I'm Sorry!

It's rude to call people "idiots."

It's rude to call CEOs "idiots." (I am assuming here that "CEOs" are "people.")

It's really rude to call people "idiots" when you are a Guest.

It's really, really rude to call people "idiots" when you are a Guest in another country.

It's really, really, really rude to call CEOs "idiots" when you are a Guest in another country.

I guess that's why I got some blowback to my speech in Lisbon yesterday. I was being brash-American-California Tom, getting' my dander up with a crowd of retailers, many CEOs, over topics like grossly under-investing in IS/IT, seeing Big Mergers as Salvation rather than Disaster, ignoring the Women's Market, having too few Women in Top Management, failing to create Experiences (per Whole Foods Markets & London Drug & Apple Stores & Commerce Bank) that make Clientele "gasp," kaizen-ing one's way to Irrelevance rather than Boldly Grasping the Nettle. I said that "CEOs who don't get these Elementary Principles of Permanent Revolution [in a Time of Traumatic Competitive Pressure!] are 'idiots,' 'lunatics,' 'stupid.'"

Well, maybe, wherever I've landed, I'll let an ever-so-innocent PowerPoint slide "do the talking" in the future. ("It's not me that said it, it's PowerPoint!" Blame Bill Gates—that's always a popular line.) Hence I first created what you see below as a PP slide, titled "TPs 'CEOs Are Idiots18.'"

Here are the contents (remember: PowerPoint made me do it!). CEOs are idiots who ...

1. Fail to spend Hyper-aggressively on IS/IT; fail to follow "Gamechanger" IS/IT Strategies; fail to put their CIO on the Board; fail to exploit fully [Revolution Now!] the Web.

2. Believe in [BIG] mergers as The Key to Offense & Defense.

3. Hire MBAs in large #s.

4. Recruit mostly from conventional sources; have a low tolerance for risktakers-freaks.

5. Are less than 24/7 "Talent Fanatics."

6. Do too much Imitation/Benchmarking/ConstantImprovement, not enough "Breathtaking"/Disruptive Innovation; favor "marketshare" over MarketCreation.

7. Believe that "process" beats "passion," "analysis" beats "action."

8. Spend too much time in the Office, not enough time in the Field; fail to ColdCall at least One Customer per Week; are surrounded by sycophants; have low Tolerance for Contention.


10. Do too much MicroSegmentation I: Grotesquely underestimate the Women's Market—and if they do more or less "get it," fail to understand the Strategic Transformation required to master it.

11. Do too much MicroSegmentation II: Grotesquely underestimate the Boomer-Geezer Market.

12. Have too few Women on the Executive Team, too few Women on the Board.

13. Whose ... Board = OWMs.

14. Balk at Technicolor actions and language—e.g., WOW!, Lovemarks, DreamMarketing, InsanelyGreat.

15. Think Design is a frill, nicety—not the Fundamental Basis for Value Added.

16. Tolerate less than Excellence, do not insist upon "Experiences that make me 'Gasp.'"

17. Deliver more on Short-term Earnings rather than Long-term Yearnings.

18. FAIL TO INSPIRE ME BY THE AUDACITY OF THEIR DREAMS. (Too much: "Dream" = "Buy MarketShare, Get BIGGER, Cut Costs.")

In conclusion:

(1) I am sorry for my rudeness!

(2) I am very sorry for my rudeness outside my Native Land!

(3) I am sorry that so many CEOs are idiots!

(4) Bonus: And if it had been a Hospital CEO gathering, I would have added, "I'm sorry that you kill so many people."


Tom & Bob Waterman coauthored In Search of Excellence in 1982; the book was named by NPR (in 1999) as one of the "Top Three Business Books of the Century," and ranked as the "greatest business book of all time" in a poll by Britain's Bloomsbury Publishing (2002). Tom followed Search with a string of international bestsellers: A Passion for Excellence (1985, with Nancy Austin), Thriving on Chaos (1987), Liberation Management (1992: acclaimed as the "Management Book of the Decade" for the '90s), T...

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