Book Review – In Search of Excellence

Few books in management have attained the stature of Tom Peters and Robert Waterman’s In Search of Excellence.  Easily the first business book bestseller, their examination of the Eight Basic Principles (see below) of the excellent companies they discovered through their research (chapter 1) is the gold standard by which most management books are compared.

Peters and Waterman do a thorough job of attacking the rational model of management that took hold on American management after WWII and continue in chapters 3 & 4 to argue for the need of a new model for management to not only motivate workers, but keep order and consistency in an alarmingly complex world.

However, the question remains:  is what they discovered and argued persuasively for relevant to today’s manager in a much different world than the early 1980s?  While Peters and Waterman’s research can be called into question – see Phil Rosenzweig’s influential The Halo Effect for a clear overview of that topic; what does stand the test of time is the simplest of In Search of Excellence’s arguments – excellent companies are and continue to be “brilliant on the basics”.

If you or your company doesn’t have 1- a bias for action, 2- stay close to the customer, 3- celebrate autonomy and entrepreneurship, 4- find productivity through its people, 5- act hands-on and value driven, 6- stick to what they know, 7- keep a simple and lean staff and 8- do all this while operating close to core values and being disciplined, no book will help you or your company find excellence.

It is these eight basic principles that are both easy to talk about and expound, but so hard to deliver every day.  In Search of Excellence may seem dated when viewed from today’s business environment changed wholesale by the internet revolution, but what it does offer is timeless advice that any company should heed:  the hardest part of success is doing the easy things day-in and day-out.


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