The Professional Service Firm 50

by David G. Propson

Technology is driving Tom Peters crazy. It’s changing how people communicate. It’s changing how they behave. Most of all, his new series of books informs us, it’s changing how people work. Peters can’t stand that, because it’s what he wants to do.

In an example of what psychologists call “graphomania” (excessive and obsessive writing), Peters recently released not one but three books ­ his “Reinventing Work”series ­ a manifesto on this brave new work world.

Like many madmen, Peters speaks in a language of his own making. He is fond of parenthetical comments, exclamation points, and EXTRA LARGE TYPE. He likes the words “cool,” “rockin’,” “hot,” and uses “WOW!” as an adjective. Worse, an unfortunate symptom of the author’s condition (call it “Petersmania”) is a case of multiple personalities. Some small type on the back says “Tom Peters presents” the Reinventing Work series. Peters thanks the editors “for translating my original henscratchings . . . into a usable manuscript.” And he may be the first author to be quoted on the first page of his own books(!).

Of these three books ­ The BrandYou50, The Project50, and The PSF50 ­ only the last is meant specifically for managers. A PSF50, it turns out, is not a potent stripe of sunscreen but the 50 best lessons Peters has drawn from professional service firms such as ad agencies. In the future, he says, every business must be a PSF.

What’s so great about professional service firms? “Great PSFs ­ I love ’em ­ are cool places.” Need more specifics? “A terrific ‘PSF’ is COOL people . . . doing COOL projects . . . for COOL clients.” Cool businesses get rid of all uncool people, projects, and clients. Don’t think that manufacturers or retailers get out of it: “customers” are now clients, too.

It’s brave of Peters to recommend companies “fire” customers occasionally, and probably good advice for some. But the business world can’t be reduced to a single idea. Toward the end of the book, Peters backs off his cool-at-all-costs monomania, and even gives sound advice about managing, watching the bottom line, and developing talent.

In the end, the purported attention to technology turns out to be no more than clever packaging. Peters seems afraid of technology. His most pressing question for a business: “Was it ­ OUR WORK ­ as crazy as these (clearly) crazy times demand.” But crazy times call for level-headedness, for looking critically at what technology is doing to your business and can do for it. The other way lies madness.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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