Empathy and Warmth
The Excellence Dividend

Empathy and Warmth

Business advice titan Tom Peters explains that the human element drives excellence, and it is the only thing that can temper an avalanche of tech.

Tom Peters is the best-selling author or co-author of 16 books – including the 1982 business classic, In Search of Excellence. Here, he offers updated insights on the topic of corporate excellence in yet another bestseller. With wide-ranging anecdotes, Peters details how leaders can help their companies excel. He covers product quality, technology, corporate culture, and kindly treatment of customers and employees, among other touchstones. Though published before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought new challenges to the business world, Peters’s directions on the road to excellence remain relevant and instructive.

Tom Peters is a singular institution. Since 1982, across numerous publications, he has remained insightful, unpretentious, dedicated to his ideas, funny, memorable and always readable. His works remind leaders to embrace their humanity above all and to treat their employees well. His clear-headed thinking and admirably efficient sentences make his work a crucial part of the business canon. Everyone should read him.

Excellence is a moment-to-moment way of life. Or it is nothing at all. There’s no tomorrow in excellence; there is only right now.Tom Peters

And who isn’t going to praise Peters? Accordingly, Matthew Kelly, author of the best-selling The Dream Manager, said, “Tom Peters is a fearless thinker with a once-in-a-generation mind, open this book to any page, start reading, and 10 minutes later you will know this is true. I’d rather hire someone who has studied his writings than someone who has an MBA.” John C. Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, said this book is, “a bundle of beautiful dynamite.  While I’ve been a CEO for 30 years, I still learned much worth knowing…You will too.”

Japanese Competition

Peters recalls that when In Search of Excellence first appeared in 1982, Japanese companies had joined together in powerful, competitive coalitions, an arrangement known as the keiretsu system. These collectives bashed US steel manufacturers, automobile companies, electronic firms and banks. 

Excellence is the boss’s next chance meeting in the hall, the next phone call and, yup, the next 10-line e-mail or two-line instant message.

Tom Peters

Most US companies, Peters explains, emphasized financial results; Japanese companies focused on great products. But, he adds, excellent US companies always sought to deliver great products and service, and those are the companies that did well.

Humanity and Kindness

Peters believes technology might spawn an “employment apocalypse,” but he maintains that there is a worthwhile and effective alternative: people’s basic humanity.

The industrial revolution was about augmenting and replacing physical labor, and the digital revolution has been about augmenting and replacing mental labor.Daniel Huttenlocher, dean, Cornell Tech

As he insists, machines can’t deliver personalized, engaging customer service. Nor, Peters stresses, can machines conceptualize and design the innovative, high-tech devices consumers want. He urges you to emphasize your workforce’s non-machine characteristics, such as the ability to share positive experiences and demonstrate care and concern.

Peters states his thesis simply: Companies that deliver human excellence will thrive; that’s the excellence dividend.


No Peters book would be a Peters book without a punch list of simple aphorisms to steer you right, and this is no exception. Among his guidelines are that you must list what you need to get done each day and do it; that this minute is the only minute; that corporate culture fuels excellence; that you must put your people first; that only prioritizing your people’s humanity will keep the tech tsunami at bay; that as an employee you must exemplify your company’s brand; that new challenges nourish you; that you must listen; and that you must continually educate yourself.

Many other business books make these same points; almost none contain all of them. It’s a tribute to Peters’s gift for brevity that he packs so much sensible advice in so little literary real estate.

A Little Madness

Peters endorses Steve Jobs and Apple’s quest to be “insanely great.” But, he asserts, companies can’t attain greatness through moderation. Be bold, brash and unafraid. Be crazy. 

You can’t behave in a calm, rational manner. You’ve got to be out there on the lunatic fringe.Jack Welch

In these impossible-to-predict, “nutty times,” when sweeping change is the only reliable constant, Peters states flat out that you and your firm must embrace a little craziness to get ahead.

Straight Ahead

Peters wastes no words and no time, and he indulges in no platitudes, corny nonsense or space-filling blather. That he still has something new and enlightening to say after all these decades remains astonishing and speaks to his singular genius. Of course, his business advice applies equally well to, say, life and parenting and, of course, reading him will help you be your best self.

There are many Tom Peters books, and all them are punchy, direct and readable. They all offer solid no-nonsense advice. Readers who connect to this Peters outing will also benefit from his The Big Little Things, his classic In Search of Excellence, as well as Excellence Now and The Brand You 50. For a different perspective that also emphasizes the primacy of empathy, as Peters does, best-selling author Brené Brown weighs in on leadership in Dare to Lead.

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