his wisdom. How does he use what you’re telling us every day to take control of his employees, to raise revenue, to make more profits? Where does all of this come together for him?
I’m going to start with a rant. I am well aware that a large number of people who are reading have had their legs kicked out from under them. They’ve got a nine-person business, they mortgaged the house to get whatever started. The revenue is zero. My heart goes out to you without any question but let’s talk about a 27-person business where you are struggling through. The reason I’m talking to you is, not so early in June 2020, I was sitting in my office and I thought, “Don’t let your ego get away from you, Tom, but what are you doing to be useful during this COVID crisis?”
My colleague, Shelley Dolley, who worked with me for decades, I said, “Shelley, why don’t we call all the people that we’ve been on podcasts with and Tom would love to talk about leadership in tough times,” which is why I’m here. I’m going to say two things. I wrote a simple little thing, and I want to get the intensity, the fire in my eyes or the fire in my voice, and I called it Leadership in COVID-19 times, The Seven Commandments. These are the Seven Commandments. Be kind, be caring, be patient, be forgiving, be present, be positive, and walk in the other person’s shoes. I get lots of people like my neighbors and excuse my language, but in this one instance, I have to use it. They say, “What do you do on these podcasts?” I said, “I’ve got the answer for leaders in terms of COVID-19 times. Do not be a jerk.”
It’s not trivial. As I said, I do understand what it means to have no money, etc. I was talking to a guy in an auto body shop who was doing some work for me. He has about twenty people on the payroll. We ended up having a wonderful conversation about the degrees to which he had busted his bonds to keep as many of them as he possibly could and help the ones who had to go to fill out all the forms that they needed to fill out to get their money sooner rather than later. I was in tears. He didn’t turn crap into gold but his whole thing was, “How do I help these twenty people navigate this process a little less awful?”
He talked about it which is wonderful. It’s because of the culture, the people first that he’s created. Some of his older guys who are the body shop senior guys making good money, and helping out financially some of the youngsters. Doing stuff that you wouldn’t believe but that doesn’t happen unless the attitude is right in the organization, to begin with. That’s my whole leadership story. I’d say a couple of things. One of the people I quote regularly is a guy who’s a customer service guru and also created a chain of spas that was bizarrely successful. His name is John DiJulius, and his one-liner that I am convinced is accurate. He said, “Your customers will never be any happier than your employees.” That is the power line of all power lines. I want to say one other thing because you’re an engineer and you’re a techie, you got your start with some brilliant technology companies.
I was annoyed because this article didn’t appear until after I’d written my last book. There was an article about Google and the title of the article was Google’s Big Surprise. Google, the gods come down on them with the techie stuff. If it was a Google, it was done rigidly. They did two studies, what are the attributes of our best employees? What are the attributes of our most innovative teams? You get eight attributes that mark the best employees. The first seven were the soft variables. Does she listen? Does she respect the other person? Does she help somebody out in a pinch? Last on the list was STEM.
They then did most innovative teams and Google was one of those places that made me want to barf who declare people as A-players and B-players. The absolute best way in the world to demotivate 50% of the population. The A-teams were far more innovative than the B-teams. As some Google leader was talking to the author, he said, “The B guys may have had an IQ that was two points lower than the A guys, but same thing, 7 of the 8 top traits were the soft stuff.” They respect people, trust people, and listen to people. If we’re doing something, I don’t care how techie it is, magic happens.
I love your perspective, Tom. If I would summarize your message is to learn what it’s like to be a human being. Understand not much how you want to be treated but how others want to be treated. To me, I embrace this completely. I build tribes, I build communities for my clients along with certification programs. Without this information, without understanding what you said, and you said it better than I could ever say it. I might take this segment and put it in my training. It’s good because it’s truly the most important thing about running a company.
You missed the most important part.
I did? I’m sure I did.
The most important part, selfishly for everybody who’s paying attention to us, and I’m saying it in a jokey way, is what you have done in the last four months and what you will do in the next four months is the most important eight months of your professional life. The excellence or crappiness of your entire professional career will be based on that. This is a once in a 100 years activity, and the way you respond is you. I don’t care what you did before and I don’t care what you did afterward. If you’re religious, this is the one that St. Peter talks about to you. I love it. I love the following. I want to tear up. The New York Times columnist David Brooks. If we have conservatives reading, he is the New York Times, he is a certified conservative. He’s not some whatever, lily-livered liberal, I am but that’s a different story.
David Brooks said there are two kinds of virtues, resume virtues and eulogy virtues. The resume virtues said, “I went to a big deal school. I got my Engineering degree at Duke. I was promoted five times in the first five years.” It’s all those things that go on your CV, your accomplishments. The eulogy virtues are what they say about you at your funeral. The only thing they say about your funeral was you took care of others. I don’t care whether I’m talking to the small or big businessman or a government bureaucrat. To make it clear, I was raised as a Presbyterian but I am not a religious nut. I’m sorry to say that I haven’t darkened many church doors over the last X number of years. I would like to make this point. If you’re an atheist, this is exactly the same message.
They have a term called humanist.
Which is why you and I failed this test big time. This is why engineering schools should have a few more philosophers, historians, and English majors on their faculty, and a few less of the techie techs. Going back to the other thing and you answered it. I don’t remember what it was that triggered it. I had a one-liner in my book and in my next book that came from a guy who is the CEO of a good biotech startup. They are not a billion-dollar company yet, but they’ve got something like 150 employees at this point. It’s the real deal, but it’s no monster.
He said, “We only hire nice people.” This is the important part. You’re interviewing me. You’re the CEO. This is a biotech company. I have got the sexiest PhD in some molecular chemistry known to God and I got it from a good school. You, the CEO, are drooling about my qualifications but even though you’re the CEO, you can’t hire me. The minute you leave the interview, you go on a series of something like 7 or 8 fifteen-minute interviews with people in the company. That means a receptionist, a fellow chemist, it means a youngster age 28 in the finance department and every single one of those people has 100% no bullcrap blackball rights.Excellence is not an aspiration. Excellence is not a hill to climb. Excellence is the next five minutes. Click To Tweet
If you’re crap, you are not going to get a job. Here’s a trivial version of that, which is anything but trivial. Every list of great healthcare organizations, Mayo Clinic either comes out number 1 or 2. Mayo Clinic’s hiring trick and the reason I’m saying this to the people I’m talking to is this all holds as much in a four-person business as it does in a forty-jillion dollar business. I am surgeon God and I’m being interviewed for a position at Mayo by you and we’re having this conversation.
I don’t know whether you use a pen and scratch on your arm or whatever, what I don’t know is you’re counting something. There was a wonderful book called Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic from which I got this. During the interview, and this is literal, not figurative, you are literally counting the number of times I use the word ‘I’ and the number of times that I use the word ‘we.’ If I wins over we, then Tom Peters, the greatest liver surgeon in the history of livers does not get the job. Dr. Mayo, Senior in 1914 started this. He said, “Practice team medicine and you’ll make a lot more people healthy.” For our small business friends with 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 people, hire nice people, that Emotional Quotient stuff, EQ. Hire people with high EQs for every job.
I worked with a car dealer in Dallas, Texas and wrote about him. His name was Carl Sewell. When you’re going to buy a Cadillac from Carl, before you’re allowed to look at cars, he takes you on a tour of the service department. In the service department, first of all, all the service guys have little cubicles and they have their names on so I’m not talking to some schmuck who’s good with a wrench. They didn’t have PhDs from MIT. You talk to them for three minutes and they would talk about what they were up to.
This happened to be a period where Cadillac quality was not the highest in the world so you’d spend a lot of time at the service department. Dealers don’t get much of a commission on a new car. They get the money on the warranty work, on the service work, that’s the all-important first 110% of their profitability. The most important people in the world are the person at the front desk who’s on the phone or returning an email and talks to you about what’s going on. That’s the key.
I want to mention emails. I have this thing about excellence, as you know. My thing about excellence is not an aspiration, excellence is not a hill to climb. Excellence is the next five minutes. Maybe I am talking to people in somewhat bigger businesses, the quality of your next seven-line email, if you’re in a company with two levels of management, is the most important thing in the world. That shows you off as a human being or you’re, “Move on to the next.” The other thing I want to say to all of our colleagues and most of them are smaller business owners, which means they have employees, and maybe it was that last thing, walk in the other person’s shoes.
There’s some famous guy, he was a Scottish preacher who said, “Be kind. Everyone is fighting a great battle.” Every person is radically different from every other person and Tom now is different from Tom tomorrow. Tom has gotten along well with people and so on. Suddenly he turns into a grouch. You sit down and have a little chat. It turns out that his mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. He’s not the same Tom anymore. It doesn’t mean that he can do crappy work and leave the bolts off when he’s putting the muffler in. It means, for God’s sake, show some compassion. There are two reasons to show compassion because it’s the right thing to do and it is the best way in the world to make money over the long haul. I take care of you, you take care of me.
It also makes running a business much more pleasant. It also changes the attitude of ‘this is for me’ to ‘this is for us.’ When I built my little software company to 100 people, the only thing that went through my mind is, this is affecting 100 families. Everything I do affects all of the families of the people that I employ.
I wish a lot of people are watching us on video because I’m pumping my fist. I agree with you so much. A friend of mine named Bo Burlingham wrote a wonderful book a few years ago. It was called Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big. He had four special attributes but the one I remember, which was number one, is he said, “They are highly integrated into the communities in which they work. They are stellar, well-known members of the community.” That doesn’t just mean giving money to X, Y or Z, but it means what you’re saying. For those of you who have the option to go back and look at this on video, you get to watch this part where I pump my fist every word comes out of your mouth.
It’s interesting to me, when I had no training, as I told you at the beginning of the show. I was learning by the seat of my pants with your help and with the help of other smart guys whose books and stories that I was able to avail myself of. The most important thing to me was it wasn’t whether I was liked, it was whether everybody enjoyed being here. What we do when we build these incredibly powerful cultures is we create what I call a freedom zone. The way we build the freedom zone is with a powerful set of values that are picket-fenced by what I call the code of ethics. You’ve said it better than I could ever say it. What you’re saying is, “Let’s put in place the ideas that keep us together so that our organization is self-correcting.” You don’t need a general to come out there waving a handgun to get something done, instead the community self-corrects itself. That, to me, is the most ideal situation you could ever have. That’s what the military is doing.
I want to cut the clip out of your last 3 or 4 minutes. I want to add something small and practical to this and it is directly related to what you’re saying. No living human being that we have identified yet is good at giving negative feedback. Giving effective negative feedback is much harder than neurosurgery. Somebody said, “Negative feedback, which is meant to improve my practice is in fact the number one demotivator in history.” There’s hard-nosed, no-nonsense research that says positive remarks are 30 times more powerful than negative remarks. It’s not that I didn’t make a screwup, it’s the way we talk about it and the fact that you care about me that makes it powerful.
Off the top of the head, that’s a god-awful mess. Partially, I said it because mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s a critical point. Let me talk to people, maybe it’s a three-person organization but certainly a 25-person organization. Here’s a fascinating piece of research, which is boring. You can figure out the hypothesis after the fact. Some researchers are observing a meeting, and there are eleven people at the meeting, and they’re keeping careful notes. When the meeting is over, they go up to the meeting leader and they say, “How many times did you interrupt people and how many times did they interrupt you?”
He said, “I know I’m a bad boy. I interrupted two times. I was interrupted, I don’t know 7, 8, or 9 times.” He got the numbers right but he flipped backward. He had interrupted nine times and got interrupted two. The real point there is not that he’s a jerk. He wasn’t lying. He believed it. Our self-perceptions are always wrong. This is important, everything you and I’ve been talking about places that reek of decency and thoughtfulness. This is bigger organizations but the point is the same.
I live in Greater Boston, down in the whaling capital of the world, New Bedford, the richest town in America because of whale oil and then a couple of dorks in Pennsylvania went out, dug a hole, and discovered hydrocarbons. That was the end of whale oil but that’s a different story. I live next to a couple of great hospitals that are in Boston, one called Massachusetts General Hospital. They did some research and there was a big report on it in the newspaper. Nurses stand at the bedside with a tablet in their hands entering data and data and more data. Practical measured result, nurse-patient eye contact has gone down 70%. When it comes to healing, from a big problem or a little problem, eye contact is far more important. Maybe not quite chemo but it certainly is more important than the next drug you take.
I like to summarize my work in six words. I said, “Hard is soft, soft is hard.” The numbers, the plans, the spreadsheets, we say that’s the hard part stuff, it’s the soft stuff. All you’ve got to do is go back to 2007 where we invented these insanely sophisticated derivatives of derivatives and at the bottom of the pile, we’re all bunch of people who couldn’t pay their mortgages. It looked beautiful eight layers up. The flip of it then is, the so-called soft is the hard. The soft is the culture, the relationships, and so on. That’s the critical stuff.
I’m 77, I’m tired. I like to say to people, “If you want to understand my work, you have got to have an educational certificate. You have got to bring to me your signed graduation slip from the fourth grade.” It’s nothing that a nine-year-old doesn’t know. It’s true, but please, and some of you are in technical businesses, don’t hire people with low EQs. Go back to Google, there are a lot of 160s with higher EQ get hired instead of the 190 IQ people. It’s ten times more important when you make a promotion decision. Don’t screw around with this. Customers will never be happier than your employees. That is called bottom line.
It’s powerful. I want to thank you again for making that point. We’re going to transition a little bit here because I have a question for you. We ask this question to everybody who we interview on the show. The answers are always interesting. I’m excited to hear yours. It’s all about you. It’s all about the things that you love and the people that you love and admire. Here’s the question. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch, or an intense conversation with?
I’ve already given you the answer. I would like to bring back Captain Richard E. Anderson, United States Navy, my first commanding officer. We all have things we’re not proud of in our lives. I didn’t make the time I should have made to see him when he was on his deathbed. I remember, he one time wrote in a letter which made me cry. He said, “The biggest disappointment in my Navy career is that I couldn’t get you to stay in the Navy because you would have been such an attribute.” It wasn’t going to happen but he’s the one. I do want to lighten the conversation up a little bit.Be kind. Everyone is fighting a great battle. Click To Tweet
I attended one of those things where they’re, frankly, a little bit silly. They ask you who you would like to come back as. You’ve got Jesus Christ, you’ve got the Gandhi’s, and so on. They came around to me. I said, “The easiest question I’ve ever been asked in my life. John Cleese.” I love Pythons. I wasn’t lying. I’m a chicken like everybody else. John Cleese came to a seminar of mine in London and he wanted to do some television with me. I wouldn’t do it. I was scared and terrified. I felt that I was out over my head. I was flat and I’m annoyed that I didn’t do it. Maybe that means my ego wasn’t infinitely inflated. It’s Captain Anderson I’d like to have that walk with.
I know that somewhere somehow he knows that and he’s hearing this and sending you his love. I want to tell you that.
That’s kind and I suspect there’s a greater truth in that.
Tom, I’m going to ask you the grand finale question and this is what I call the change the world question. What is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
I’m on my nineteenth book. I was writing down a sheet that was a summary. I love business. I’m a good capitalist pig. I’d love to be able to get in the heads of millions and millions of business people and say, “Take care of your people. They will take care of you.” That is your judgment every single hour of every single day. Somebody said to me, “What’s the best example of taking care of people?” I said, “It’s simple. It’s a crappy, rainy, miserable day when you bring a bowl of flowers with you to work and you put it down on the receptionist desk.”
I had a training company for a long time. At the end of one quarter, we were doing bonuses and we had a good quarter. I gave the bonuses out and I said, “I have one more bonus to give out and it’s the biggest one of all.” People were kind of, “I thought we all gotten them.” Her name is Jane. I said, “It goes to Jane, who is our receptionist.” I said, “All you salespeople, you don’t even have a job selling people.” It’s a little bit before the WFH days if a client comes in and is there for a meeting 25 minutes early, and he or she spends 25 minutes with Jane, the sale is made. They know we are good people and it’s a good company. They wouldn’t be here if they think we were technically qualified. I said, “She makes the sale, not all of you who sold for fifteen years at IBM, Hewlett-Packard, or wherever else it was.
You said kind things about me. I said the difference between Tony Robbins and me is when Tony Robbins goes into a room with 1,000 people, he expects to change 1,000 lives. When I go into a room with 1,000 people, if three people leave the room with a determination to do something different, I’ve had one hell of a good day. There’s this thing which I can’t explain but it’s an Israeli thing. There’s someplace where if you save a single life, you get a tree planted. That’s what it is, one at a time.
People say, “Why do you work so hard still at 77?” It’s not partially about my mother and father, but I said, “My message doesn’t require a high IQ.” I’m trying and trying and everywhere I can think to get that through. We have all kinds of small people businesses who are reading. This is five times more important in accountancy than it is in a restaurant. You say in the restaurant that waiters and waitresses have to be lovely, which is true. The same thing is true in the finance department or a seventeen-person accounting department. It’s all the same. If there were another one of those many one-liners that I loved, and it said, “If you care about what they care about, then they’ll care about what you care about.”
My friend, Matthew Kelly, wrote a book called The Dream Manager. He said, “Every employee has a dream.” It was a fictional thing but his model company was a mid-sized housekeeping company somewhere in the Midwest. He said that the frontline housekeeper is a single mom. She’s holding two jobs, she’d like to get ahead. She would give her left and right arm to get a certificate from a community college that might launch her on her next step. By The Dream Manager, he means help people with those little dreams that, in most cases, you don’t even know about. He does say it as a successful businessman. He said, “If you’re helping that housekeeper, nudging somehow, rather help her with that next educational step, you can’t believe how much cleaner the rooms will be.”
Tom, everything I know about you I could sum up in one sentence. You have been a blessing to many and in particular, I’m one of the three that walked out of that room, in 1989 and changed my life. In turn, change the lives of several 100 people who work for me. Thank you for that. Readers, if you’d like to go to TomPeters.com, you could see about everything Tom has done on that website. Stay connected to Tom, buy his books. They are not only incredible, but they’re also entertaining. I always enjoy reading what you write, Tom. I love listening to you speak as you know. I hope this is the beginning of a strong friendship and a long friendship. Thank you again for being on the show. I can’t wait until we get a chance to talk again soon.
I agree on every score, I’d love to talk again soon. It’s been delightful. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk to a bunch of people. When you were giving me the background, you said most of the people we’re talking to are small business people. I said to myself, “Thank the Lord.” My guru class is a bunch of idiots, including me. If you read their stuff, you would think there is no company in the United States that’s smaller than a Fortune 500 company.
Let me tell our small business friends about what they already know. You employ 85% of us, you create over 100% of our new jobs, and you are the most innovative companies in the world. It is all about the so-called SMEs. That’s the beginning of the story and the end of the story. The big companies, Fortune 500 only employs 9% of Americans and people act like they’re the only thing. I get these things. I use Twitter a lot. Somebody says, “All businessmen are a bunch of jerks.”
I say, “That’s possible in Fortune 500 companies, but don’t forget. When you say businesspeople are jerks that your next-door neighbor who runs a three-person company, and his daughter is your daughter’s best friend, he or she is a businessman and runs a business. He’s the CEO of a five-person firm.” There are a lot of crappy small companies too. I’m not being whatever but I love small business and I respect the people who are reading. Nine out of ten, small business people have got to bust their buns and in the middle of the COVID-19 thing, I am not shortchanging the impossibility of dealing as well as you would like to do when you lose 80% of your revenue. I am not stupid.
Tom, your message will mean a lot to many small business owners. Thank you again for sharing it. It’s been a pleasure and it’s been an important message too. That’s why I’m excited to get this show out there so that people can hear it. Keep in mind, the things that you reminded of us that being nice is more important than being smart. You could teach smart, but you can’t teach nice. Thank you for that, Tom.
Thank you for the great opportunity. I have enjoyed the conversation. I’ve enjoyed your contributions more than my own. For those of you who reads later on, the gems that came out of your mouth beat the hell out of the ones that came out of my mouth. They were incredibly important.
Thank you, Tom. We will talk again soon.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies
- John DiJulius
- Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic
- Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big
- The Dream Manager
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