The Peters principle: Aim higher

Tom Peters is one of those management gurus paid a princely sum for stating the obvious. His books, including In Search of Excellence and The Pursuit of Wow! are great not just because they find and illuminate the best of our collective business wisdom, but because the message is so straightforward. Peters has a lot in common with PLANT ENGINEERING.


Tom Peters is one of those management gurus paid a princely sum for stating the obvious. His books, including In Search of Excellence and The Pursuit of Wow! are great not just because they find and illuminate the best of our collective business wisdom, but because the message is so straightforward.

Peters has a lot in common with PLANT ENGINEERING. For example, both aggregate the best ideas out in the world and share them with an audience. That's what Peters did at the Bentley BE Conference in Baltimore in May to a packed auditorium of Bentley users. Peters insisted — practically begged — the audience to take the information he had collected and share it with everyone they could.

There were several gems in the presentation, and in the spirit of Peters' boundless, cranky enthusiasm that they be stolen and shared, I point you to not only the full presentation at, but also a few of my favorites:

  • "A focus on cost-cutting and efficiency has helped many organizations weather the downturn, but this approach will ultimately render them obsolete. Only the constant pursuit of innovation can ensure long-term success." Daniel Muzyka, dean of the Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia.

  • "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less." U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki.

  • "What we sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him." A Harley Davidson executive quoted in the Peters book, Results-Based Leadership.

  • "Groups become great only when everyone in them, leaders and members alike, is free to do his or her absolute best. The best thing a leader can do for a Great Group is to allow its members to discover their greatness." Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman in the book, Organizing Genius.

    • We are on an island of conformity surrounded by a sea of change. We make things, often the same things over and over again. The creativity in our work was created at the design stage. What plant managers and plant workers are asked to do is take that design and give it function and life, but that is often not the same as realizing an individual worker's dream.

      So how do we foster individual greatness, and transform those bits of individual greatness into the Great Group idea? I think it's about the means justifying the end, which is the opposite of just about every operating manual I know of in the world today. I think the answers to most of our plant productivity issues are found not just in the innovation of products to produce our work, but in the constant growth of the individual people who do our work.

      We do more work, better and faster, than ever before. Our quality is the envy of the planet. Still, we find ourselves in this global challenge to create goods that fulfill both the economic and aesthetic realities of a changed world. Winning that challenge is found in innovation, and Peters contends the drive to be better than just 'good enough' must permeate every corner of the manufacturing sector.

      Indeed, Peters pulled a quote from that great business tycoon Michaelangelo, who noted, "The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it."

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