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Tom Peters

Tom announced his retirement today, at 80 years old, after 45 years of Excellence and perhaps 10,000,000 miles flown.

I remember a photo of him sleeping on a bench in an airport in Siberia.

I remember him holding my young son just before we went on stage in Florida together twenty-four years ago.

I remember being at a small gathering he had in Vermont, where we argued about how many words go on a slide.

I remember meeting him after he gave a class at Stanford, in 1983, moments after his first book was gaining traction.

And I remember briefly controlling the rights to the computer game version of In Search of Excellence when I was at Spinnaker. Not to mention our delightful but rare duets.

So much of my best stuff is inspired, stolen or both from Tom, from Zig, from Roz, from Ben, from Steve and from Pema. Apparently, it helps to have a short first name.

Tom made it possible to get on stage and do this new thing, which led to TED talks and conferences and so many other forms of informal education by unauthorized teachers.

Even if you were never lucky enough to work with him, or fortunate enough to read his books, without a doubt, Tom Peters has had an impact on your life.

He created significance and opened the doors for others to do so as well. And in his words, okay word…

Excellence. [Period.]

The 500 ways

There are thousands of ways to express encouragement and enthusiasm and support. Few of them require a blood oath or even much inconvenience.

“I’m thrilled that you’re contributing.”

“Can’t wait to see how this turns out.”

“I know someone who really needs to hear about this.”

“Go make a ruckus, it matters.”

If we want things to get better, it helps to encourage people who are eager to make things better.

Making change happen

One way to do it is to get people to want what you want.

The other way is to help them get what they want in a way that gets you what you want.

They’re not the same.

Changing what someone wants is very different from helping them see the story and the path that gets them what they’ve wanted all along.

Opening the pod bay door

A brand new episode of Akimbo this week, all about artificial intelligence. Part one of of two on mediocrity and the choices we’re going to need to make.

And, a while in the making, an experimental AI chat bot that has been trained on all 5,000,000 words of this blog. You can find it here. Yes, you can trick it, but you can also ask it questions about anything I’ve blogged and it may do a good job of answering.

Dave Winer and I pursued the idea in parallel, and I expect he’ll have one soon. And then they’ll be everywhere.

Rethinking the Sports-Industrial Complex

School sports can have some valuable outputs:

  • Learning teamwork
  • A lifetime habit of fitness
  • Giving non-academically-focused kids a chance to shine
  • Offering leadership opportunities
  • Valuing persistence, innovation and responsibility

And yet, many schools act as if all they have is a trophy shortage. They bench kids who might not (yet) have the physical attributes necessary to win, or they build huge stadiums, go on long road trips, berate students that make an error or simply act as if the only point is to win.

Fancy uniforms, the magnification of small differences and a cutthroat focus on the outcome is not something that leads to the benefits that most of us would root for.

Why not have a small league and swap kids around until the teams are evenly matched? Give every single player the same amount of game time? Reward kids for personal growth, not for being better than someone else who simply started with a bit less than they did? What would happen if the coaches were rewarded for what was actually valued by parents, not for recreating what people see on TV?

Perhaps we could begin by asking what school sports are even for. Are they there to entertain the fans?

I’d argue the same goes for the local jazz band and the middle school theatre production as well.

Avoid unnecessary amplifiers

This is extremely unique vs

This is unique

I’m very upset vs

I’m upset


I love you a ton vs

I love you

Sometimes, more words aren’t better.

The Hegelochus lesson

More than 2,000 years ago, an actor in Greece botched a line in a play. In an inflection error, he said “weasel” when he meant to say “calm sea.”

As a result, he was mocked by Sannyrion and then Aristophanes and others.

He never worked again.

The lesson might be that one innocent slip and you’re doomed.

The real lesson might be that in the history of his profession, one in which millions of people have stood up and said billions of words, this is the only time this ever happened.

Flashing on contempt

It doesn’t have to happen with intent, in fact, it rarely does.

Micro-emotions appear on our face and then disappear in less than a second. Blink and you’ll miss them. But sometimes, people don’t blink.

We’ve evolved to be hyperware of these tiny displays of emotion.

And yet, most of us don’t even realize it’s happening. We don’t realize we’re seeing the signs, or that we’re sending them.

Someone who sends tiny flashes of empathy is often seen as charismatic. We’re afraid of a dog that seems, in a fraction of a second, to be angry. And we build friendships around our instincts gained from these flashes (or the absence of them)

I had a friend who didn’t realize that when she got nervous, she often winked. As a result, people changed their responses to her, because they misunderstood the tiny signal she was inadvertently sending. Once she realized what was happening, she couldn’t easily extinguish the winks, but at least she knew the cause of the responses and could act accordingly.

The same thing happens, but even more so, with other flashes of emotion. When someone is stressed, nervous or fearful, he might send out previously unacknowledged flashes and signals of those feelings. They might be beyond our control, but the reactions people have are real, and understanding what prompts the response is the first step in moving forward to address them.

Delivering good taste

There are lots of books on creating cooking, photography, writing and music. But they can’t possibly help you do better until you see and taste and appreciate what you’re trying to create.

If you think what you’re serving is good, but others don’t, more recipes aren’t going to help.

That’s why so much type is poorly set, so many self-published books look the way they do, so many restaurants are merely good and so much long-tail music is easily skipped and forgettable.

There are two steps to begin:

Show us an example of someone else’s work that you believe is good. A book cover that feels professional, a jazz riff that inspires, a pasta dish that’s unforgettable.

Then make a version of it. Not a copy, but something that rhymes.

If you can’t do that, it’s probably not a matter of technique. It’s about being in sync with what other people aspire to engage with.

They will lose your data

The rules are pretty consistent:

  • The easier it is to create and save a video or other file, the more likely it is to be lost or corrupted
  • The more important the data is, the more likely it is you’ll notice when it gets lost
  • The harder it is to replace, the more frustrating it will be

We’re all creators now. Podcasting, videoing, photographing, spreadsheeting… and we’re building a foundation of valuable data as we go.

The software companies that produce the tools we use push their engineers in many ways, but not to create resilient storage systems that are sure to honor the effort and care you put into creating your data. They want you to believe that they will effortlessly and seamlessly maintain all the data you trust to them, but they actually spend most of their time focused on other things that they deem more commercially important.

That’s because convenient, viral or flashy are generally more profitable than resilient and reliable.

When a conferencing app lost a video I worked really hard to record, I realized that trusting them was my first mistake. If there’s a one in a thousand chance that a file is going to be corrupted or simply lost, storing it in two places or recording it simultaneously in two systems lowers your chances of failure to one in a million. I will never trust them again, and you shouldn’t either.

Forewarned should be sufficient. Assume that the software company doesn’t care nearly as much about your work, your memories or your reputation as you do.