How you respond to emerging trends and exploit their potential is key to the success of your organisation.”

The business world today is much more uncertain than it ever was before, which is why self-help books and management theorists are all so popular. And one such popular management gurus is Tom Peters, whose first book In Search of Excellence appeared way back in 1982, and is considered one of the best business books of all time. It made him famous and rich, but Tom Peters being Tom Peters, wanted more. So since then he has published some 11 books and is regarded to be the among the world’s highest paid management consultants.

      The Tom Peters Essentials, four small-format, plane-friendly books contain the key ideas of his must-have book, Re-Imagine! Business Excellence In A Disruptive Age.

 The Essentials are under the titles Leadership, Trends, Talent and Design, and the selection of the topic and their discussion in each book reflects the fact that Peters considers them to be the defining factors of success today. As he rants (the book is full of that and exclamation marks) in the Introduction, “Here are the essential things you must know … as you strive to act … in this unstable, up-tempo, outsourcing-addled, out-of-this-world age.”

  The contents are in a highly engaging and readable format, containing key challenges facing businesses today, inspirational quotes, real business cases and exclusive interviews with his ‘Cool Friends’ – business leaders and visionaries mostly in the US.   

    Besides backing his ideas with the thoughts and opinions of these Cool Friends, Peters also offers references to a wide range of important business publications and researches.

   Trends: Recognise, Analyse, Capitalise, has been co-authored with Martha Barletta, the author of Marketing to Women, and a leading authority on marketing strategies for courting female consumers. It definitely is the most interesting book of the series (not that others aren’t), and men are going to be simply very surprised by its revelations. The chauvinist kinds will probably dismiss these straight away as women are presented as a force to reckon with, both in business and the market.

   It dismisses the notion of men as the major players in the buying process. According to Tom, “… Women’s increasing power — leadership skills and purchasing power — is the strongest and most dynamic force at work in the American economy today.”

Then he goes about proving it with statistics showing that between 1970 and 1998, men’s median income rose by 0.6 per cent, while women’s median income rose by 63 per cent! And they are the main instigators for most household buying, accounting for 80 per cent of all the spending by US households. So can you see where the power really is?

   Oh, I really like this guy for all the credit he gives women for almost everything and he is screaming at businesses and employers about how they are getting it wrong by not focusing enough on their female customers and employees. Yes, screaming, because he seems to say everything with a lot of passion and conviction in this series, using very strong words, short sentences and loads of exclamation marks.

   Chapter Two in Trends has Martha Barletta doing most of the talking, with Tom’s views appearing in boxes in smaller fonts. This I would say wasn’t a bright idea because it makes reading difficult and some of the brightly coloured pages — there are loads of them — are hard on the eyes too.

   Chapter Four, Maturity Mania: Where the money is, has Peters stressing the need to reorient enterprises as the mature population of 50-plus “is growing immensely – both in terms of numbers and in terms of wealth.”

   Thus marketing to just young people is the wrong way of doing business as the real spending power lies with the older age group and they very well like to enjoy the things young people do. He uses the example of health and sports clubs packaging themselves to serve young and trim bodies, but it is the “not-so-young and not-so-trim, but ever-so-determined and every-so-flush-with-disposable-income — who embody the real growth market for” these business. He advises these people to create products and an atmosphere that will attract older and, well, fatter people. 

   The other book of the series that is thoroughly engaging is Leadership: Inspire, Liberate, Achieve. The first chapter Pursuing Excellence in a Disruptive Age: The Leadership 50, basically carries the essence of what Peters believes leadership is all about. There are some ‘we already know that’ kind of ideas, while others are contrary to the stereotype notions of what being a boss means. The second idea on the list is Leaders say “I Don’t Know”. This basically means, according to Peters, “Hey, you figure it out.”

This is not supposed to be an acknowledgment of weakness, but a show of strength and urging others to take an active part in finding a solution. The concept does make nice reading, but one is yet to come across a leader who does not claim to have all the answers.

   There are many cool quotes in the series, such as “Leaders make mistakes. And they make no bones about it”, “Screwing up is the Essence of … Trying New Stuff” and the one I am sure most of us would like pinned to our office soft boards is “Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes.”

   In Leadership too, there is a complete chapter devoted to women. In Meet the New Boss: Women Rule Peters discusses how women’s strengths match the leadership needs of the new economy to a startling degree. Among the attributes that give women the edge are: women are less “rank-conscious’ than men; they are multi-tasked, managing more things at once; they are better listeners with better communication skills; better at reading non-verbal cues; women focus naturally on empowerment and not on power like men, etc.

Screwing up is the Essence of … Trying New Stuff”

    Before this women mantra gets to the male readers, let’s move on to the next book Talent: Develop it, Sell it, Be it. Peters basically urges individuals to be weird, to become the best of the best, and “brand” and market themselves to survive in an environment where software robots are taking over the white-collar jobs of yesteryear.

Simply put, people need to develop what he calls “Brand You thinking”. To survive the competition today, one has to strive for true distinction. This books is great for people who are feeling a bit lost on their career roads, be it at the start, middle or end, as Peters first makes the reader realise the importance of branding and marketing yourself, and then goes on to explain how it is done.

   In Design: Innovate, Differentiate, Communicate, Tom Peters urges companies to redesign themselves and their products to succeed. He believes design to be the “Number 1 determinant of whether a product or service stands out – or doesn’t”.

Design is about passion, emotion and attachment – and it must be at the heart of every business.”

The title of Chapter Three, Design in Action: Providing Memorable Experiences carries the heart of Peters’ message about what designing is all about. One of the examples he sites to stress this is that of Harley-Davidson — they do not sell motorcycles, but experience. At Harley-Davidson they believe that they are a ‘lifestyle company’ not a ‘vehicle manufacturer’ and that’s why these bikes are a breed apart.

   These books carry a collage of outrageous, weird and eye-popping ideas that are both exciting and shocking in their boldness. Though focused more on the American business world, Tom Peters Essentials are nice ‘charge-me-up’ books just right for the bedside table or the office desk, which will give you some healthy food for thought and urge you to excel.

This book review appeared in the Books & Authors magazine of Dawn

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