Cirtical Analysis - Managment Lessons of Tom Peter


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Cirtical Analysis - Managment Lessons of Tom Peter

  1. 1. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010 A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s BooksWali Memon 1
  2. 2. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010 A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books AbstractPurposeThis paper has been timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of thepublication of In Search of Excellence. Observing this anniversary the paper offersa critical review of the works of Tom Peters – a man vaunted as the guru ofmanagement. RevieIrs have observed that Tom Peters’ narratives of businessbuild and depend upon organizational stories to achieve their effects.Recognising that tales of the organization play an important role in sense makingand sense giving endeavours this paper reviews Peters’ organizationalstorytelling in the light of critical academic reflection in this arena.Design/methodology/approachThe paper analyses the eight key works on management produced by TomPeters betIen 1982 and 2003 from a storytelling perspective. Building uponYiannis Gabriel’s account of the essence of the poetic tale the paper compiles acatalogue of Tom Peters’ story work.FindingsOn the strength of the cataloguing exercise I question Peters’ standing as anorganizational storyteller/ organizational sense-giver. I chart a) a decline in thisguru’s storytelling b) the predominance of certain story types in this guru’s textsWali Memon 2
  3. 3. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010and c) Peters’ transmutation from narrator for, to hero of, the business world.Originality/valueAt a point in history when Tom Peters’ contribution to the business ofmanagement is being vaunted this review questions Peters’ status as anorganizational storyteller/organizational sense-giver and questions his futureprospects as a guru.KeywordsTom Peters, Guru, narrative, storytelling, sense-giving.Paper typeResearch paper.Wali Memon 3
  4. 4. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010IntroductionTwenty-five years ago Tom Peters and Robert Waterman produced a, nowfamous, text on the business of management entitled In Search of Excellence(Peters and Waterman, 1982). This paper has been produced to observe theTwenty -fifth anniversary of the publication of this groundbreaking guru text.Yet, while the paper seeks to capitalise on this event, it does not seek, simply, tocelebrate this anniversary.Acknowledging that Tom Peters tends to excite and yet polarise opinion I willattempt to carve out a distinctive position on this celebrated guru, which avoids,both, the pit-falls of hagiology and the perils apoplexy (Collins, 2003). To this endthe paper offers a critical review of Peters’ work on the business of managementthat is derived from the academic analysis of organizational storytelling (seeBoje, 1991, 2001; Gabriel, 2000, 2004).Numerous revieIrs have drawn attention to the importance of storytelling inPeters’ work. Maidique (1983), for example, has commented that In Search ofExcellence used stories and energetic prose to acquire an audience. Similarly TheEconomist (5/12/1992) has suggested that Liberation Management (Peters,1992) achieved mass market success because it offered its readers a collection ofsecularised business parables (see also Pattison, 1997). Peters, himself, is plainlyaware of the potential of organizational storytelling. In his most recent majorwork, for example, he insists that storytelling should be regarded as the primaryrole of management (see Peters, 2003).Recognising the importance of stories in the work of this notable commentator,this paper reanalyses Peters’ key texts (see figure one) from a storytellingperspective. Employing Gabriel’s (2000; 2004) analysis of the essence of thepoetic tale I will compile a comprehensive catalogue of Peters’ storytellingWali Memon 4
  5. 5. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010endeavours. Outlining the key features of this storywork catalogue I will markPeters’ silver jubilee celebrations with a critical and timely review. This review,as I shall see, questions the future prospects of this pundit. (1982) In Search of Excellence (joint with Robert Waterman) (1985) A Passion for Excellence (joint with Nancy Austin) (1987) Thriving on Chaos (1992) Liberation Management (1993) The Tom Peters Seminar: Crazy Times call for Crazy Organizations (1994) The Pursuit of Wow! (1997) The Circle of Innovation: You can’t shrink ymy way to greatness (2003) Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive ageFigure One: A catalogue of Tom Peters’ ‘major’ or ‘key’ texts on management.This listing of eight key texts excludes the ‘Essentials’ Collection (Peters andBarletta, 2005a, 2005b, 2005c, 2005d), the ‘50’ series (Peters, 1999a, 1999b,1999c) and the various pamphlets prepared by the Tom Peters Group. These areexcluded from the current analysis on the understanding that these texts containabridged accounts of ideas that are developed, more fully, in Peters’ key texts.Wali Memon 5
  6. 6. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010Accordingly this paper is structured as follows: I begin with a very brief analysisof Tom Peter’s career as a guru. In this first section I will attempt to demonstratePeters’ appeal and significance as a management commentator. In addition I willacknowledge the role, which storytelling plays in his accounts of managerialsensegiving (Gioia and Chittepeddi, 1991). Having accomplished this I will thenimmerse my selves in the critical, academic, literature on organizationalstorytelling as I focus upon the contest be taken two key commentators in thisarena: David Boje (1991, 2001) and Yiannis Gabriel (2000).Despite their differences these commentators, as I shall see, confirm theimportance of storytelling in/ at work. Yet their commentaries modify Peters’account of the potential of storytelling insofar as each suggests thatorganizational tales have (unacknowledged) limitations as ‘sensegiving’ devices(Gioia and Chittepeddi, 1991).My third section reviews Peters’ storytelling in the light of this critical inquiry. Itoffers a catalogue of Peters storywork, which observes a decline in Petersstorytelling. Subjecting this catalogue to scrutiny I will argue that this guru’stales offer a counterfeit account of organization because certain story typespredominate. Furthermore I will suggest that Peters’ more recent attempts atpoetic sensegiving have been undermined by his tendency to cast himself as,both, narrator and hero of the corporate world. In the light of this creepingpoetic impoverishment I will argue that the year 2007 represents an importantjuncture in Peters’ career as a management guru – but not for obvious reasons.Thus my review suggests that those who would craft eulogies on Peters’contribution to the business of management might be better employed in thepreparation of obituaries for a guru career that looks, increasingly, infirm.Doubting Thomas?Tom Peters is generally recognised as a key commentator on the business ofmanagement. A survey undertaken on behalf of the publisher, Bloomsbury, forexample, named Tom Peters the ‘third most important management thinker aliveWali Memon 6
  7. 7. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010today’i and crowned In Search of Excellence (Peters and Waterman, 1982) the‘Greatest Business Book of All Time’.The Economist has granted Peters that is, at once, more elegant and ambiguous(see Collins, 2000)ii. For The Economist, therefore, Peters is not just a guru he is‘the uber-guru’ of management.Fortune magazine has honoured Peters with a similarly grand title. Fortune tellsus that Tom Peters is the ‘Ur-guru’ of management.The nature and standing of the business guru is, plainly, debatable (See forexample Huczynski, 1993; Hilmer and Donaldson, 1996; Micklethwait andWooldridge, 1997; Kieser, 1997; Jackson and Carter, 1998; Collins, 2000 forreviews). However few would suggest that Tom Peters should not feature on the‘A-list’ of business commentators that have come to be known as the gurus ofmanagement (see Kennedy, 1996; 1998; Crainer, 1998; Jackson, 2001). He has,after all, maintained a position at the top of the global market for managementadvice for a quarter of a century. Indeed it would not be an exaggeration tosuggest that In Search of Excellence defined and created the market segment ofthe publishing industry that Peters has come to dominate (Crainer, 1997).Critics,, have had great sport with In Search of Excellence and have, gleefully,highlighted its many conceptual, methodological (Carroll, 1983; Aupperle, Acarand Booth, 1986; Guest, 1992) and editorial failings (Maidique, 1983). Yet theparadoxical nature of In Search of Excellence has, for the most part, beenoverlooked by critics.Mixed MessagesIn Search of Excellence reported the results of a research programme designed toinvestigate ‘organizational effectiveness’ (Crainer, 1997). Building upon theMcKinsey ‘7-S framework’ the text argued that companies should be redesignedto ensure adherence to the eight principles of excellence that had been revealedWali Memon 7
  8. 8. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010to Peters and Waterman. To convey the results of this research activity theauthors utilised a conventional and continuous narrative structure that derivedits authority from the logic of science (Collins, and Watkins, 2006). And yet thecore message of this book challenges the logic of such scientific narratives ofbusiness insofar as it insists that the experience of managing resists my attemptsat enumeration and codification. Thus Peters and Waterman protest that‘managing’ is different from ‘management’ (see also Lat, 1996; Czarniawska,1999). Management, this duo argued, is coldly rationalistic and inherentlyreductionist whereas managing builds upon an appreciation of the emotionalnature of labmy to craft a moral economy (Watson, 2001).Recognising this division, the essence of ‘management’ and the art of ‘managing’all of Peters’ texts (whether collectively or singly) produced since 1982 havesought to capitalise on the ‘sensegiving’ capabilities of organizational storytelling(see Gioia and Chittepeddi, 1991). For example In Search of Excellence usedstories from the front-line of practice to persuade readers of the need for a morebalanced approach to managing. Similarly A Passion for Excellence (Peters andAustin, 1985) reproduced a large number of ‘implementation vignettes’ in anattempt to demonstrate how the endless transition towards excellence might beessayed. In his most recent key text on management Peters (2003) offers,perhaps, his clearest statement on the ‘sensegiving’ capacity of organizationalstorytelling. In Re-imagine, therefore, Peters argues that good stories are thekeystone of modern business success. Those organizations with the best stories,he insists, will have faithful employees, excellent products and ardent customers.In short Peters (2003) affirms that stories have the capacity to create the ‘wavesof lust’ that throw buyers and sellers together.Faith Confirmed?Tom Peters’ faith in the power of organizational stories has been confirmed tosome extent by academic commentaries. Gioia and Chittepeddi (1991), Boyce(1995) and Søderberg (2003), for example, have all explored the managerialproblems of organizational change and each provides some support for Peters’Wali Memon 8
  9. 9. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010conviction that organizations are, in effect, narrative constructs. Thus Gioia andChittepeddi have suggested that managers achieve physical change inorganizations by creating narratives that establish, engender and reinforce ‘theneed’ for such change. In an earlier account of the politics and processes ofchange management Pettigrew (1985) makes a similar point when he drawsattention to the ways in which the managers of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI)constructed narratives of crisis in order to establish an agenda for change.Echoing this account of ‘sensemaking and sensegiving’, Salzer-Mörling (1998)points out that the Chinese character for ‘boss’ depicts a man with two mouths.She suggests that this characterization of managerial work demonstrates thenarrative constitution of organization because it reveals the ways in whichmanagers must seek to orchestrate events by speaking sense to and for others.Yet despite Peters’ espoused commitment to organizational storytelling a casualreading of Peters’ work suggests that, as time has passed, this guru has provenhimself to be, increasingly, unable, or unwilling, to narrate the world of businessin poetic terms. To allow us to explore my suspicions regarding Peters’ changingnarrative of business I will look in more detail at the academic literature onorganizational storytelling.Organizational Stories and StorytellingRecent academic interest in organizational storytelling expands upon thenarrative concern with such things as change management that has beenarticulated by gurus and consultants. Yet academic studies of storytelling lookbeyond the narrowly instrumental agenda articulated by the likes of Tom Peters.Thus Boje (1992; 2001) and Gabriel (1995; 1998; 2000; 2004) insist thatorganizational stories are worthy of sustained, critical, reflection because theycan provide important insights into the complexities of management and the,essential, plurality of social organization.Gabriel’s (2000) account of organizational storytelling begins by observing that adiscontent with modernist scholarship has redeemed the ‘story’ from its positionWali Memon 9
  10. 10. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010as a quaint subordinate to the facts of ‘history’ such that stories are now widelyacknowledged to be, not reflections of organizational reality, but creators oforganizational meaning and organizational realities. Thus Gabriel suggests thatthe increasing, academic, interest in organizational storytelling has beenfacilitated by postmodern scholarship and its tendency to see stories (asgenerators and creators of meaning) everywhere. However, Gabriel disputesthis tendency to ‘see stories everywhere’ – as the creators and generators ofmeaning – on two counts. Firstly, as I shall see below, he argues that not allnarratives qualify as stories. Secondly, he insists that stories do not always andeverywhere generate meaning because, while stories are portable and travel Ill,they are often modified as they travel. Thus Gabriel suggests that stories have afragile and ‘polysemic’ quality, which makes them susceptible to translation (Lat,1987).Boje’s (2001) analysis of narratives and ‘narratology’ also demonstrates aconcern with polysemy as it attempts to uncover worlds and experiences, whichare otherwise denied in official corporate (hi)stories. Following Iick’s (1995)account of sensemaking, Boje notes that, on a day-to-day basis, people confront akey problem: how to make sense of a ‘complex soup’ of ambiguous and half-understood problems, events and experiences. Reflecting upon this problem ofambiguity, Boje suggests that people construct and retrace their lives,retrospectively, through stories. For Boje, therefore, stories have a particularsignificance and a distinctive meaning. Indeed Boje warns us that I mustdistinguish ‘stories’ from ‘narratives’ (which for ease of exposition I willreproduce as ‘Narratives’) if I are to understand the richness of organizationalsensemaking. Indeed he warns us that Narratives are not to be confused withstories. Narratives, he argues, stand aloof from the flow of experience.Narratives are plotted, directed and staged to produce a linear, coherent andmonological rendering of events, while ‘stories are self-deconstructing, flowing,emerging and networking, not at all static’ (Boje, 2001: 1).Commenting upon the Narrative understanding of organization that is byWali Memon 10
  11. 11. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010business analysis’s (among others); Boje argues that academic analysis has, toooften, confused stories with Narrative. Thus he complains that ‘so much of whatpasses for academic narrative analysis in organization studies seems to relyupon sequential, single-voiced stories’ (Boje, 2001: 9).In an attempt to redirect academic inquiry from such monological Narratives ofbusiness success towards a concern with flux and emergence Boje introduces theconcept of the ‘antenarrative’. This focus upon movement and flow has aprofound affect on Boje’s conceptualisation of stories.AntenarrativesFor Boje (2001), ‘antenarrative’ has two faces. On one face, Boje’s focus upon‘antenarrative’ is based upon the understanding that ‘stories’ precede Narrative.For Boje, then, stories are ‘antenarrative’ in that they come before the processesof staging and directing, which, as he sees it, lead to the development of‘sequential, single-voiced’, top-down Narratives.On the obverse face, Boje calls upon the rules of poker. Thus he suggests that an‘antenarrative’ represents ‘a bet’ (or ‘an ante’) that retrospective sensemakingmay emerge in the future from ‘the fragmented, non-linear, incoherent, collectiveand unplotted’ (1) stories, which come before Narrative accounts.This account of stories and Narratives overlaps, to some degree, with the accountoffered by Gabriel (2000). In common with Boje, Gabriel agrees that stories offerlocal and intimate accounts of situations, events and predicaments. Indeed,reflecting upon the complexities associated with the analysis of stories andstorytelling, Gabriel argues that storywork – literally the art of constructingmeaningful stories – is a delicately woven product of intimate knowledge.Furthermore he agrees with Boje that it is, vitally, important to distinguish‘stories’ from other ‘narrative’ forms. At this point, however, the accounts ofstorytelling prepared by Boje and Gabriel diverge.Wali Memon 11
  12. 12. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010Narrative Impoverishment and Work IntensificationBoth Boje and Gabriel complain that it can be difficult to unearth good storiesand talented storytellers in organizations. Indeed each suggests that it isbecoming, increasingly, difficult to witness organizational storytelling in itsnatural surroundings. Pondering the cause of this narrative deskilling Gabrielsuggests that contemporary developments such as Kaizen, Total QualityManagement (TQM) and Just-in-time (JIT) production may be a root cause of thisdecline in organizational storytelling since these initiatives intensify the pace ofworking, and so, reduce the opportunity for spontaneous interaction at work.This shared recognition of poetic decline at work, however, takes Boje andGabriel in opposite analytical directions.Lamenting the perceived decline in organizational stories, Gabriel simply renewshis commitment to the understanding that stories are (increasingly rare and)special forms of narrative with definite characteristics. Boje, however, adopts adifferent, and more radical, tack: He moves ‘upstream’ (Lat, 1987) and begins toredefine the very nature of organizational stories.In an initial move Boje (1991) suggests that the terse narrative which announces‘you know the story’ should be regarded as a story in its own right. Later in amore radical move (Boje, 2001) he argues that stories are those special forms ofnarrative that exist prior to the crystallizing processes of casting and plotting.Gabriel, however, disputes these moves and stubbornly insists that plots, stagingand direction remain the central characteristics of stories. Taking issue withBoje’s first move, Gabriel protests that while the ‘terse stories’ observed by Bojerepresent invitations to recall, either, a pattern of events or a particularrendering of a tale, they are not, properly-speaking, stories. Thus Gabriel warnsus that Boje’s ‘terse tales’ lack, ‘performativity, memorableness, ingenuity andsymbolism’ (Gabriel, 2000: 20). Consequently they ‘amount to little more thandelicate fragments of sense, communicating metonymically, as if they Ire productbrands’ (Gabriel, 2000: 20-21).Wali Memon 12
  13. 13. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010Regarding Boje’s second move, Gabriel seems to concede that the moments ofnarrative expression captured in Boje’s unscripted and unplotted ante narrativesmight reveal something to us about organizational ambiguity and about thecomplexities of sensemaking in organizations. Yet he protests that theseantenarratives cannot be regarded as poetic tales and should, instead, bedescribed as prototypical stories. Thus Gabriel (2000) argues that there is a needto distinguish:• ‘opinions’ (which may contain factual or symbolic materials but tend to lack plots and/or characters),• ‘proto-stories’ (which, while they may have a rudimentary plot, remain incomplete insofar as they offer, say, a beginning and a middle but no satisfactory ending) and• ‘reports’ (which offer an historic rather than a poetic rendering of events, and so, produce stubbornly factually and causative, as opposed to symbolic, accounts)• ‘proper’, or ‘poetic’, stories which: • involve characters in a predicament • unfold according to a chain of events that, in turn, reflects the structure of the plot and the essential traits of the characters involved • call upon symbolism/symbolic factors • indulge poetic embellishment and embroidery • have a beginning, middle and an ending • seek to convey, not simple facts, but more general and enduring truths (Gabriel, 2000; 2004).The Poetic TropesReflecting upon the poetic qualities of such unique but generalizable stories (seeTietze, Cohen and Musson, 2003), Gabriel (2000) argues that poetic tales will callupon a number of eight ‘poetic tropes’ or generic attributions as they attempt tomake events meaningful. Indeed he insists that poetic tropes are the attributesWali Memon 13
  14. 14. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010which breathe life into stories and give them the capacity to communicateexperience. Furthermore he observes that authors can structure the poetictropes to produce a number of different ‘poetic modes’, designed variously toinculcate pride in, or to bring laughter forth from, the enraptured listener.Documenting the main poetic modes, Gabriel notes that a tale may be a) comic,b) tragic, c) epic or d) romantic depending upon the construction andorganization of characters and events (see Collins and Rainwater, 2005 forexamples).Putting Stories to WorkMethodIn an attempt to chart, describe and analyse the stories that Peters constructs forhis readers, the eight works, previously, identified as key elements of TomPeters’ canon of management have been subjected to a detailed analysis.Following Gabriel, these re-view of Peters’ texts sought to identify thoseelements of Peters’ narratives of business, which because they: • place characters in predicament • unfold in a manner that reflects the structure of the plot and the essential traits of the characters involved • depend upon symbolic resemblance • proceed to a satisfactory conclusion • Seek a relationship with a deeper and more enduring truth than is achieved through mere factual verification might, properly, be characterised as poetic stories.To assist with the process of charting these tales, and to facilitate subsequentverification of this charting process, a cataloguing form similar to that employedby Gabriel (1995) was developed. This form collected information detailing: • The location and the opening words of each tale identified. • The main characters and dominant theme of each of these tales • The underlying emotional qualities – pride, sadness etc. - of each taleWali Memon 14
  15. 15. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010 identified • The dominant narrative type – whether tragic, comic etc. – of each tale.Readers may Ill protest that this attempt to signal the dominant narrative type ofthe tale under study tends to downplay the ways in which stories might besubject to alternative readings or re-views (see for example, Boje, Alvarez andSchooling, 2001; Collins and Rainwater, 2005). Yet in response to this(anticipated) objection I might counter that it is possible to recognise,simultaneously, the feasibility of alternative readings and the intention of theoriginal storyteller (Czarniawska, 1999). Thus my attempt to chart the dominantnarrative type of each tale encountered is not intended as an absolute judgementas to the nature of the narrative under review. Rather my classification should beread as an attempt to name the author’s intention and is based upon an analysisof the story in its context. That said, the cataloguing exercise did reveal a fewinstances when Peters failed in his storytelling endeavours. Thus a very fewstories have been catalogued as ‘ambiguous’ because in these instances Petershas proved unable to give a clear sense of his own authorial intentions andorientations (see figure three).Losing the Plot?My catalogue of Peters’ storytelling (see Figure two) demonstrates that mysuspicions regarding changes in Peters’ storywork are Ill founded. Indeed mycatalogue suggests that this celebrated guru is, now, providing narratives ofbusiness that fly in the face of his own espoused credo of managing.Cataloguing PetersPeters’ earliest works, as you might expect, are comparatively rich in storytelling.In Search of Excellence and A Passion for Excellence, for example, contain 137 and165 narratives, respectively, that qualify as stories in my interpretation of thesematters (see Figure Two). However later texts such as The Pursuit of Wow andThe Circle of Innovation, which are similar in size to Peters’ earlier, co-authored,works offer the reader far fewer tales and, jointly, exhibit far fewer stories (57Wali Memon 15
  16. 16. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010and 38) than In Search of Excellence alone. Indeed in comparison to this, Peters’first key text, later works such as The Tom Peters Seminar and Re-imagine arepoetic deserts offering just 41 and 44 stories each. Total Number of Text Page Count StoriesIn Search of Excellence 137 322+36A Passion for Excellence 165 422+25Thriving on Chaos 118 523+02Liberation Management 112 763+34The Tom Peters Seminar 41 291+03The Pursuit of Wow 57 326+08The Circle of Innovation 38 499+21Re-imagine 44 352Figure Two: A count of stories in the key works of Tom PetersAdvocates for Tom Peters will, point out that, on its own terms, this diminishingcatalogue of poetical tales tells us little, and proves less, about the work of thisnotable guru. After all Peters (2003) is clear that in public opinion it is qualitynot quantity that counts because fortune smiles upon those with the best, not themost, stories. Yet further, more detailed, analysis of Peters’ storywork suggeststhat I should take these findings seriously because the decline in this pundit’sstorytelling activity has been accompanied by qualitative changes in, both,narrative form and structure, which a) diminish Peters’ sense-giving endeavours,and so, b) question his standing as a guru (Jackson and Carter, 1998).Tales and PropagandaGabriel (2000; 2004) and Boje (1991; 2001) have observed that written accountsof the business of management, too often, represent, either, fabrications ofreality or partisan projections of a top management world-view that jar with theeveryday stories which people tell one another at, or about, work. Both Boje andWali Memon 16
  17. 17. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010Gabriel do complain that, in their fieldwork activity, they often struggle tounearth good stories and talented storytellers. Nonetheless they protest thatwhen organizational actors choose to relate tales of working, certain story typestend to dominate. Thus Boje and Gabriel suggest that employees tend to favourtales that highlight the laughable and/or paradoxical elements of their workingexperiences and would seldom, if ever, choose to relay a heroic or epic story to acolleague.In this respect the analyses offered by Boje and Gabriel make it clear that thisguru’ narratives of organization – even those richest in poetic themes – tend todistort and misrepresent organizational life because epic tales of heroicendeavour predominate.Wali Memon 17
  18. 18. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010 Text Epic Comic Tragic Romantic Tragi- Ambiguous Tales Tales Tales (%) Tales (%) comic Tales (%) (%) (%) Tales (%)In Search of 97 21 (15) 9 (6.5) 0 (0) 8 (6) 2 (2)Excellence (71)A Passion for 132 9 (5) 12 (7) 0 (0) 5 (3) 7 (4)Excellence (80)Thriving on 111 0 (0) 6 (5) 0 (0) 0 (0) 1 (1)Chaos (94)Liberation 92 1 (1) 17 (15) 0 (0) 2 (2) 0 (0)Management (82)The Tom 33 2 (5) 3 (7) 0 (0) 2 (5) 1 (2)Peters (81)SeminarThe Pursuit of 53 0 (0) 3 (5) 0 (0) 1 (2) 0 (0)Wow (93)The Circle of 29 3 (8) 2 (5) 0 (0) 1 (3) 0 (0)Innovation (76)Re-imagine 30 2 (5) 7 (16) 0 (0) 5 (11) 0 (0) (68)Figure Three: An analysis of the stories recounted by Peters in his key workssorted by narrative type. Relative percentage Lightings appear in bracketsEpic TalesAs Figure three shows Peters tends to favours particular types of tale when herelates his case for business change. Within In Search of Excellence, for example,97 of the 137 tales recounted (71%) qualify as epic or heroic narratives insofaras they deal with the exploits of special individuals who merit my admirationbecause their image or tenacity has led them to overcome obstacles orWali Memon 18
  19. 19. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010difficulties.Peters’ later texts are, perhaps, his least heroic but, even in these books, the epicnarrative is still predominant. Thus in The Circle of Innovation 29 of the 38 talesrelayed (76%) are of the epic or heroic form and in Re-imagine no fewer than 30of the 44 tales recounted (68%) qualify as heroic tales of endeavour.Comic TalesThe comic tales that Boje and Gabriel suggest are more typical of the stories thatpeople tell of/at work seldom amount to more than a tiny minority of the talesrecounted by Peters. Combining the comic with the tragically, or darkly, comicform identified by Gabriel (2000) as an important hybrid narrative form it isclear that comic tales are not a particular feature of Peters’ repertoire. Forexample none of the 118 tales relayed by Peters in Thriving on Chaos have acomical thread and only 3 of the 112 tales relayed in Liberation Managementhave a comical element.Comical tales do feature more prominently in Peters’ first text (21%) and inthose later works that derive most directly from his speaking engagements.Thus it is worth pointing out that 10% of the tales relayed in the Tom PetersSeminar and 16% of the stories recounted in Re-imagine are of a comic or darklycomic form. Yet having made this observation I must also note that these aretexts that remain impoverished in poetic terms such that, in the seminar text,this figure of 10% represents just 4 of the 41 tales relayed and in Re-imagine thefigure of 16% accounts for just 7 of the 44 stories exhibited.Tragic TalesTragic tales are similarly under-represented in Peters’ accounts of the businessof management. These tales, which encourage readers to empathise with, or takepity on, characters who find themselves in unenviable predicaments, typically,account for somewhere betIen 6 and 8% of the stories recounted by Peters.However there are exceptions. Liberation Management which was written at aWali Memon 19
  20. 20. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010time when Peters experienced a number of personal and professional difficulties(see Crainer, 1997) has a total of 17 (15%) tragic tales. Similarly Re-imagine,perhaps Peters’ grumpiest and most disaffected text, has 7 (16%) tragic tales(Collins, 2007).Romancing the Stone?The myth story type discussed by Gabriel (2000) is the romance. Gabriel (1995)has observed that ‘romantic’ tales seldom accounted for more than 10% of thestories he and his colleagues collected throughout their research. Furthermorehe seems to imply that such romantic tales are products of personal maturity andorganizational immersion.Peters professes a love of business (see for example, Peters, 2003). Indeed heprotests that business excellence is a product of passion and obsession (Petersand Austin, 1985). Yet despite his talk of love, lust, passion and obsession,Peters’ storytelling repertoire is devoid of romance. Had Peters not been, soclearly, a man of conviction and strong belief; had he perhaps just one ex-wife itmight have been tempting to put this lack of romance down to a certain coldnessof character (see Durman, 1997). But since Peters is so clearly warm-blooded Imust look for another means to account for the absence of romance in his tales ofcorporate endeavour.Peters betIen the mill-stones?Gabriel’s (2000) analysis of organizational storytelling provides, perhaps, themost direct (and the most cutting) means of rationalising the absence ofromantic tales in Peters’ narratives of business. Gabriel’s analysis suggests thatromantic tales become available to organizational researchers who succeed inassociating with mature respondents and/ or successfully immerse themselvesin the day-to-day processes of organization. Thus my catalogue of Peters’ worksuggests one or a number of the following problems:• That Peters’ research lacks depth (see Crainer, 1997).• That Peters’ researchers failed to develop a rapport with their respondents.Wali Memon 20
  21. 21. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010• That Peters’ respondents lack maturity and/ or self-confidence.David Sims (2003) provides an interesting account of organizationalstorytelling, which may offer us an alternative (and less cutting) means torationalise the nature of Peters storytelling endeavmys and the omissions Ihave observed in this catalogue. Sims argues that middle-managers are underpressure to narrate their experiences of working in ways that will make sense tothree distinct constituencies – their superiors, their subordinates andthemselves. However he suggests that the middle-manager’s need a) to impresshis/ her bosses and b) the associated need to organize and orientate his/ herjuniors causes these individuals to relay tales that undermine their own sense ofself.If I stretch Sims’s analysis only slightly, I have a potential explanation for theabsence of romantic tales in Peters’ story catalogue. Thus Sims’s analysis ofmanagerial narratives suggests that Peters awareness of the (rational)expectations of senior management (see Peters, 1989) may have caused him toignore stories that deal with love and romantic passion at work, despite the painand discomfiture that this may cause him at a personal level.Vied in these terms the absence of romantic tales in the Peters catalogue ofstorytelling may represent evidence of Peters’ own organizational liminality(Czarniawska and Mazza, 2003) insofar as it suggests that this, the most famousof the business gurus, still feels the need to pander to the ‘hard’ approach tomanagement that he claims to defy.Of course I cannot be sure that in choosing not to speak of romantic mattersPeters causes himself pain. However my detailed analysis of Peters’ story typesdoes suggest that, despite the public celebration of Peters’ storytelling, thisauthor’s attempts at organizational sensegiving, actually, lack an intimateconnection with the moral economy that is the contemporary workplace.Wali Memon 21
  22. 22. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010The next section will expand upon this concern as I examine, further, the gulfbetIen the moral economy of work and the moral tales that Peters employs in hisattempts to restructure and rekindle the world of work.On Moral TalesIf the workplace is a moral economy then the gurus of business must be regardedas its moralists.All of Peters’ tales of business, whether these be epic, comic or tragic, carry astrong moral message concerning the merits of hard work, good manners andhonest competition. Yet as Peters’ library of management grows his storytellingdeclines. His tales reduce in number and those tales that remain become,increasingly, terse. Indeed Re-imagine (Peters, 2003) waxes lyrical on the powerof stories and yet bombards the reader with ‘opinions’ and ‘history’ (Gabriel,2000) or introduces ‘proto-stories’, which promptly collapse for the want of aconvincing motive or satisfactory ending. In this regard the content of Re-imagine runs exactly contrary to Peters’, espoused, philosophy of ‘managing’. Ithectors when it should woo. It preaches when it should perform because, at itsbest, it offers, only, ‘terse narratives’ of business. And just like Boje’s tersestories, these narratives self-destruct because they lack ‘performativity,memorableness, ingenuity and symbolism’ (Gabriel, 2000: 20).These narrative changes blunt Peters’ effectiveness as an organizationalconstituent. He remains a moralist, of course. But his voice has become shrill andhis message is increasingly reedy and lacking in resonance because, nowadays,Peters’ narratives of business are all moral and no tale. And what is worse henow wants to be the moral voice of business and its hero too!Narrator and HeroDuring the twenty-five years of his guru career Peters has redefined his heroes(see Peters, 1989). His exemplars of managerial excellence have shifted from theeast coast boardrooms of the largest American public corporations and are nowWali Memon 22
  23. 23. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010to be found in smaller, entrepreneurial and ‘start up’ organizations in a variety oflocations – including American’s 1st coast, Britain and Europe (see Peters, 1992;1993). Yet Peters’ changing definition of his model business hero is not,properly, reflected in the cast list of his stories of organizational endeavour.Figures four and five analyse the stories told by Peters in each of his key textsand attempt to identify the key actors of the tales relayed. These figures revealcertain stabilities and key movements in Peters’ narrative of business.Wali Memon 23
  24. 24. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010Text and story count Key Actors 1-6. (Story count in brackets)In Search of Excellence (137) 1. Anonymous (31) 2. IBM (17) 3=. Dana (8)/ Hewlett Packard (8) 5. 3M (7) 6. Authors (5)A Passion for Excellence (165) 1. Anonymous (30) 2. Authors (19) 3. IBM (6) 4=. GE (5)/ HP (5) 6. Domino’s (4)Thriving on Chaos (118) 1. Anonymous (32) 2. Author (11) 3. Tenant (5) 4. Domino’s (4)/ ‘The Japanese’ (4) 6. ‘Imagined You’ (3)/ Worthington (3)/ SAS (3)Liberation Management (112) 1. Anonymous (45) 2. Author (26) 3. Ingersoll-Rand (6) 4. Union Pacific Rail Road (5)/ Titeflex (5) 6. Imagination (4)The Tom Peters Seminar (41) 1. Author (14) 2. Anonymous (12) 3. Union Pacific Rail Road (2) 4=. Remaining stories each feature different actorsThe Pursuit of Wow (57) 1=. Author (22)/ Anonymous (22) 3. Fed Ex (4) 4=. Bank of Boston (3)/ Verifone (3) 6=. De-mar (2)/ Imagined You (2)The Circle of Innovation (38) 1. Author (27) 2. Anonymous (22) 3=. Bob Waterman (2)/ Southeast Airlines (2) 5. No other actor features more than onceRe-imagine (44) 1=. Author (19)/ Anonymous (19) 3. No other actor features more than onceWali Memon 24
  25. 25. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010Figure Four: Main actors ranked 1 to 6 featuring in stories appearing in keyworks of Tom Peters.Text and story count Author(s) as key % of total stories character – number of where author appears stories and rank as key character orderingIn Search of Excellence 5 stories – 6th in total 4%(137) story countA Passion for Excellence 19 stories – 2nd 12%(165)Thriving on Chaos (118) 11 stories – 2nd 9%Liberation Management 26 stories – 2nd 23%(112)The Tom Peters Seminar 14 stories – 1st 34%(41)The Pursuit of Wow (57) 22 stories – 1st = 39%The Circle of Innovation 27 stories – 1st 71%(38)Re-imagine (44) 19 stories – 1st = 43%Figure Five: An analysis of the growing prominence of the author as a keycharacter appearing in stories relayed by Tom Peters in his key works since1982.Dealing first with the stabilities: it is evident that throughout his guru careerPeters has often chosen to conceal the identities of the heroes of his tales. Thispreference for anonymity is, of course, relatively easy to explain. It could be saidWali Memon 25
  26. 26. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010to reflect, variously, a) the professional ethics of management consulting(Crainer, 1997) b) the normal working practices of the journalistic/ academicresearcher and c) the gurus’ need to secure audience affiliation (Clark andGreatbatch, 2002).The changes evident in Peters’ cast-list of heroes, however, require moredetailed consideration.Preliminary analysis of my catalogue of Peters’ storywork demonstrate that thekey companies vaunted and celebrated in Peters’ texts of 1982 and 1985 – IBM,Dana International, Hewlett Packard and 3M – simply drop out of sight after1985 and, never again, feature prominently in Peters’ texts. The problem beingthat Peters tells few tales of his new business exemplars. In fact he chooses,instead, to make himself a leading figure in his tales of organization. Thus Petersmoves from being sixth on the cast list of In Search of Excellence (appearing in4% of the text’s tales) to second place on the cast list of A Passion for Excellence,Thriving on Chaos and Liberation Management appearing as hero in 12%, 9% and23% of the tales recounted in these texts respectively. Thereafter Peters isalways the lead actor in his dramas of management and in The Circle ofInnovation he is the hero of more than 71% of the tales recounted. These castingchanges have profound implications for Peters’ sensegiving capabilities.Rebounding TalesPeters’ early stories of business excellence, it would be fair to say, offered tales of‘High Society’. They detailed, for example, the obsessional behaviour and quirkyhabits of America’s top businessmen (see Peters and Waterman, 1982; Petersand Austin, 1985; Peters, 1987). Yet Peters’ recent texts tend to offer ‘kitchensink’ dramas, which relate to his own prosaic, and very personal, experiences ofpoor design, dingy hotels, surly receptionists and thoughtless bartenders.At one level, of course, these tales of everyday trials and torments probablyreflect, more adequately, the day-to-day experiences of Peters’ readership –Wali Memon 26
  27. 27. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010perhaps off-setting to some degree the distortions introduced by his preferencefor epic tales of corporate heroics. Yet, despite their settings and concerns, these‘kitchen sink dramas’ make for Ink endeavour in sense-giving because Peters,consistently, narrates from the wrong side of the fence.On the dark side of the road…Discussing the changing experience of work, Sennett (1998), Ehrenreich (2002;2006) and Abrams (2002) produce narratives of organizational cupidity andobstruction that, at one level, are similar to those relayed in Peters’ recent works.In these texts the authors, like Peters, regularly find themselves on the receivingend of a very bad deal. Yet they narrate their concerns differently for eachrecognises that their own tales of personal suffering, while indicative of largersocio-economic changes, are inconsequential in comparison to the everydayexperiences of those who are locked in to the bottom of my liberalised economicsystems.Peters’ ‘kitchen sink dramas’, however, betray neither social empathy noranalytical sophistication because he insists on casting himself as a victim of theorganized stupidity that flows from the rational calculus of the moderncorporation (Ritzer, 2000). Consequently his ‘kitchen sink dramas’, either,implode or back-fire backfire as sense-giving endeavmys because no artifice ofsuffering or indignation is sufficient to persuade us that Peters – a key architectof my modern corporate world and ‘poster boy’ for economic liberalism - couldever, truly, be cast as a victim of the circumstances and processes he appears tobemoan.Recognising Peters’ dependence on poetic stories and his decline as a teller ofsense-giving tales, therefore, I choose to rehearse an obituary while others polishtheir eulogies.Tom Peters: A career obituaryTwenty-five years ago Peters published a text on the business of management,Wali Memon 27
  28. 28. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010which altered, fundamentally, my appreciation of the business world. This textwas popular, in part, because it recognised that business is a moral economy(even when it breaches societies norms) and it, correctly, perceived thatmanagers are in the business of providing (and sustaining) meaning for thosewho toil each day. But that was early in Peters’ guru career. Towards the twilightof his long run as the guru of management, revieIrs began to aver that Peters hadlost his way. Following the publication of Re-imagine (Peters, 2003) critics beganto suggest that Peters had, either, forgotten the arts of storytelling or had, simply,lost faith in the sense-giving power of organizational stories. Indeed somecommentators suggested that this celebrated guru had simply lost the plot.A comprehensive catalogue of Peters’ storywork, prepared to coincide with thetwenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of In Search of Excellence seemed toconfirm the veracity of this attack. Indeed this catalogue demonstrated that thispundit’s attempts to organize the sensemaking of the business world had fallenout of step with his own, espoused, philosophy and had lost touch, completely,with the realities of modern working.Concluding CommentsThis paper has analysed Tom Peters’ key texts on management from astorytelling perspective. Taking my lead from Gabriel (2000; 2004) I haveoutlined the defining characteristics of the poetic story and on the strength ofthis classificatory device I have produced a catalogue of Peters’ key texts onmanagement. This catalogue charts a decline in Peters’ storywork.Looking in more depth at the nature of the tales relayed by Peters’ storywork Ihave highlighted, both, the predominance of the epic form and the absence of theromantic form from this catalogue. In addition I have also analysed the changingcast list of Peters’ tales. This analysis demonstrates that the founding heroes ofthe excellence project have been displaced, not by other businessmen (andwomen), but by Peters himself. Examining the tone and content of these tales,which give Peters a star billing, my analysis of this author’s storywork questions,Wali Memon 28
  29. 29. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010both, Peters’ legacy as a guru and his future as a commentator. Thus my analysisof Peters’ storytelling practices and preferences, I suggest, demonstrates that:• Peters seems, increasingly, to doubt the sensegiving capacity of his own storywork.• This guru is, increasingly, insensitive towards the wider movements, trajectories and problems, which employees, today, must face.Taken as a whole, therefore, my analysis seems to confirm what some had longsuspected: that Tom Peters has, both, literally and figuratively lost the plot!BibliographyAbrams F (2002) Below the Breadline: Living on the Minimum Wage, ProfileBooks: London.Aupperle K E, Acar W and Booth D E (1986) ‘ An Empirical Critique of In Searchof Excellence: How Excellent are the Excellent Companies?’, Jmynal ofManagement, 12 (4): 499-512.Boje D (1991) ‘The storytelling organization: A study of performance in an officesupply firm’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 36: 106-126.Boje D (2001) Narrative Methods for Organizational and CommunicationResearch, Sage: London.Boje D, Alvarez R and Schooling B (2001) ‘Reclaiming Story in Organization:Narratologies and Action Sciences’ in Istwood R and Linstead S (eds) (2001) TheLanguage of Organization, Sage: London.Boyce M E (1995) ‘Collective Centring and Collective Sense-making in the Storiesand Storytelling of One Organization, Organization Studies, 16 (1): 107-137.Carroll D T (1983) ‘A Disappointing Search for Excellence’, Harvard BusinessWali Memon 29
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  33. 33. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010religion, Cassell: London.Peters T (1987) Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution, GuildPublishing: London.Peters T (1989) ‘Doubting Thomas’,, T (1992) Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for theNanosecond Nineties, MacMillan: London.Peters T (1993) The Tom Peters Seminar: Crazy Times Call for CrazyOrganizations, MacMillan: London.Peters T (1994) The Pursuit of Wow! Every Person’s Guide to Topsy Turvy Times,MacMillan: London.Peters T (1997) The Circle of Innovation: You can’t shrink ymy way to greatness,Hodder and Stoughton: London.Peters T (1999a) Reinventing Work: The Project 50, Alfred A Knopf: New York.Peters T (1999b) Reinventing Work: The Professional Service Firm 50, Alfred AKnopf: New York.Peters T (1999c) Reinventing Work: The Brand You 50, Alfred A Knopf: New York.Peters T (2003) Re-imagine: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age, DorlingKindersley: London.Peters T (not dated) Project 04: Snapshots of Excellence in Unstable Times, TomPeters Group: Boston MA.Wali Memon 33
  34. 34. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010Peters T (not dated) Re-inventing Work: The Work Matters! Tom Peters Group:Boston MA.Peters T (not dated) The Death Knell for ‘Ordinary’: Pursuing Difference, TomPeters Group: Boston MA.Peters T (not dated) I Are in a Brawl with No Rules, Tom Peters Group: BostonMA.Peters T (not dated) Women Roar: The New Economy’s Hidden Imperatives, TomPeters Group: Boston MA.Peters T and Austin N (1985) A Passion for Excellence: The Leadership Difference,Fontana: London.Peters T and Barletta M (2005a) Tom Peters Essentials. Innovate, differentiate,communicate, Dorling Kindersley: LondonPeters T and Barletta M (2005b) Tom Peters Essentials. Develop it, sell it, be it,Dorling Kindersley: LondonPeters T and Barletta M (2005c) Tom Peters Essentials. Inspire, liberate, achieve,Dorling Kindersley: LondonPeters T and Barletta M (2005d) Tom Peters Essentials. Recognize, analyze,capitalize, Dorling Kindersley: LondonPeters T and Waterman R (1982) In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’sBest Run Companies, Harper and Row: New York.Pettigrew A M (1985) Awakening Giant: Continuity and Change in ICI, BlackIll:Wali Memon 34
  35. 35. A Critical Review of Tom Peter’s Books February 1, 2010Oxford.Ritzer G (2000) The McDonaldization of Society: new century edition, Sage:London.Salzer-Mörling M (1998) ‘As God Created the Earth…A Saga that Makes Sense?’ inGrant D, Keenoy T and Oswick C (eds) (1998) The Sage Handbook ofOrganizational Discmyse, Sage: London.Sims D (2003) ‘BetIen the millstones: A narrative account of the vulnerability ofmiddle managers’ storying’, Human Relations 56 (10): 1195-1211.Søderberg A (2003) ‘Sensegiving and sensemaking in an integration process: Anarrative approach to the study of an international acquisition’, in Czarniawska Band Gagliardi P (eds) (2003) Narratives I Organize By, John Benjamins PublishingCompany, Amsterdam.Tietze S, Cohen L and Musson G (2003) Understanding Organizations throughLanguage, Sage: London.Watson T (2001) In Search of Management: Culture, chaos and control inmanagerial work, Thomson Learning: London.Iick K (1995) Sensemaking in Organizations, Sage: London.i Peter Drucker (who died in 2005) and Michael Porter Ire ranked first and second respectively.ii The renowned management commentator Peter Drucker quipped that the term guru is employed bythose who, in being to polite to speak more plainly, shy away from using a term that is moreappropriate. Thus Drucker has suggested that guru is a modern synonym for ‘charlatan’ (seeMicklethwait and Wooldridge, 1997).Wali Memon 35