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Thriving on Chaos with A Passion for Excellence


In 1790, Edmund Burke wrote the phrase, “People will not look forward to prosperity who never look backward to their ancestors.” This phrase gave birth to a more familiar saying from George Santayana in the early 1900’s.  You’ve probably heard a version of it, but the actual quote is, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” 

Today we travel back in time to 1987 to relive the business management sensation Thriving on Chaos by Tom Peters.  The first time I read this wonderful book was not in the 80’s.  It was long enough ago that this book molded some of my earliest management philosophies. It was long enough ago that, previous to this re-read, I had forgotten I could attribute Tom Peters for those ideas.  Honestly, I had forgotten I read the book.  Even so, while I was browsing my local used bookstore, I found a double book version of Thriving on Chaos and A Passion for Excellence

Just perusing the contents section create a flood of memories and a since of awe. It was a combination of déjà vu, relevancy, and a history lesson.  I realized I’ve been re-reading this book in updated form for over twenty years. Granted the company names have changed, the technology has changed, but the underlying wisdom has not. The book kicks off with the famous words, “There are no excellent companies.” Then goes on to discuss how the company image may be flawless, but it doesn’t take much digging to find the cracks behind the sheen. It instantly made me think of Google and Facebook.

We find buzzwords that are still relevant but have undergone transformation. Internationalism is now globalization. In 1987, we had Computer Integrated Manufacturing, now we have Manufacturing Execution Systems and the Internet of things. Peters talks about failing fast, focusing on quality,  and squishy human factors (we would come to call Emotional Intelligence in 1990).

What I found with both these Peters book is that they are basically a collection of fundamental business management concepts bundled into one focused, step by step book. You see ideas from Mckinsey, Deming, Shewhart and others. However, this is all before Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, Agile, and even total quality management.

Re-reading this left me feeling inspired about improving my own work. The same as it did for people 31 years ago.

I could go on.  However, you can pick this book up for just a couple dollars on Amazon.  I highly recommend that you do. Consuming this piece of business management history could save you from repeating mistakes in your present.