on April 2, 2004
This book was written 22 years ago (in 1982) and seems to have stood the test of time. In fact, the business 'ingredients' delineated in this book have been demonstrated in many major corporations since the book was first published.
Essentially the book hinges on 8 basic principles. If any business can put these 8 basic principles into practice, Peters and Waterman say that business can not help but succeed. Now the success may not be as large as Microsoft, but success will occur at one level or the other. If you do not agree then that is fine, Peters and Waterman give several examples of small business that became huge business on the basis of these 8 principles (e.g. Walmart, Hewlett-Packard, Delta Airlines, McDonald's, IBM, etc.). In fact, when you read the book (which is actually structured around describing and demonstrating these 8 principles) you will see why and how these principles actually work.
One of the most interesting things I found in this book was the fact that the 8 principles are essentially common sense ingredients. For lack of better way to describe them, 'boy scout' type principles that can be incorporated into business action on an every day basis.
The book itself is very interesting, easy to read (even if you are not very interested in reading about businesses, business growth and management, etc.) and easy to understand. There are some great business stories about customers, business action, business men and their thinking, etc. Chapter 4 is quite theoretically and somewhat difficult to wade through, but has some great insights on management, measuring earnings, business theories and strategies, and how culture plays a part in business growth based on a businesses values in relation to the culture as opposed to a business values in relation to just making money.
This is one of the better business books I have read in a long while and I do recommend it for anyone who is about to start a business, who actually own a business, or for anyone who merely love reading business books.
on March 17, 2004
I read this book again after a gap of nearly 20 years. The world has significantly changed since then and so have the fortunes of many of the "excellent" companies listed in this book. Some have continued to excel, some have made a comeback after facing tough times and some have ceased to exist. Excellence is neither permanent nor an assurance for "lived happily thereafter" ending for a corporate fable. As often mentioned in most management books, the only thing that is permanent is change, and change has been rapid and unforgiving in the last two decades. In this context, is this one time business bestseller flawed in its study and its findings ?. The authors themselves answer this question in their opening remarks - "Authors' Note: Excellence 2003" in this new paperback edition.
Theory first. There is a solid attack on the Rational Model ( over emphasis on quantitative approaches to management ) in American business schools which the authors feel is a main cause for the decline of American companies in the third quarter of the twentieth century. The understanding of the human side and aligning people with the Organization's goals through a deep sense of respect and involvement is at the core of success at the excellent companies is the next hypothesis. In their search for excellence, the research leads to eight prominent attributes that are common across the best run companies. All these attributes have direct and significant link to this aspect of the human side of enterprise.
The excellent companies have focussed consciously and consistently on rigorously practicing several of the eight attributes. Failure to focus on these have led to setbacks in subsequent years. An outstanding athlete cannot be expected to win gold at all the Olympics in his lifetime. Athletes age and so do companies say the authors. But is there a prescription against aging for companies that are committed to excellence ?
This book is liable for criticism on the following counts :
- Too much of theory in the first four chapters, mostly borrowed from other earlier management gurus
- Descriptive and repetitive
- Data insufficiency for backing conclusions
- Sample does not cover all industries and restricted to American companies
- Talks of the past and ignores prescriptions for the future
- Attributes need to be ranked and revisited periodically and perhaps a new list might emerge
Several books have been written on this topic since this classic was first published in 1982. Many have addressed the points listed above. But this ground breaking book continues to be the pathfinder in all that has followed. Go back to the analogy of the athlete. A gold is a gold at any contest and this book deserves one for its own excellence.
on May 12, 2003
This is the book that launched the management guru business, as well as the popular management genre. Previous management authors such as Peter Drucker wrote academic oriented tomes for buisness executives. Tom Peters wrote for the masses.
The book starts with an introduction explaining the problems in the economy (this was the early 80s, when fear of Japan Inc was rising) and why this abstract concept of "Excellence" was needed. In many senses, the book's emphasis of "What's Right in the US" is really it's strongest selling point. In the context of a world where America seemed to be losing it's way, the book provides a rallying cry for places that America is doing things right.
The book the passionately covers general management caveats, such as "Stick to your knitting" with examples of companies providing extensive focus on their core competencies. It is important to note that Tom Peters does not claim to be a great management theorist here - his claim is to capture examples of companies who have figured out "how to be excellent". This is consistent with his academic training - an engineering background with a Phd in Organizational Behavior. He's not developing new business models here, only capturing what others already know to be true.
So how does it hold up over time?
Well, if you believe the naysayers, many of the supposedly excellent companies have gone belly up. Peoples Express airline? If you believe the Tom Peters website, his companies have still managed to beat the S&P 500 over the past 20 years.
Bottom line - The book is still valid. Closeness to customers is still as important as ever. Companies are learning they do need to stick to their knitting. This is a very entertaining and influential book. It's worth reading for the insights, as well as the chance that your customer has read it too. :-)
on January 26, 2002
Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. were consultants with McKinsey & Co. when this book was published in 1982. This book shot both authors into management guru-dom and is still one of the greatest management bestsellers ever. Both authors have written other books, but none have come close to this one.
In this book, the authors report on the findings from the excellent companies: "It will define what we mean by excellence. It is an attempt to generalize about what the excellent companies seem to be doing that the rest are not, and to buttress our observations on the excellent companies with sound social and economic theory." The authors' research started in 1977 when two internal task forces at McKinsey & Co. were set up to research a general concern with the problems of management effectiveness, and a particular concern with the nature of the relationship between strategy, structure, and management effectiveness. One of these task forces was to review thinking on strategy, the other was to review thinking on organizational effectiveness. Peters and Waterman were the leaders of the project on organizational effectiveness. Their research involved talking extensively with executives around the world and extensive literature reviews. Initially they worked mainly on the problem of expanding our diagnostic and remedial kit beyond the traditional tools for business problem solving, which then concentrated on strategy and structural approaches. This resulted in the now well-renowned 7-S framework (structure, strategy, systems, shared values, skills, style, and staff). "But there was still something missing. ... we were shore on practical design ideas, especially for the 'soft S's'." So the authors decided to look at management excellence itself. "We asserted that innovative companies not only are unusually good at producing commercially viable new widgets; innovative companies are especially adroit at continually responding to change of any sort in their environment." The authors labeled the companies that seemed to have achieved that kind of innovative performance as excellent companies.
The authors eventually chose 75 highly regarded companies, in which they conducted intense, structured interviews. Their project showed that the excellent companies were, above all, brilliant on the basics. The authors use eight chapters to discuss in detail the eight attributes that distinct excellent, innovative companies: 1. A bias for action, for getting on with it; 2. Close to the customer; 3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship; 4. Productivity through people; 5. Hands-on, value driven; 6. Stick to the knitting; 7. Simple form, lean staff; 8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties. None of these eight attributes are something special. In fact, they can even be called simple and predictable and the authors refer to them as "motherhoods". Most essential to each of these excellent companies is the intensity within them. This intensity is build on the strongly held beliefs of these companies.
Yes, I do like this book. I must admit that I had heard plenty about this book and had read several reviews before I actually started reading it. The biggest criticism I heard was that the example companies are not so excellent now. Perhaps true, but I do not think that this book is that much about the excellent companies themselves. I believe that it is much more about the attitude of the example companies, the positive culture. Highly recommended to business leaders, managers, and MBA-students. Read it sooner rather than later. The book is written in simple US-English, although it contains quite a heavy literature review.
on May 4, 2000
Few people can lay claim to having created an industry. TomPeters can.
Tom Peters is widely credited with having created themanagement guru industry. Before him it is said that "management thinkers wrote articles in academic journals, gave the occasional seminar, and worked as consultants for a few large corporations". The biggest blockbusters sold under five hundred thousand books.
'In Search of Excellence', co-authored with Bob Waterman, is Tom Peters first book and sold over 6 million copies. Its success surprised their colleagues at McKinsey, who had laughed at the idea that Peters and Waterman would keep the royalties, "should the book sell 50 000 copies".
Two decades later, 'In Search of Excellence' is still one of the most readable management books. The eight characteristics of excellent companies, a bias for action, close to the customer, autonomy and entrepreneurship, productivity through people, hands-on values driven, stick to the knitting, simple form and lean staff, simultaneous loose-tight properties are all still relevant and still ignored today. It is written clearly, painting vivid pictures with anecdotes and examples from real companies.
Peters went on to become a megastar in the field of management entertaining, able to charge up to $80 000 for a one day show. The management guru industry is estimated to exceed a billion dollars and management books, including several by Peters himself, now regularly find their way into the best seller list. Peters'later writings have sometimes inspired and sometimes puzzled a new generation of managers.
This book is a classic. Great companies struggle to remain on top over an extended period. But the lessons learned endure. END
Life (and business) are a lot more fun if we are excited by and committed to what we are doing. This book reawakens our sense that organizations can be exciting and meaningful places to be, filled with the potential for great results and enormous beneficial impact.
We all have been touched by an outstanding leader and inspired to do more. Most of us would have a hard time spelling out what those leaders do. This book is a very practical guide to being a good example and a source of daily inspiration.
You can read other books to figure out what to inspire people to do specifically and so forth, but this one is unique. I suggest Peter Drucker's MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES FOR THE 21ST CENTURY as a good place to begin.
You may find that you do not "get" a particular recommendation. To deepen your understanding, I recommend that you read A PASSION FOR EXCELLENCE in those areas where you are unmoved or unclear. It is filled with examples on the same points as IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE.
I also like the title. Finding excellence is a never-ending task for us all.
If you want to read a terrific book on how successful companies differ from their less successful competitors, be sure to read BUILT TO LAST. It is also a great companion for IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE.
on March 17, 1999
Although this book has become a teenager, it still reminds me of the fun of childhood by reading about all the successes those companies had in their "growing up" years and the problems that many had as they matured and reached older age. This is not a life cycle book, but one that points out some things that caused success for a specific company at a specific point in time. There is a lot to be learned by looking into the cultures and values of those companies. Unfortunately, the eight principles of success culled from this study do not guarantee a wonderful future, or even fleeting success for today's companies. This book is worth rereading because it makes you think about why so many of these companies fell so far. A number of recent studies indicate that the ability to change and adapt quickly is what is needed for long term success. Urgency is key. To prepare for future success, I recommend THE 2,000 PERCENT SOLUTION by Mitchell, Coles, and Metz. It motivates managers to develop new ideas and ideal practices that will leave you better off in any future environment.
on February 5, 1999
Life (and business) are a lot more fun if we are excited and committed to what we are doing. This book reawakens our sense that organizations can be exciting and meaningful places to be, filled with the potential for great results and enormous impact. We all have been touched by an outstanding leader and inspired to do more. Most of us would have a hard time spelling out what those leaders do. This book is a very practical guide to being a good example and a source of daily inspiration. You can read other books to figure out what to inspire people to do specifically and so forth, but this one is unique. You may find that you do not "get" a particular recommendation. To deepen your understanding, I recommend that you read A PASSION FOR EXCELLENCE in those areas where you are unmoved or unclear. It is filled with examples on the same points as IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE. I also like the title. Finding excellence is a never-ending task for us all. If you want to read a terrific book on how successful companies differ from their less successful competitors, be sure to read BUILT TO LAST. It is also a great companion for IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE.
on March 1, 2000
How far are you willing to go? This book answers the question in the affirmative, and for that I thank it. I was eight years old when I saw the episode about the killer bees. There was a man, I think he was a Mexican man or perhaps Latin American of some kind, driving a tractor, and the bees stung him and stung him to death. Even if you do not believe in Sasquatch, you must believe in the bees. Since those puerile dreams of childhood, I have molted into a newer and far more fragile dream; it is called capitalism.
I spoke to a client today about a major decision. Often I was forced to refer to this book. Its wisdom is impeccable. The woman, for it was a woman, referred to its "gnomic insight," while outside the window the trees kept their insignificant peace. How I loved these companies, before they fell into flames! You did not choose these stars, this earth, this duplicitous speech, but you can choose to buy this book, and so you must.
on November 13, 1998
All other gurus I have ever read have a serious flaw in their presentations: they wrongly believe the world, business and people are rational. That is why the advice of such gurus as Peter Drucker is useless in the real world. The only breath of fresh air among management consultants or gurus is Tom Peters, and he is relevant precisely because he describes the real world: it is more emotional than rational. He mentions that the organization chart is not the company and it is true. The organization chart is a rational model but in the real life of corporations most of what happens has nothing to do with the chain of command. Why has re-engineering failed so blatantly? It is a very good rational model but it doesn't take into consideration that people will fight to death against being re-engineered out of their job. In Search of Excellence is an antidote for all the absurd management fads that come and go.