Tom Peters – Re-Imagine!

Tom Peters“I´m 60 years old as I write. I have been doing my thing for well over a quarter of a century. I have achieved some degree of acclaim. At this point, I don´t have to write a book. My speaking and consulting gigs keep me busy to the breaking point and beyond. So why am I sitting inside, scrunched over a makeshift writing desk on a gorgeous July day on Martha´s Vineyard cranking out Book Number 11? Because I am pissed off. I happen to believe that all innovation comes, not from market research or carefully crafted focus groups, but from pissed-off people. People who just cannot stand the opacity of current financial reports. People who throw their hands up in frustration at the little slips of paper that fall out of their hymnals (and who then proceed to invent Post-it Notes.”
– Tom Peters from the foreword of Re-Imagine!

I read earlier this week that one of my favourite management books is out of print and now only available through Amazon and others in second hand copies. This surprised me as the book, ten years after it was first published, remains one of my favourite texts. It is in my view unsurpassed in how it describes the challenges of the business world of the 21st century.

In October 2003  Dorling Kindersley published Re-Imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age. I bought the book the same month at Foyles in London and it kick-started my interest in what drives innovation.  It is a call to re-imagine business in a disruptive age and it was a mind-blowing event to read. I then bought ten more copies and gave away as inspirational reading to friends and colleagues.

Re-Imagine! was written by Tom Peters, who made a career as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, becoming a partner and Organization Effectiveness practice leader in 1979. In 1981, he left McKinsey to become an independent consultant. Since then he has written a string of thought-provoking management books.

20th Century Management In Search of Excellence

In Search of ExcellenceIn 1982, Tom Peters published the classic management book In Search of Excellence, which he had written together with Robert H. Waterman Jr. It was one of those rare books on management that is both consistently thought-provoking and fun to read and it quickly became a bestseller.

It turned out In Search of Excellence became one of the best selling management books of all time, as it was published in a time when corporate America was feeling overwhelmed by Japan’s evident superiority in manufacturing and needed reminding that there was still excellence to be found back home.

Based on a McKinsey study of forty-three of America’s best-run companies from a diverse array of business sectors, In Search of Excellence describes the eight basic principles of management which the book argues were responsible for the success of the studied companies. The book devotes one chapter to each theme.

  1. A bias for action, active decision making – ‘getting on with it’. Facilitate quick decision making & problem solving tends to avoid bureaucratic control
  2. Close to the customer – learning from the people served by the business.
  3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship – fostering innovation and nurturing ‘champions’.
  4. Productivity through people- treating rank and file employees as a source of quality.
  5. Hands-on, value-driven – management philosophy that guides everyday practice – management showing its commitment.
  6. Stick to the knitting – stay with the business that you know.
  7. Simple form, lean staff – some of the best companies have minimal HQ staff.
  8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties – autonomy in shop-floor activities plus centralized values.

Many of the studied companies have since then fallen from grace and the principles that Peters and Waterman found were not based on academic research but rather an empirical summary of business practices and rather arbitrarily identified success factors.

Since writing in Search of Excellence, Tom Peters made a career as a “management guru” and consultant and wrote a series of other books, leading up to what I consider his masterpiece, Re-Imagine!. He runs his own website with a frequently updated blog and Twitter feed.

Re-Imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age

“My overall vision, in brief – Business is cool. It is about Creativity and Invention and Growth and Service. It is about Adam Smith´s hidden hand and Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek´s spontaneous discovery process and economist Joseph Schumpeter´s gales of creative destruction.”
– Tom Peters in Re-Imagine!

Re-ImagineRe-Imagine! is an unusual book, not only for the messages in the text but also for its layout and design. The book is divided into the main text and sidebars. The main text is the narrative of each chapter and the sidebars provides examples and observations that illustrates the messages from the main text.

Then the main text is interspersed with illustrations and bullet point lists and reads more like a set of slides in a PowerPoint presentation than as a textbook. This means that Re-Imagine! is non-linear in its structure, which is one of the features that I really like (and which many of the people who reviewed the book in 2003 disliked).

I like the non-linear structure because it allows you to read the book like you would read a cookbook. You can open Re-Imagine! at any page, to get immediate intellectual inspiration and learn something new. This stimulates creativity.

Since writing Re-Imagine! Tom Peters has taken the approach even further, with new books such as The Little BIG Things: 163 Ways to Pursue EXCELLENCE, which was published in 2010. However in my view, Peters recent publications seems designed to connect intellectual dots without the rich depth of Re-Imagine! I have a feeling they are written for people with a very short attention span and I miss the creative explosions and rich content that used to be Peters hallmark.

Focusing on how the business climate in the new millennium has changed, Re-Imagine! outlines how business works in the age of hyper competition. it explores radical ways of overcoming outdated, traditional company values, and embraces an aggressive strategy that empowers talent and brand-driven organizations where everyone has a voice.

The message is delivered with passion. Peters challenges the reader to look honestly at their organizations (and themselves) to determine what needs to change. It is more than just a how-to book for the 21st Century, Re-imagine! is a call to arms, a passionate wake-up call for the business world, educators, and society as a whole.

It is impossible to summarize the book in a brief review, but to highlight some key messages:

  • In the world of hyper competition, which drives a need for continuous improvements, companies should base all business on projects and the professional service firm model, avoiding static linear organisations.
  • It is important to embrace branding and design, which become key differentiating factors that cannot easily be copied, and thus provides experiences to customers rather than just products and services.
  • Two years before Blue Ocean Strategy was published, Peters argued that companies should charge after new markets, rather than compete heads on in the existing ones.
  • Successful talent attraction is a key to future success and therefore companies should relentlessly pursue talent, especially among women.
  • Society should rebuild education to prepare young minds for the new globalised world they will soon face.

You can boil the book down to this message: Innovation rules. You need to get off-beat people to work on innovation to have a chance. In the world of hyper competition, everyone’s job is innovation.

Passion drives successful innovation by creating beautiful, simple systems and wonderful sustainable experiences for customers and employees. The leader’s job is to create an environment for such innovation. Be ready to fall down, pick yourself up, and try again. Then focus your innovation as much as possible on those areas where few others are looking.

Re-Imagine chapter 2

Here is a link to the table of content of the book, and you can click here to download the second chapter of the book from Tom Peters homepage.

Tom Peters on Innovation

Tom Peters website is filled with media, such as video clips, PowerPoint presentations and blog posts. Below is a video clip from 2003, the same year Re-Imagine! was published.

Tom Peters on Innovation

“If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.”
― Tom Peters,
Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution

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