‘Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You’

Comfort leads to obsolescence and eventual ‘evaporation.’

May 18, 2012
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If you’re comfortable with everyone on your executive team, “you’ve got problems, brother,” says management guru/best-selling author Tom Peters.

Comfort is a recipe for obsolescence, failure, and “evaporation, plain and simple,” he warns. Hiring some “disruptive” people can ward off complacency and inject an organization with fresh ideas and perspectives.

In the last of this three-part series, Peters tells CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney what has and hasn’t changed since he published “In Search of Excellence” in 1982, details his next “quest to the unknown”—and reveals why he won’t be a nice guy when he addresses the America’s Credit Union Conference in June.

Cheney: What has and hasn’t changed about the business world since you published “In Search of Excellence” in 1982?

Peters: The basic human values are the same. The speed of change is absolutely enormous. You could wake up tomorrow morning and find 23 startups in your space that weren’t there when you went to bed—there’s always someone out there who’s living 2022 in 2012. But the bedrock hasn’t changed its shape.

The requirement to be fast on your feet, to learn new stuff, to grab hold of technology sooner than later, and to face a more competitive environment both locally and globally—that’s new.

Companies need to spend a heck of a lot more time on testing and trying new stuff and having the nerve to hire some people they aren’t comfortable with. If you sit down with your executive committee and you’re comfortable with every one of them, you’ve got a problem, brother.

We need some people who are disruptive—those who’ll roll their eyes when the CEO talks about an outdated project and say under their breath, “that’s so 2009”—which is a generation and a half ago. The alternative is obsolescence, failure, and, plain and simple, evaporation.

One thing that’s fascinating about American Express is that their customer service people today have a ton of data in front of them, but not a script. That’s a real difference from the average call center.

The idea is that the representative is supposed to “show a little leg”—show customers a little of who they are, and have a human interaction. That’s worth its weight in gold in 2012, and probably was in 1912.

My last seminar was to hospital CEOs, who are wondering how they’ll deal with the health-care legislation and who are beset with numbing changes in technology.

I told them, “It’s your house. You’ll be the CEO for the next five to six years and that will be the peak professional experience of your life. It’s your ship, so if you don’t get up in the morning determined to go all out to pursue excellence, you lose a lot of my respect.”

It’s offense instead of defense in the best sense. In established organizations there’s a tendency to shore up what you did yesterday rather than stick your nose into the very different air than existed fairly recently.

NEXT: Peters' next 'quest to the unknown'

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