Read the Foreword: By Tom Peters
Tom Peters – author of “In Search of Excellence” and 18 other legendary business books.
Let me begin my commentary with two stories …
Story #1: I call it “epiphany day,” much as I don’t like that overused word. It occurred in mid-1977, when I had more or less just begun the research that led, four years later, to In Search of Excellence. My future co-author, Bob Waterman, and I worked in McKinsey & Company’s San Francisco office, and we had a date, 30 miles south in Palo Alto, with HP president John Young. You must understand that we worked on the 50th floor of the Bank of America Center—the Big Guys’ office area two floors above us was occupied by armies of Executive Assistants and featured tea-service china that would not have been out of place in Buckingham Palace. So it was a surprising start to our HP visit when the president of a then $1 billion company came out to the front desk to greet Bob and I and take us to his 8-foot by 8-foot cubicle with half walls.
Midway through our conversation that epiphany occurred, though I wouldn’t label it that way for many years. John introduced us to the “HP Way.” Call it “the way we do things around here” or “management style”—those were the common terms for what today we call “corporate culture,” a phrase not in the management thesaurus in the late ‘70s. Explaining HP’s approach, Mr. Young further introduced us to MBWA, or Managing By Wandering Around, the centerpiece of that HP Way. It meant … wandering around. Leadership was not an office or meeting room thing at HP, it was an “out and about with the folks who do the real work” thing. For guys like Bob and I, used to working with the likes of the BofA, it was, yes, that epiphany, the idea that leading, even in a big company, could be hands-on and informal and intimate. I must add that, toward the end the visit, John took Bob and I on a wander—and along the way we ran into an old fellow chatting about some new product issue with a 25-year-old engineer in front of a computer screen; the old chap to whom we were introduced was, uh, Bill Hewlett. My whole model of leadership and communication and the-way-we-do-things-around-here/corporate culture was turned upside down that day. HP, with giantism has, alas, lost much of its magic, as most giants do, but on that day in 1977 it was sparkling and intimate and alive.
Story #2: I call this one “getting even day” (really “revenge day,” but that’s a horrid word). My research in 1977-1980 had what we now call corporate culture as its centerpiece. That notion did not sit well with the strategy-first-by-the-numbers crowd at the tiptop of McKinsey’s pecking order. In particular, it bugged the hell out of senior partner Lou Gerstner. But Bob and I stuck to our guns and In Search of Excellencefeatured it—and to our surprise and delight the book sold rather well. Mr. Gerstner in turn left McKinsey, and after a couple of stops earned his sky-high, well-deserved front-cover reputation by turning a sluggish IBM around about 180 degrees.
Lou wrote about his IBM foray in a book-memoir titled Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround. He reports at one point on what he called his premier “lesson learned”: “If I could have chosen not to tackle the IBM culture head-on, I probably wouldn’t have. My bias coming in was toward strategy, analysis and measurement. In comparison, changing the attitude and behaviors of hundreds of thousands of people is very, very hard. Yet I came to see in my time at IBM that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.” When I read those words—“it is the game”—I laughed so hard I cried; and I immediately called Bob so we could gloat together.
All of this storytelling is a way of explaining why I love this book, The Art and Science of Culture: The Power of Seeing What’s Hidden. Culture, I believe and have preached for over forty years “is the game.” And this to me is the best guide imaginable for telling practitioners just what culture is, how to dig under the covers and analyze it (“see what’s hidden”), and modify it to achieve that “excellence” I have written about in nineteen books.
This book is staggeringly well researched—I was bowled over, for example, by some of the hard science that allows us to truly understand what does go on beneath the covers (and between the ears) of those who toil in and lead organizations. I am an avid—obsessive is the correct word—reader; and I can say that among the many books on the topic of corporate culture I’ve ingested, this one dives the deepest into the process of understanding and changing an organization’s culture. I could call it a “page turner” (it was for me), but it really demands deep study to appreciate what the, for example, neurological roots of “what’s hidden” in the heads of the folks who work for and with us.
Study some more.
And get to work.
It is the game.