insearchTom Peters and Robert Walterman Jr. wrote this, one of the most acclaimed business books in existence in 1982 after the former McKinsey consultants had spent a monumental amount of time and money globetrotting to speak with successful organizations in order to discern how they got to such great heights.

The book focuses on eight core themes which allow organizations to excel in an ever more competitive business environment.  Here they are, with a brief explanation:

1.  A Bias for Action — I’ve found this to be important in almost every situation of business.  The point here is to always be stressing a new idea or testing a concept.  The best companies continually try new things in the market and test them.  It seems simple, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to shoot down new ideas.  “We’ve tried that” syndrome, I like to call it.  I completely agree with trying new ideas out as often as possible.  Sooner or later, you’ll make progress.  Keep the good ideas and ditch the bad ideas in the pilot they started out in.

2.  Stay Close to the Customer — More important than any other idea.  This is why companies become great and why companies that are great can fall off the map.  Understanding as much about your customer as possible is the key to giving them what they want and providing superior service, which will keep them coming back.  So talk to your customers as often as possible, talk to the people that talk to your customers (sales people, customer service) talk to anyone that might give you a better perception beyond the office and your coworkers.  The Ivory Tower is a term used to describe what happens when hot shots in the corporate offices send orders down from on high.  It’s not a complementary term.  Avoid the Ivory Tower complex by getting your hands dirty with customers and speaking with them as often as possible.  Ask about what they like and hate, what they’d change and what they’d never alter.  It’s all important and it could be the difference between your company thriving and dying.

3.  Autonomy and Entrepreneurship — Provide a working environment where people can take responsibility and ownership of projects.  Without the proper leaders on initiatives, skin in the game, new ideas will ultimately stagnate and fail.  Give people the ability to nurture and grow their ideas and businesses.

4.  Productivity Through People — This idea has come around much more since this book was published.  There was a time when some companies didn’t care much for what their employees thought or how they perceived their treatment.  Much has changed since then.  Most companies are smart enough to know that their human resources are their most important resources.  Without them, they are nothing.  Treat people like you’d like to be treated.  Respect!  I cant stress the idea of respect enough. I’ve already met a great deal of people who seem to lack a basic respect for others in the workplace, as though a switch is flipped in the workplace and things are different there.  That’s simply not the case and if you respect everyone and their individual abilities, good things will happen.

5.  Hands On Management Style — Managers should be willing to get their hands dirty and work with everyone.  I found this chapter a bit redundant, it seemed to be covered a bit throughout the previous chapters.  It’s still an important idea though.  My feeling on this is that you should always be willing to do everything you ask of someone else.  That doesn’t mean you should have to do it, but if you ask someone to do it, if you were in their position would you feel OK with that?  It’s an easy rule, but it’s also easy to overlook.

6.  Stick to the Knitting — Stick to your business, your core competencies.  There is a bit of conjecture regarding this, after all some companies manage to flourish in multiple businesses.  I happen to work for an incredible organization that is good in multiple areas.  Still, the idea is sound.  If you build a business and it does well, sticking to it may be a good idea.  If you happen across another idea or start investigating potential new ventures, perhaps it’s best to create a new entity that would manage it?  I’m not sure about this one; I’m not sure anyone really is, but I see the rationale behind it.

7.  Simple Form, Lean Staff — Another very good supposition from the writers:  you don’t need huge, bloated staffs to carry out projects and initiatives.  I prefer to work on a team that has fewer people, it means there is more to do and it keeps me busy!  Given the choice, I’d much rather have a lot to do in a day and my guess is that most people feel the same way.  From a business perspective, it cuts down the cost on your direct labor, general and administrative expenses.  The issue that arises with this is that smaller teams must have people that are exceptional in order to run like well oiled machines.  It makes choosing the best people all that more important.

8.  Loose Tight Properties — This one is a bit more obtuse.  It’s about having good working ability on a shop floor or in areas of production where autonomy can be used to harness latent human capital, while still allowing a large company to share ideals.  This becomes more and more difficult as the business scales and puts more emphasis on internal marketing as well as the HR function to find capable leaders and workforce personalities that fit the bill.

This is a classic book.  It is a bit dated now, but the core principles all have stood the test of time.  It is well worth the time to read if you work in business and especially if you are curious about what makes organizations work well together.  If I had to point out more updated ideas, Jim Collins’ Good to Great and Built to Last are probably a bit more valuable.