Tech & Work

The world according to Tom Peters

What top technology issues are waiting around the corner—and how will they affect your career? Bob Weinstein interviews management guru Tom Peters, who shares his views on ERP, the IT job market, convergence, and professional development.


What job opportunities lie ahead and how should we prepare for them? Tom Peters, the tough-talking oracle who has sold more than 3 million management books, thinks he knows the answers to these questions. Ever since his book In Search of Excellence, co-authored with Robert Waterman Jr., hit the bestseller charts in 1982, Peters has been working the globe, slamming bureaucrats, mediocrity, and corporate inertia while pushing individuality, uniqueness, innovation, and creativity. After two decades, Peters still sells out conferences and is a commanding presence. He dishes out a compelling stew melding old and new ideas, with a knack for making it sound fresh.

The dominant information technology issue of the next 10 years will be “getting the ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning software] stuff right,” Peters asserts. “Installing ERP right is about 2 percent bits and bytes and 98 percent politics. If you do it right, you are screwing around with the fundamental power structure of the organization. There will be blood in the streets when we start to get it right.”

According to Peters, the new business tools (ERP) will do “as much damage to white-collar productivity over the next decade as forklifts and container ships have done over the last 70 and 80 years.”

White-collar jobs? Strike up the funereal dirge, Peters rants. “Between 75–95 percent of white-collar jobs as they exist today are either going to be eliminated or radically reconfigured,” he says. If you have qualms with that figure, Peters cites old AI (Artificial Intelligence) statistics. “A good expert system only needs 40–50 decision rules to capture about 75 percent of what we do. That’s going to be the action through 2010 and beyond.”
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Job tenure? Peters spews old facts. “We will think of a lifer as someone who has held a job for eight years as opposed to 25 years,” he says. “Project work will be more important as independent contractor ranks increase. And job safety is about building business relationships, doing great work, and learning new tricks every day rather than seniority.”

In the IT arena, Peters finds it fascinating and ironic that “temps are no longer the low-feeders on the food chain.” “Temps earn more than permanent workers because they go from job to job and pick up new skills faster. It’s a complete turnaround in thinking.”

Future job market? If you think this job market is competitive, the market over the next two to three years will be treacherous, says Peters. “Big-time success rests almost solely on performance.”

Preparing for the future? “The most effective techie of the future will have a very high EQ (Emotional Quotient) as well as a very high IQ,” Peters predicts. “The CIO of 1999 who becomes the CEO of 2004 will have to be a shrewd animal who understands the importance of redistributing power in a pretty dramatic fashion.”

What about “convergence,” the hot buzzword describing blending diverse technologies to create better connections? In my chat with the multimillionaire sage, Peters used an unprintable expletive to describe convergence. In the October 1999 issue of Forbes ASAP, he applied the brakes, saying he could not get his “psyche around convergence.” He explained, “I’m a Divergence kinda guy. I want to walk a different path. I find that increasingly hard to do as convergence converges.”

Peters enjoys beating up on “techies who are too technical” and says, “If you want to get the systems implemented, you’ll have to understand a lot more about organizational politics.”

If you’re not a “people person,” Peters advises joining Toastmasters so you can learn to make good presentations. “Take a course in psychology, rather than technology.”

Why not ballroom dancing, too? “Absolutely!” snaps Peters.

“As for training, you’re in big trouble if you’re depending upon your company to train you,” says Peters. “Count your lucky stars if your company has lots of money set aside for training. If it doesn’t, don’t whine about it. Figure out what you need to be studying and do it yourself.”

Peters admits that training yourself can be costly, but self-sacrifice is worth it at the end. “It’s up to you to create the career path you need,” he says, “so don’t pass the buck.”

The fascinating paradox is that it’s a “seller’s market, if you’re prepared for it,” Peters observes. “It’s the ultimate ‘Catch-22.’”

Peters is right on that count.

Bob Weinstein's weekly syndicated column, Tech Watch, is the first career column covering the exploding technology marketplace. It appears in major daily newspapers throughout the U.S.

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