liberation management: a non-review

I tried, Really, I did! Apparently once some years ago, three or four times in the last couple of weeks.

But I just couldn’t! Right around page 225 of 834, I decided I don’t need a soporific and no longer care why Tom Peters is/was so important.

The book title’s in the post title (the first two words, with “necessary disorganization for the nanosecond nineties” as a subtitle), all-lower-case and all, It’s by TOM PETERS, all upper case (with the T and M in yellow, the O in red, and “PETERS” in green with a red shadow–all very impressive).

Inside the book, oddly enough, the orthography is more normal!

Oh, sorry, reading Peters, I got in the habit of thinking every second or third sentence should end in an exclamation point–possibly as a way to enliven some seriously plodding prose.

The copy I have is a $15 mass-market paperback published by Ballantine (it’s a Fawcett Columbine book) in 1994, two years after Knopf published the hardcover. Both are divisions of Random House. The book’s copyright is held by “Excel/, A California Partnership” (I assume the slash is part of the corporate name but the comma isn’t). “A Note About the Author” at the end tells us that Peters is founder and chief of The Tom Peters Group (which, he tells us in the book, is really five different corporations or something like that), which is in Palo Alto even though “he and his family spend much of their time on a farm in Vermont, thanks to the information technology revolution (the Fax machine).”

Really. In 1992, the Fax machine (capital-F) was an “information technology revolution.” Maybe so; while the commercialization of the internet and the first ISPs go back to 1989, by 1992 it probably wasn’t very widespread.

Oh yes: there’s a doorstop of a book that I should say something about.

The first thing to say is that, if Knopf is/was supposed to have high editorial standards, they sure seem to be missing on this book. The proofreading is fine, but a good editor should have sat down with Peters and said something like “Drop 90% of the exclamation points, try saying things five or ten times instead of thirty or forty times, cut this by 75% and we might have a decent book–with a lot of editorial work.”

But, of course, Tom Peters was already hot stuff by this time, based on a book (with a coauthor) that may or may not have had falsified data (the link is to Wikipedia’s article; on one hand, I can believe Fast Company sensationalized a headline, since the magazine tends toward sensationalism–but on the other, based on too many other business books to count, I certainly believe that Peters cherry-picked at the very least).

This quote from an LJ review of this book is cogent: “Peters doesn’t have the benefit of an official coauthor, and it shows” (In Search of Excellence and his second book did have coauthors).

What I learned from the 200 pages I did read:

  • Tom Peters is 100% certain that every company in America must transform itself (long before now) into small self-selecting project teams that work closely with customers to meet their needs–pretty much “we’re all consultants of one sort or another,” although he doesn’t put it that way. (Somehow, I don’t see that working in ordinary retail at all, but I lack Peters’ vision.) It is, of course, true, as every student of Steve Jobs and Apple knows, that its successes in the iStuff category came about strictly because Jobs and small groups met with potential customers to see how Apple could best meet their needs…oh, wait…
  • Peters is Very Sure of Everything He Says! Hey, he’s a multimillionaire at this point so who am I to quibble? (One of the links from the Wikipedia article has him dismissing the fact that 98% of internet startups–companies done the way he thought everybody should do things–had failed. In essence, he said “So what? Some succeeded.”)
  • Peters is upfront in saying that everybody has to be a businessperson and, at least implicitly, that everybody must create and keep building Their Own Brand.
  • What comes through loud and as clear as the turgid prose allows is this: Peters’ future is 100% for extroverts. There’s no room for introverts in the “nanosecond nineties.” If you’re not out pushing yourself into project teams, creating your own new projects, and being assertive about everything…well, you’re toast.

Some of that may be unfair. In any case, I gave up. I’m sure others read this brick all the way through, were enlightened by it, and went on to found the only companies that could possibly survive the nineties and beyond. No, I don’t intend to read Peters’ more recent books. I’ll give some other absolutist guru a try.

 

 

 

 

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