I started in business in 1968 after I got out of the Marines. If I were starting out today there would be plenty of books to read, but then the list of accessible and helpful business authors started and ended with Peter Drucker. The only exception I remember was Robert Townsend’s book, Up the Organization. That was fun to read, but not particularly helpful if you weren’t the CEO.
In 1982, the entire world of business books changed when Harper and Row published In Search of Excellence. It became a best-seller. I don’t mean a best-selling business book. No, we’re talking top of the New York Times best seller list. Since then, Peters has been giving speeches and writing books at a rate that makes the Energizer Bunny look like a slacker. In the process, he has changed two things.
In Search of Excellence created the model for the modern business book. It was well written and made liberal use of stories to underline key points. It was practical and helpful and on target for the things that working managers cared about.
Peters himself has changed the conversation about business and leadership and innovation. Most business books and advice before were about dispassionate planning and execution and rigorous control. Peters represented and represents the other part of business, the passionate, innovating, human, messy part.
About thirty years ago, I attended a speech that Tom Peters made to an audience of professional speakers. Alas, I no longer have the exact date, but I remember the advice Peters gave when he was asked how to have a best seller like In Search of Excellence. There were three things.
“Write the best damn book you can.
Promote it till you puke.
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