On track to a Renewal, Tom Peters says goodbye

ON EXCELLENCE

March 06, 1995|By TOM PETERS

Thank you!

In 1991 I wrote a column on the power of thank-you notes. (Reprinted in these pages two weeks ago.) It drew, by far, the greatest number of comments I've received for a single column among the 524 I've written.

Some of you sent me thank-you notes. Almost all testified to the extraordinary impact of saying thanks.

So, belatedly, it's my turn to thank you, my readers, from Seoul to San Jose. The occasion is the cessation of this column. In short, I've decided to give my Ball Pentel Fine Point R50 pen and Weston Bowl Mill wooden laptop writing desk a rest.

Ten years ago I walked into the office of Leonard Koppett, then editor of the Palo Alto, Calif., Peninsula Times Tribune, and asked his advice about writing a weekly syndicated column. "Some week," he warned me, "you'll find you just don't have anything left to say."

Though verbosity is my stock in trade (I routinely give 8-hour seminars), I did run on fumes a few times. But then I'd dig back through my week -- and some idea would emerge.

Well, my tank is not empty as I write this. In fact, I've got a meaty, 3-inch "future column ideas" yellow folder within reach. But . . .

You may recall my September 1994 column about little r and Big R, renewal writ small and large. I said that in a madcap world, nothing concerned me more than the issue of staying fresh.

What we need, painful or not, is Big R: a six-month sabbatical, a new degree program, a three-year out-of-the-way assignment that takes you off the fast track for a while and allows you to absorb an entirely new skill.

Well, I recently reread that column and decided -- ye gads! -- it applied to me.

Remember that I also suggested a test. If you're doing substantially the same thing you were doing on this exact day six months ago, I said, you're headed for trouble.

Headed for trouble? I'm up to my armpits. Reading the same magazines (in a desperate and ultimately futile effort to keep up). Talking, mostly, about the same topics (though my minor measures of renewal, such as percentage of new transparencies used in an average presentation, are OK). Big R was clearly missing.

Michael Jordan retired while he was at the top of his game. So, too, Gary Larson. (Oh, do I ever miss "The Far Side"!) But it was Dennis Littky who got to me.

Dennis was a young, widely acclaimed middle-school principal on Long Island from 1972 to 1978. But his relentless pace led to burnout, and he took to a spartan mountaintop cabin (no electricity) in New Hampshire -- with no plan.

After three reclusive years, Dennis was coaxed down the slope and into the principal's office at Thayer High in Winchester, N.H. Another award-winning tour of duty followed.

Then, after 13 years at Thayer, he dropped out once more -- and headed for Asia. Now, after about a year's hiatus, he's back at work on school reform (though away from the principal's office). I met with him recently to talk about a project -- and was bowled over by his vigor. It was the last straw in my own drive to post the "out to lunch, no plans to return" sign.

So, I'm outta here. Many of you will say only the rich can afford my advice. Hold on, please. My mentor in all this, Dennis Littky, is no Rockefeller -- trust me, you don't accumulate ostrich-size nest eggs on New Hampshire principals' salaries!

The point is, I'm stale. And that will not do.

Look, Dennis was not quite the final straw. That came while flying from San Francisco to Milwaukee in late January. I got out my notes for an evening speech. I became, almost literally, paralyzed: I thought, "If I see or utter the word 'empowerment' one more time, I'm going to throw up."

Late that night, after the speech, I found myself in yet another hotel room, and (for the umpteenth time) turned to the TV movie selections. I alighted upon "The Shawshank Redemption." Somewhere near the end, the lead character says, "Get busy living or get busy dying." Now that's Big R talk!

Thanks for listening. (And, unable as I am to avoid one last piece of advice, don't forget to obsess about your own renewal!)

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