'In Search of Excellence' is an international bestselling book written by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr. First published in 1982, it is one of the biggest selling and most widely read business books ever. The book explores the art and science of management used by leading 1980s companies with records of long-term profitability and continuing innovation.
As a young strategy consultant fresh out of University in 1990, the book had a profound effect on how I viewed the world of business - everything seemed possible. How difficult could it really be with such a great handbook to guide the way, but was I in for a surprise! Real business does not happen in books, it happens in real life. I quickly figured out that books such as 'In Search of Excellence' was actually only successful because it could tap into the power of positive case studies - hindsight is a perfect science right? As a means to replicate success or to predict future excellence, it served at best only as a source of inspiration.
So what has changed since this book came out?
For one the landscape of business has changed dramatically. We've experienced a couple of global market crises since then - the late eighties, the Asian crisis, the dotcom boom & bust, the market tumbles of the late nineties and not to mention the woe & trauma of the current global economic climate. The last 10 years has also seen fundamental innovations in technology as well as the dramatic rise and rise of new global social media platforms, bringing with it a whole new generation of businesses and the 'young masters' who start and grow them. Being a billionaire at age 25 is not far fetched anymore.
What has not changed is our pursuit of excellence - that drive to deliver way above the ordinary, the desire to be better than 'just good enough' or 'just average', racing to have the next best idea or simply the pursuit of just being GREAT. It is therefore not surprising to see that the 'road to excellence' continues even as business landscapes keep changing faster than you can type 'Twitter'. What I do know now is that there is no single definitive guidebook on how to develop the perfect strategy, let alone deliver one that always guarantees consistent and way above average results.
Peter Drucker once said: "the purpose of an organization is to enable ordinary people to do extraordinary things."
After 20 years in business I live by that philosophy every day and having worked with many teams across diverse businesses over the years, I look back at the individuals in those teams as living proof of that statement. And as a late entrant into the world of owning a start-up business, I also now fully appreciate the true value of self-motivation, especially in the face of adversity.
Ultimately we are all 'inspiration magpies' in one way or another. We tend to construct and feather both our comfort zones as well as our deepest motivations with a mixture of inspirational icons, sound bites, quotes & the oracles of successful leaders. Perhaps then the greatest challenge is to create our own path in business (as in life) so that we may truly rely not just on the inspiration of others, but also for the most part on our own innermost motivations to succeed.
I find the 'teachings' from the likes of Michael Porter, Tom Peters, Jim Collins, Seth Godin & Richard Branson (to name but a few) to be a perfect blend of inspiration catalysts for what is ultimately still a very personal journey of being self motivated to deliver excellence. Finding the balance between 'being inspired' and 'inspiring others' is in my opinion one of the key characteristics that define leaders like these.
So please take a few minutes to be inspired by a special selection of their wisdom.
Michael Porter on Strategy
Tom Peters on 'Too much talk, too little do'
Jim Collins, author of 'Good to Great' on how the right people are self-motivated
Seth Godin on 'being better than average'
Richard Branson on Entrepreneurship