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In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies (Collins Business Essentials) Kindle Edition
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It is interesting to note that many of the great companies of the time of the first publication for this book in the mid eighties - HP, IBM, Digital, TI, etc - are either struggling to remain relevant or are not to be found anywhere anymore. This is not to say that the recommendations in the book are not meaningful but it does point out the complexity and the unpredictability of the world in which organizations operate. It does, however, is indicative of the book's failure at noting and addressing the requisites for sustaining a culture of excellence through the market demands, changing leadership, large expanse of time, and disappearing founders, which often leads to value corrosion - the root of all cultural sickness.
One of the most critical aspects of good leadership is the passing of the baton, developing other leaders who can take the torch forward while deeply understanding and upholding the values on which an organization succeeds. Both HP and IBM have severely suffered since the loss of their founding fathers. In spite of having good leaders come and go they no longer carry the glean with which they once used to shine.
One other area where I found this work lacking was that it never touched upon in detail on what it considers as "excellence". One could construe from the writings that to the authors excellence is about a work culture where people naturally feel empowered and motivated, organization's output is innovative and ever fresh, and financial results are strong. To me these are results of excellence but not excellence itself.
I have often asked myself about excellence, it's presence and its absence, and how do we know when we are in presence of excellence and how to tell when we are witness to sloppiness. Excellence shines of its own accord. It is hard to put a definition around excellence. It is almost a spiritual quality, which is hard to confine in a definition but easier to express in what it is not or how it expresses itself. To me excellence is beauty, it is the bringer of delight, desirable yet unexpected, it exudes a pride of craftsmanship, it is skill in action, it is the WoW! factor, it makes the ordinary seem extraordinary, it is love, passion, pride, quality, and competence manifested. Excellence above all is an expression of genuine care.
* Bias to action
* Stay close to the customer
* Promote autonomy and entrepreneurship
* Productivity through people
* Executives need to be hands-on and values driven
* Focus on the business the company knows best
* Keep a simple form and few layers of management
* Foster tight adherence to values and high tolerance for employees accepting the values
These 8 principles are tough to argue - yet the majority of the companies Peters profiled in the book subsequently failed or went through extremely tumultuous times (IBM, TI, Delta Airlines, Dow, Exxon, Dana, Blue Bell, DEC, Amdhal, NCR, Wang and Xerox to name a few). Perhaps they didn't stick to their knitting - or perhaps there are other factors besides the 8. The bottom line is that the book is now nearly 30 years old, and much has changed in that time. Peters has newer books that are more on point for this century. This is a good foundational read, and an exceptional author. It is just 25 years past a 5 star review.
That doesn't mean it should no longer be read. But, after reading it, and to get the most from reading it, other contemporary works should be included in your reading list. For example, Jim Collins' "Built to Last" and "Good to Great", and John Roberts' "The Modern Firm" take Peters and Watermans' original insights many steps further. "In Search of Excellence" however, is unlikely to lose its status as a classic, and the broad strokes of its conclusions will continue to be recognized as timeless principles.