Ok, so I’m not sure if I was a fan before of Tom Peters or not – some of his books I loved (like Re-Imagine) and there were a couple that left me wanting. But today I think I became a fan of Tom’s for sure… Though I have been a closet reader of his blog for a long time, isn’t it funny how you can meet someone in person and suddenly they are much more than the sum of their parts (or books)? Blinding obvious thing to say, I know, but that’s what happens when you’re hit by the blinding obvious.

Tom really has the knack of incising to the core of the issue, through humor and anecdotes, to leave your mind in both agony and ecstasy. Ecstatic from the delightful irony in humor and new knowledge and agonizing because his comments make you itch in your seat, desperate to act and live out your dreams. I’m not sure half the people in the audience today really understood and will process what he said, and I’m not pretending that I can either, but some of it really shook me. I’m sorry that it will be so hard to transmit my feeling (because that’s what it is), through this medium, and still be able to give you some value.

Factoids (evidence of the weird world we live in)

1. Every 26 mins a new factory (foreign owned) appears in China
2. February 12 2001 – the human genome is decoded and publicly available
3. Wi=2XI – Wal-mart’s 460 terabyte data warehouse contains twice the amount of information on the entire internet
4. 35/70 – The highest level of software system qualification is a level 5 from Carnegie-Mellon, its kind of like the Baldridge Award but for software. There have been 70 Level 5 awards, 35 to India…

Key Messages:

Learning is Not Imitation. (Dear Tom, I love you) – god, I don’t know how many companies I have given the ‘why benchmarking is bad’ speech to. Most benchmarking is bad. It engenders those behaviors you really don’t want, i.e. striving to mediocrity, being ok with being ‘industry average’, and measuring yourself against an invisible and presumably finite yardstick. Tom hates the word ‘best’ because it implies there is a top spot, a king of the hill, that can be attained. Of course it isn’t true, best is a relative and subjective word, but most companies don’t seem to realize that. Learning means exploring, pioneering, discovering and internalizing your findings, and, guess what, improving and adapting (aka learning). My colleague Steve Flinn has written extensively on why companies mustn’t lose the failures, there’s more value in those than all the success your organization has ever had. I also learned that Tom disagrees with deductive thinking of Michael Porter, on this ManyWorlds would be completely aligned – except that I know that there are some corporate cultures that can’t handle anything more… sadly…

Unthinkable Change Will Happen – Tom shared an anecdote about his childhood, where he grew up in NY in the 1950s. Every night his boyhood room was illuminated by a glow that seemed to never diminish. The glow came from the largest steel making plant in the world (outside the then Soviet Union) owned by Bethlehem Steel. Rolling the clock forward 50 years, and there is no Bethlehem Steel, the steel industry is a shadow of what it was, and people of the 1950s would astonished that it has become such a commodity. Tom was asked to deliver this same message to the executive team at Wal-mart, which gives cause for thought… Who and what will be the icons of our decade, our time, our ‘world’ as we define it, and how will the unthinkable inevitably happen?

Make A Difference, Personally – It’s not all about companies, or competing strategies, its about changing the culture. And culture change starts with the person you look at in the mirror everyday. ‘Did we make a dramatic, lasting, game-changing difference’ to the world around us? How can you live on the fringe and make a real difference? Sometimes, as I have found, change can be achieved from within corporations and sometimes you can only help it from outside. In reality its probably a combination of both, that really makes change a reality. And that goes for each of us on a personal basis too. Often, as part of large organizations, we’re put in this difficult situation where we must be both part of the system and confluent with its ways to keep our jobs and our credibility, and yet disruptive enough to make a difference. It’s an incredibly hard balancing act, but by finding like-minds (or fringe dwelling freaks as Tom would probably put it), you can keep your sanity and effect change. Gary Hamel’s famous quote about people working for causes not companies is so true, and that’s what you’re seeking to create – a common cause that many can act on.

Challenge yourself to find a few words to describe yourself and how you are going to make a difference. And, please, act on it.

Here’s mine: ‘developing an adaptive knowledge network technology that will revolutionize the way that people learn, share and innovate.’ Yes, that might be surprising, given my day job of being Executive Editor of a major business strategy and innovation site, and advising top echelons of Fortune 100 companies on their strategic direction, but what really turns me on is learning – and here at ManyWorlds, we are creating software that will help you learn in context without realizing you are learning, while you are helping the software to learn too, without realizing it. And my hope is that it will help you revolutionize what ever you are doing.