In my younger, more impressionable days, I was an avid reader of books that promised to tell me how I could manage my business better. I was a particular fan - and this will date me - of Tom Peters, the outspoken American business guru and author of such bestsellers as ‘In Search Of Excellence’, ‘Liberation Management’ and ‘Thriving On Chaos’.
I was thinking about Tom as I contemplated whether Brexit would be good, bad or neutral for my printing company. After browsing online, reading various definitive - but contradictory - assessments, I had half a mind to ring up Peters’ office and say: “So Tom, all that stuff you told us about thriving on chaos - how did that work again?”
Flicking through a faded copy, I was surprised to discover how prescient Peters’ book, published in 1987, was. True, there were the usual helpings of clichés that sound like lines from the 1970s TV series Kung Fu - “You must learn to master paradox, Grasshopper” - and some of it was overstated (“Involve everyone in everything”: great until you remember the adage about horses, camels and committees) - but much of it was still relevant.
His insistence on listening - to customers, staff, even suppliers - managing by example and setting conservative goals remain relevant. In an age that blindly worships data, I was also reassured by Peters’ advice to “measure what is important”. To be fair, he was reworking the Scottish sociologist William Bruce Cameron’s dictum that “Not everything that counts can be counted - and not everything that can be counted counts”. Either way, they’re both right, as I occasionally have to remind our finance director who nearly bought ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ the other day under the impression that it was about accountancy.
Being older, if not necessarily wiser, I am slightly more cynical about any guru’s ability to help me thrive in chaos, especially if Brexit is capped by a Trump presidency. Yet in an age of anxiety, Peters’ can-do optimism is refreshing. I found it so inspiring that my good mood even survived a visit from the engineers here to fix our shiny state-of-the-art digital printer - again.