Don't be dumbfounded steer clear of this top 20

ON EXCELLENCE

October 24, 1994|By TOM PETERS

Businesses do a lot of dumb things. Here are 20:

1. The pursuit of synergy. It rarely works. The proposed Martin Marietta-Lockheed merger? "A tribute to the absence of imagination on the part of the two companies' leaders," a defense industry CEO told me. Ditto media mergers, health care mergers, pharmaceutical mergers. Most are lame excuses for the failure to create genuinely new products, services and markets.

2. The belief in strategic plans. "A good deal of corporate planning . . . is like a ritual rain dance," says Dartmouth Professor Brian Quinn. "It has no effect on the weather that follows. . . . Much of the advice related to corporate planning is directed at improving the dancing, not the weather." The best companies let 100 flowers bloom -- then pick the winners from among the hardiest of the sprouts.

3. The more time you spend planning, the less time you'll need to spend on implementation. Almost never the case! Ready. Fire. Aim. That's the approach taken by businesses I most respect. Prospective training course or computer, you don't know where you're headed until you begin to march.

4. Great products will sell themselves. Rubbish! In a market full of contenders, hard-ball hustling is a must.

5. Great advertising can save mediocre products. Rubbish redux. Pour money into support of great products, legendary ad man David Ogilvy says, but don't waste a dime trying to advertise a ho-hum product into prominence.

6. "My employer is stupid not to train me." Well, that is true. But in the end it's up to you to train yourself. The new marketplace will not tolerate atrophying skills.

7. Train 'em and they'll leave. Sick! It's like saying, "Treat people decently and they'll screw you." Treat people well -- respect, responsibility, big-time training, independence -- and you'll have a superior work force. Period.

8. Bring back the good old days. What good old days? The "Colored" and "White" toilets I grew up with? Autocratic front-line supervisors? Yes, today's economic conditions set one's head spinning. But no way would I trade 1994 for 1954.

9. Bosses should be paid more than those who report to them. Oprah makes more than her producers, and all-star performers in general should draw all-star salaries -- in information systems, personnel, marketing, research and development. Obvious, eh?

10. Do it right the first time. Candidate for dumbest statement ever uttered. You don't do anything new or interesting right the first time.

11. Don't make the same mistake twice. Second dumbest statement. In pursuit of significant improvement, we make the same mistakes over and over. "If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done" -- Ludwig Wittgenstein. Now that's more like it!

12. Business is serious stuff. Hogwash. Business is a part of the human circus. About reckless tries, unbridled passion. "Lighten up for profits" -- how about that for a corporate slogan?

13. Total quality management should be the umbrella for all improvement efforts. I'm all for things that work. But how about nifty things that work? If there's a single "it" in business, it's innovation, not TQM.

14. Market research is a must. How about must-not? "The customer is a rearview mirror," says George Colony of Forrester Research, "not a guide to the future." The age of market research has coincided with an onslaught of look-alike products.

15. "People" don't want change. Change is a pain. But we all seek it. Humankind has two basic and equally strong needs: stability and change. The issue is not either/or; it's creating a context in which pursuing the novel is cherished, not scorned.

16. "They" can't handle change. Of course "they" can. They do from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m.! It's the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. part, when bosses think for them, that I worry about.

17. The average person is not creative. The average person is creative. Again, just look at their off-hours activities.

18. Job descriptions and organization charts are essential road maps. Nonsense. Job descriptions are "no" guides -- don't do this, don't go there. Org charts suggest hard wiring in a world that demands fluidity.

19. Regulation is a nuisance. True, but most of the things regulated in the workplace offer first-class opportunities. The disabled make fabulous employees. Safety breeds quality. Environmentally clean operations attract top workers. Too bad we need to legislate such stuff.

20. Foreigners play unfairly. Sure, others do a number on us from time to time. (As we do to them -- America's markets are hardly barrier-free.) But mostly, those who try to cheat us end up cheating themselves. Open markets add to local competitiveness. Ask Detroit!

21. (Bonus) Talk about idiots: Congratulations to GM chiefs for reorganizing to gut Saturn's independence!

Tom Peters is a syndicated columnist. Write to him at Tribune Media Services Inc., Suite 1500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611; (800) 245-6536

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.