By Tom Peters
Do you routinely use hot, aspirational words-terms like “Excellence” and BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal, per Jim Collins) and “Let’s make a dent in the Universe” (the Word according to Steve Jobs)? Is “Reward excellent failures, punish mediocre successes” your de facto or de jure motto?
Message: Hot begets Hot! (Cold begets Cold.) And … you heard it here first!
Don’t get me started! My life’s work has been to re-paint dry and dreary “management talk” in Technicolor hues! I simply don’t believe biz is dry and dreary. I believe it’s about people creating things for people. (Great Thai food at a restaurant or a pacemaker from Medtronics.) People serving people. People growing and achieving beyond their dreams— one Wow Project at a time.
Yes, I am the Guru of Hot, the (Business) Maestro of Technicolor, the Evangelist of Energy, the Wizard of Wild & Weird—and damned proud of it!
I’m still in love with “excellence.”“Exceeds expectations” is catching a bus from point A to point B and arriving roughly on time and without anything untoward happening.“Excellence” is an … Absolutely, Positively Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious evening partaking of a Cirque du Soleil performance in Las Vegas. So: Why can’t a business process re-engineering project measure up to the CSPS? (Cirque du Soleil Performance Standard.) Answer: If the biz project fails on the “CSPS” score … it is because of the shriveled imagination of the leader. Period. Call me corny. Call me naïve. (At age 61, please!) But I am unequivocally convinced that any activity, no matter how apparently humble, can be turned into a Work of Magnificent Art. (Okay, I’m drafting this during the Athens Olympics. One can understand Gymnastics as pure art, but Table Tennis? Give me a break. Well, Olympic table tennis is, literally, breathtaking … eh?)
Jim Collins (most recently Good to Great) calls for BHAGs … Big, Hairy Audacious Goals. Nice! Apple’s Steve Jobs exhorts a new product team,“Let’s make a dent in the universe.” Nice! The late adman David Ogilvy charges a creative staffer with making an ad for kids clothing that’s “immortal.” (Nice again.) Well, you get the drift. Great Aspirations (CSPS) don’t ensure great results. But you can be sure that the absence of Great Aspirations will ensure non-great results.
“You never hear a Swiss say,‘I want to change the world.’ We need to take more risks.” —Xavier Comtesse, on the establishment of Swiss House for Advanced Research & Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts
There’s a corollary to all this that’s of the utmost importance. If reaching for the moon is routine, then falling short will also occur more than infrequently. Consider Phil Daniels, a successful Australian businessman. At a seminar I gave in Sydney, he felt compelled to rise from the audience and share his wisdom with us. I’m eternally grateful that he did.“My success,” he told us,“is due in large measure to a simple philosophy, ‘Reward excellent failures, punish mediocre successes.’”
While Daniels’ advice, I think, is fit for the ages, it’s today’s nutty times that are my bailiwick. And in nutty times, with the playing fields morphing by the moment, time devoted to a “mediocre success” is a tragic waste. No less. (Yes …“tragic” waste.) I once heard legendary GE boss Jack Welch say about the same thing. Nobody at GE during his watch, he told us, got in trouble for “swinging for the fences and missing.”The mortal sin was, instead, spending two years on a project “which, even if it worked, wouldn’t make the earth wobble a bit on its axis.”
Some like it hot! I happen to be among them. Along with Jobs, Ogilvy, Daniels, Welch, et al. As Fast Company put it when reviewing Re-imagine!:“In Tom’s world, it’s always better to try a swan dive and deliver a colossal belly flop than to step timidly off the board while holding your nose.” Thanks!