Tuesday, January 7, 2003

I’ve been listening to an audiotape of In Search of Excellence recently. It’s by Tom Peters (see In search of Tom Peters) and Robert Waterman, and was written basically as a response to bad practices in corporate America.

Yes, yes; that was the impetus for a hundred books written in the past year. What makes this one any different (besides being written in 1982)? Well, In Search of Excellence approaches the question with hard research; rather than opining baselessly, the book quotes studies and research from all over the place.

They make an interesting thesis: Truly excellent companies act in ways that are fundamentally weird to corporate America — management by walking around, little care for org charts, barely controlled chaos, CEOs who don’t know exactly what every team is working on, a focus on quality even at the expense of cost, few massive monetary rewards — and maybe it’s corporate America that’s weird. Maybe we need to fundamentally re-evaluate what makes a company successful.

And the fundamental emphasis of these truly excellent companies is an emphasis on people (customers and employees), not numbers. Not that numbers are bad, the authors stress; numerical analysis and research are important. They’re just over-emphasized in not-so-excellent companies.

We’re talking about big companies here, too: IBM, Proctor & Gamble, HP, Johnson & Johnson. These are companies that make it big, but don’t necessarily act like it. In fact, the book speaks with disdain of companies that focus on growth.

It’s definitely been food for thought.

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