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September 16, 2005

Excerpts: Branding Unbound by Rick Mathieson - Part V

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 2:12 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Q&A Tom Peters: The Gospel According to St. Peters Part polemicist, part unabashed cheerleader, Tom Peters says the future of business will be driven by those who laugh in the face of todays play-it-safe corporate mind-set and fearlessly allow themselves to "screw up, think weird, and throw out the old business playbooks." Of course, hes always had a sensationalist streak. With the success of his best-selling books, In Search of Excellence, The Brand You, and half-dozen others, Peters invented the manager-as-rock-star ethos of the 1980s, and the "Me, Inc." entrepreneurialism of the 1990s. The Los Angeles Times has called him "the father of the postmodern corporation." And today, companies pay the sixty-year-old rabble-rouser up to $50,000 for a one-hour speech in hopes of gleaning some secret to success in twenty-first-century business. In Peterss eyes, tomorrows increasingly messy and chaotic world belongs to those who embrace "creative destruction"; nimble, creative innovators who go beyond the production of mere products and services to master the all-powerful customer experience. RICK MATHIESON: One of your major themes is the power of disruptive technology. How do you think the emergence of mobile technologies and pervasive computing can best be put to use to enhance the way organizations operate? TOM PETERS: The most important thing I can say is, 'I dont know.' And anybody who says they do know is an idiot, and you may quote me on that. And what I mean by this is, I think the change is so profound, particularly relative to the extremely young men and extremely young women who will be peopling organizations ten years from now, that I think weve got to make the whole damn thing up anew. I refuse to consider that Im the genius who has mapped the path out. I think Ive said some things that are not silly. But as Peter Drucker said, were still looking for the Copernicus of the New Organization. I quote a lot of people, like David Weinberger, who I adore, who wrote this book called Small Pieces Loosely Joined, and Howard Rheingold with Smart Mobs, and so on. I think that there are a whole lot of very smart people who are painting some very interesting pictures right now. But to say that somebody has painted the correct picture is a gross exaggeration, and it sure as hell isnt me. RM: Some of your most exciting themes have always been around branding and creating memorable customer experiences. Today, when companies look at new technology, how should we move the discussion about technology from creating efficiency to creating experiencesthe value that technology can bring to your brand? TP: Obviously, even though its technologically driven, Apple/Pixar has always created great experiences, albeit at a price. Look, were moving to a more and more ethereal society where the manufactured product is less significant than before. And as we continue to shift these very expensive jobs offshore, the question, the issue, the struggle is, "Whats left?" And presumably whats left increasingly is the very high valueadded stuff, and that value-added stuff is the stuff Steve Jobs has understood since the beginning of time. RM: In your recent book, Re-Imagine: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age, you write about your own tombstone and wanting to be remembered as "a player." What does that mean in the disruptive age when wireless is redefining just about everything? TP: Im older than you are; thats the easy answer. People at sixty think about things that people who are significantly less therein dont. Im almost in a sappy way taking advantage of my age here. But I think the big message is: This whole new technology thing-whether were talking Napster, whether were talking the Recording Industry of America, whether were talking wireless, whether were talking about war with terrorists-[means] were engaged in this exceptionally energetic process of redefinition, which will generate some number of winners, and lots of losers. And participation vigorously therein is what its all about. I look at all the people who are sour, including Silicon Valley people who thought God put them on Earth to make $1 million by the age of twenty-six, if not $10 million, and I say, how cool to be part of this. I love some of those who have made a trillion dollars and some who are less well-known who have lost a trillion dollars, but were vigorously engaged in the fray. [Its all] about those in the fray at a time of truly dramatic change. Something quite exceptional is going down. In the best sense of the word-and not said with naivete or rose-colored glasses-its a very cool time to be alive.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.