In the Belly of the Beast with Tom Peters:

A Deconstruction of Guru and Evangelist Tom Peters




David Boje and Grace Ann Rosile

Management Department

New Mexico State University

Las Cruces , New Mexico





This is a July, 1996 version of a New Zealand Presentation about a debate between us and Tom Peters at the June, 1996 Organizational Behavior Teaching Conference.

Robert Dennehy, Deborah Summers, and us (David and Grace Ann) were invited to debate Tom Peters, but then the organizers changed this to a follow up presentation. During the Tom Peters opening event of the conference, David managed to get in a little debate. During the exchange Tom Peters let it be known that he owns a rug factory in India. There was much discussion after the exchange including memorable moments with Judith White. This is our side of that story. There are other sides.


What follows is some of the pre-work we did to prepare for the debate, turned follow-on session at OBTC:


Abstract to Our Tom Peters- Imitative Theatre Session

Tom Peters' writings have taken a turn since his seminal work with Waterman in 1982. His recent book: The Tom Peters Seminar (1994) has become an apology for CEOs to engage in downsizing and reengineering corporate strategies. This apology extends to a text of absolving CEOs of the need to feel any moral obligation to reflect upon their complicity in the downsizing movement or to feel any guilt for abandoning workers. Rather, as an acknowledged evangelical guru of management philosophy, Peters has turned away from empowering employees to only empowering CEOs. Peters' texts make heroes of the CEO, as the sole voice of reason and the sole author of the change script of the great organizational transformations. The purpose of this paper is to critique Tom Peters' narratives of change by focusing in on the evangelical trope that masquerades for organizational analysis. In the end, we shall assert that Tom Peters use of storytelling and his evangelical performance constructs a theory of the firm that is decidedly elitist.


Byrne (2001) contends that Tom Peters faked the data for the guru book, In Search of Excellence. The revelation came in the December issue of Fast Company   Peters writes “This is pretty small beer, but for what it’s worth, okay, I confess: We faked the data.”  Byrne explains that Tom Peters now retracts saying he faked the data. What we do know is that many of the companies touted as excellent did not last.  The method issue is that selection criteria for companies to include in the Peters and Waterman book were not quite as systematic stated by the authors. This is a good example of junk science; guru claims scientific rigor A thousand business professors taught In Search of Excellence, as if the research was done with scientific rigor.  



Academics have failed in the duty of acting as critics and conscience of society. Few academics are speaking out ... our climate makes it very difficult to do so" (Metro, 1996: 95).


Peters’ doctrine, like Organizational Behavior (OB) doctrine, has changed with the times? I recall "stick to the knitting" and "long-term employment like the Japanese" and "stock ownership" in his 1982 book, In Search of Excellence (with Robert Waterman, Jr.).


Some Quotes form That Early Work

Treat people as adults ...; treat them with dignity ... Treat them --- not capital spending and automation --- as the primary source of productivity gains. These are fundamental lessons from the excellent companies research. In other words, if you want productivity and the financial reward that goes with it, you must treat your workers as your most important asset


... Only when we look at the excellent companies do we see the contrast [to the lip service companies] The orientation toward people in these companies often started decades ago --- full employment policies in times of recession, extraordinary amounts of training when no training was the norm, everybody on a first-name basis in times much more formal than ours, and so on. Caring runs in the veins of the managers of these institutions ... (1982: 238-9, additions ours).


IBM. ... The philosophy that starts with "respect for the individual"? Lifetime employment? ... THE DIFFERENCE IS PEOPLE (p. 258). ... "T.J. Watson didn’t move in and shake up the organization. Instead, he set out to buff and polish the people who were already there and to make a success of what he had. That decision in 1914 lead to the IBM policy on job security, which has meant a great deal to our employees." Watson notes that his father even adhered to the policy in the thick of the Great Depression" (p. 258-9).



The 1982 lessons from America’s best-run companies have been transformed with the times. Instead of people make the difference, lifetime employment, and polishing the people, Peters now advocates a philosophy of move in and shake up the organization (1994). People have become less important than processes and profits.


By 1994, Peters was advocating the abandonment of everything, including the employee, who was now better off as an ex-employee, or a temporary, seasonal employee. Only the CEO has lifetime employment in the philosophy of management of the 1990s. The doctrine has changed with the times. The principles are quite malleable, yet they are rooted in a Protestant ideology. Those who work hard, with quality, and faster cycle times will be good little business employees and graduate to part time employment where instead of being a burden upon society, they can pay for their own health and retirement, thereby proving that they are with God.





We wanted to ask why he had changed his mind from early to late work? But, we ended up with another set of questions.

            It is our to look at evangelical guru rhetoric of Tom Peters to analyze how his rhetoric is being utilized to reengineer universities as a conference hall full of professors cheer him on and even line up for his autograph (e.g. OBTC, June 1996). Peters in the 1996 OBTC conference began by stating he is not a guru. Yet his books (e.g. 1994b: 8) acknowledge his guru status: "According to the press, I’m a ‘guru.’ (Should I put on a saffron robe and start chanting?)." His books refer to the teaching of other gurus, such as "retail guru" Bob Kahn (1994b: 11) or gurus Drucker, Hammer, and Byington (1994). To challenge the teachings of a guru is not a simple matter.

            Our Side of this Story: We were originally asked to do a critique of the university-business partnership at OBTC 1996. After a couple of weeks preparation, we were informed that Tom Peters was doing the keynote address and the governing board of the conference would like us to debate Tom Peters and the conference theme of the business schools partnering with business. Just a few more days passed and we were informed that Tom Peters does not debate, and therefore our session would immediately follow Peters’ as a counter-point session. When we received the program we found our session scheduled for the next day and our title had been adjusted by eliminating all references to "Tom Peters" from our session title and abstract. Upon inquiry, we were told that this was a "human error" and that we were not to worry because the conference organizers would distribute leaflets at the opening event explaining that our session was a rebuttal to Tom Peters. This did not happen.

We showed up for the conference opening, the grand plenary session, and not only was there no announcement of our corrected session we were not recognized at all. Tom Peters was presented to the audience by one of the founding fathers of the conference, Professor David Bradford. Professor Bradford instructed the audience of 300 professors and doctoral students to take note of Peters’ remarks and put his insights into our conference "toolbox." Peters then proceeded to give a report card listing of grades he wanted to give us for attaining a partnership with the business community. All grades received were between D- and F.

Tom Peters told us: "you are the elite of the world and you all in this room are letting down your students.... You are the shit end of the stick... and corporate education has passed you by... 98% of what is happening in management education is happening in corporations, not in business schools... Classrooms are done for as a delivery system... The most profound change in one hundred years is going down... I am a disciple of Karl Weick since 1970... I have my Ph.D. from Stanford Business College [this reference to Stanford, he repeated 28 times]" Professor Bradford said "Tom is the cutting edge and he asks the questions that enable us to think more deeply."


Bradford then instructed us to discuss the implications of Peters' remarks. We were instructed to assemble into small four to five person groups and that there would be time for several questions. With 40 odd groups that meant three questions.

At this point, I (Boje) mounted a chair and asked: "will I be able to ask a question?" I was assured that I would after completing my experiential exercise. After the experiential exercise, small group discussion time of ten minutes had expired, I (Boje) remounted my chair and did become one of the questioners. I decided that since no one else was going to make an announcement about our invited session, I would do so before framing my question.

"Tom," I began: "Thank you for your remarks. I understand you have to get into your limo and fly off to Florida for a presentation tomorrow. I want to invite you to our session tomorrow which was requested by the conference organizers to be a counter-point to this session. This is my question. In your remarks you indicated that you have become the owner of a business in India which manufactures rugs. How much do you pay those Indian workers and how does this square with your remarks about the importance of people to management?"

Tom paused and took a half step backwards before replying. "I think we have to be adult about this," said Peters. "This is a global economy. I am not responsible for those workers. In fact, those are 300 people that are taken off the streets and will not become prostitutes."

I decided to interrupt. "Tom, you are not answering the question. How much do you pay your workers, who are most likely children, and how does this square with your remarks about the importance of people."

There was a lot of rustling in the chairs. Peters replied "I do not know how much they are paid. I am a partner and the people in India take care of that."

I (Boje) responded: "Would it surprise you to learn that those children are probably earning 38 cents per hour?"


Peters replied: "No that sounds about right. If their wages go up, this industry and others like it, will move on to China. And, then those employees would go back onto the street as prostitutes. At least they are off those streets for a brief time."


I (Boje) tried to get in a follow-up question but was told by Professor Bradford that I could not ask anymore questions. In fairness to the audience I was asked to sit down and keep silent. This I did do. I thought about how the session we had been asked to do had been marginalized. I was glad I had made some effort, as futile as it was to get in a critical comment and a challenging question. But, I also knew that this was the big act in the center ring, done with the blessing of the conference organizers. Whatever we did tomorrow, would have little effect upon this "grand metanarrative. "

I did engage in one more act of resistance. As Peters answered the other questioners, he began to compare himself to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. At this point, I picked up my folding chair and faced the back of the room.

I was told afterwards, that the conference organizers were embarrassed by my behavior. "We are hosts to Tom Peters. What you did was insulting to us and to the conference." Several business people who came to hear Tom Peters left the room. I replied "I did not mean to be insulting, I meant it to be non-violent protest to the propaganda being spewed out." We did conduct our rebuttal session the next day, but without official introduction, and re-scheduled one other session, few knew our charge, and even those who attended were understandably confused about the difference between our session and what was printed in the official OBTC 96 program.


            The OBTC-96, had unintentionally, we assume, provided a very useful way of silencing those of us who wished to raise a challenge to Tom Peters and his values for higher education. Not to mention cutting out the debate, our actions drew much criticism on the listserve. We were dismissed as "zealots," and "malcontented, radicals" who had insulted the dignity of the conference. We intended to challenge the claims of customer sovereignty, quality at all social costs, and the disembodied university (see appendix).

The metanarrative of quality, speed, globalization, and empowerment sounds very appealing. Yet, the metanarrative oversimplifies, dominates, and marginalizes the more local narratives. Universal principles espoused in Tom Peters books, tapes, seminars, and in this conference presentation do not adequately address the local sense of economical, political, and cultural affairs. The force of this ideology is so entrenched with so much momentum and seeming common sense and flag waving that the voice of the local is a faint murmur. In PC-speak, "downsizing:" "reengineering;" along with "empowerment;" and "TQM" is in, and radical resistance is not PC. The PC-mantras have created a momentum for change in which there is not much place for debate. Tom Peters, Michael Hammer, and other management evangelical gurus are never required to prove their case.


On to Our Session the Day Following Peters at the OBTC

            The program was changed so that instead of telling the readers we would deconstruct the Tom Peters event, the words "Tom Peters" were dropped from the program.

We (the four of us Deborah, Bob, Grace Ann, and David) used performance art to deconstruct the evangelical side of guru: Tom Peters. We decided to employ the same hype, without proof, rhetorical devices as the management gurus.

To the extent we replicate this form of media and guru-consultant-driven hype in the OB classroom, we as educators are contributing to the dumbing down of higher education. The course content is growing more trendy and devoid of historical analysis of the intellectual and ideological roots of business philosophies. In the 1960s we challenged higher education to get more relevant through campus rebellion. Now, relevancy has taken on an entirely different meaning. Now relevancy means a monopolistic and totalizing perspective on capitalism is its own virtue.

            The Evangelical Trope. Both Peters and OB and especially OBTC, construct an "evangelical trope" aimed at changing management doctrine, structures, systems and especially business education philosophy. A trope is not a metaphor. A trope, in this case an evangelical trope, is a rhetorical charade. In short if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and acts like a duck --- it’s a duck. Peters said he was "not a management guru." He said, he does not see himself as religious and invoked the division between church and state. In short, he denied his evangelical guru status. We say he is a performer, the Don Rickles of management thought and he is a guru, an evangelical guru. Today we will trace out for you the trope of an evangelical guru. And, we will attempt to show that OB and the OBTC is also a religious society devoting itself to doctrine and storytelling.


NOTES From Our Session Presentation Outline

Our grand purpose is to do something quite postmodern by blurring any boundary that would differentiate OB as a science from Tom Peters, the evangelical guru (Huczynski 1993: 65; Clark and Salaman 1996). Both are practitioners of a religion. We disagree with the statement of Clark and Salaman (1996: 88) that Tom Peters’ guru performances are "very different from the conventional academic presentations of data, theory, conclusions, etc." Our thesis is that both OBTC and guru-worship are religions, and both build doctrines through the arts of storytelling (Lyotard 1984).


            Ninian Smart (1995: 6-9) defines a religion as having these attributes: doctrinal, mythic, ethical, ritualized, experiential, and social.

1. Doctrinal. Is there a system of doctrines or set of principles, about the nature of CEOs and their organizational creations? Peters’ claim at the 1996 OBTC meeting that he has "no answers to complex management issues" is inconsistent with the many principles he writes about, such as 45 principles in his Thriving on Chaos book. On the other side of the aisle: OB enforces its doctrine. There are reviewers who screen out heretics, facilitators who deflect objections, and someone who moves sessions to far off locations. Doctoral candidates undergo inquisitions about doctrine. OB is full of religion. Peters and OB both are doctrines for the defense and apology of modern capitalism.


2. Mythic. Peters and OB both have stories to tell and perform about heroic CEOs doing their doctrines such as "transformation" and "reengineering" and "payroll reduction" and these stories have very sacred meanings. Peters ministry is to CEOs. CEOs can, and so can Peters, of necessity, abandon the workers, but need not feel any guilt. What about the myth of the disembodied university where fewer and fewer professors use virtual information technology and lesser paid, adjuncts and Ph.D. students are reinvented to effect distance learning at lower costs? At OBTC, OB-One is a mythic figure.


3. Ethical. Peters tells us in his opening remarks to "be an adult" and "move forward to take action," but he does not tell us to think about our ethic. That is just too tough to think about. The implication as he states it: "I do not know what I am thinking or saying and I am not responsible for what I say!" OBTC also enjoins us to observe certain rules and precepts. The "boom boom room" was not an ethical name. Best change that to Jim Water’s room. David knows, in 1988 he carried the last "boom boom" room sign. He was very immoral.


4. Ritual. There are acts of participating vicariously in special stories in OBTC and in Tom Peters seminars. There are symbols in the stories, the performances, and the writings of Peters that become ritually performed in OB classrooms. And Peters salts his works with OB references. At OBTC, T-groups are a ritual, the awards dinner, lots of hugging and kissing, no ties, doing penance of sack-cloth and ashes in dorm rooms, and eating dorm food.


            Clark and Salaman (1996: 86-7) have reported five parallels between the ritual performative acts of Tom Peters and those of witchdoctors (Freidson 1970: 6) which we think can help us to identify an evangelical trope. Here is a word for the toolbox that David Bradford instructed the conference attendees to fill. The word is "evangelical-guru:"


A. A powerful physical presentation with a great deal of restless energy: demonic energy leading to near exhaustion.


B. High levels of commitment and passion, which generate an intensity of experience for both audience and presenter.


C. Challenge, threat, confrontation. The audience is not allowed simply to sit and receive information - to spectate passively - but is brought into the event by challenge and attack...


D. A Peters session is not going to be bland, neutral presentation of options and possibilities: the presenter will show - must show - absolute certainty and conviction...


E. The message is posed in riddles, dilemmas, mysteriously gained insights that leave the ‘audience’ impressed by the performer’s knowledge of them and their experience.


In Peters’ talk at OBTC, he said: "The opposite of a profound statement is another profound statement." What does that mean?


5. Experiential. Both OBTC and Peters stress the experiential dimension. OBTC, you must be experiential or people will boo and hiss. Variables and intellectual presentations are frowned upon. Peters also provides a context of dramatic experience, when he enthusiastically and expressively delivers his stories and principles. Tom Peters’ OBTC presentation was a revival and people lined up for their blessings. Then small groups discussed the presentation. In a very structured process, questers were taken from four to six small groups, then Peters answered each cluster of questions in a fashion that was one step removed from actual two-way communication. Is OBTC more about performance than substance? Why do the favored sessions use crayons and construction paper? We were invited to be the follow up act to legitimate the appearance of Tom Peters. The big act was the opening night, in the big room, with the big audience, with the big message for OBTC and it was perfectly designed to fit the doctrinal and experiential preferences of this religious body. Why was title changed in the program and our rebuttal re-scheduled the next day across campus at the same time as the session on labor processes?


6. Social. All evangelical preachers must embed him or herself in a society. OBTC is social with hugging and kissing. OBTC is more than an intellectual event. Maybe that is why Peters has come to the Organizational Behavior Teaching Society for free. By embedding his religion in this Society of Organizational Behavior, we become the easily converted disciples, spreading his words to the Business Colleges as we adopt his book in our classrooms. Or, maybe just the reverse, by embedding himself in our doctrines, he finds his concepts to carry on his big business and can step up from the $60,000 average wage of an audience member to the exclusive bookings with the CEO and the board members who earn millions of dollars and pay ever so much higher consulting fees.


            Our thesis, restated in these religious terms is that the interaction of mythic stories and experiences forms the doctrines and moral values which are seductively staged, celebrated, endorsed, adopted and reproduced in this OBTC society. We also want to deconstruct the politics of Peters, OBTC staging of Peters as a power-event, and the event you are about to witness and participate within.


Deborah Summers sang at our presentation: "we are the churched, I am the churched, you are the churched together." It was delightful.


Yet, people arrived late. Our session was across campus. So when many of the people arrived, they assumed we were doing a church service instead of performance art. To the on time arrivers we explained what we were going to do. When the late comers looked in the program they could not figure us out.

            The next section is the text of the sermon that we presented after Deborah Summer’s opening hymn and our outline of the dimensions we were using to define religion. The sermon is a mix of an evangelical rhetorical style with quotes from Tom Peters’ books and seminar tapes. Several people walked out on the performance thinking it was an actual religious sermon. This was particularly the case for people who arrived late or did not hear our disclaimer: "this is not a religious sermon, this is an aggregation of the evangelical trope." The "Tom the Peters Sermon" is written to be read aloud.



Delivered by David Boje at OBTC 1996


            I have a confession to make. I too have preached Tom Peters in my class. I once taught from the In Search of Excellence book at UCLA. I showed students the Tom Peters "In Search of Excellence" video. I also taught from Passion for Excellence and Thriving on Chaos books at Loyola Marymount University. I even paid $95 to go to a Tom Peters Seminar taught by a licensed Tom Peters Seminar presenter. Thanks to Tom’s writing, videos, and stories and my teaching, I earned six teacher of the year plaques. Most of us here have shown his videos. In fact, turn to someone on your left and on your right and say:

I too have shown the Tom Peters video in my classes.

Ladies and gentlemen please do this right now and say it with conviction.

I too have shown the Tom Peters video in my classes.

Thank You.

             When Tom the Peters spoke on the first night of OBTC-96, I heard the vision emanating from his heart, a voice of conviction that leads to right seeing. He touched a conviction within us all, one that knows that we know that we know what we know. He knows that corporate management education knows more than we know. And when we speak it, and when we affirm it, and when we declare it, when it announces itself, it leads us to that threshold of virtual insight; where we see the relevance of business life the way it really is. The business of business is money, only money, and should only be money. That is the adult way. Our conviction leads us to right seeing.

            Tom the Peters has created his own path of self-discovery. One of the methodologies of Tom the Peters is to follow the lives of great CEOs and tell the stories of their archtypical paths on their particular journey. And though individual scholars, or so they think they are, sometimes debate about his search for excellence, and what these CEOs said and did, or did not say, we will not waste our times with such silly debates. We do not debate at the OBTC, that is for the Academy. We, as OB teachers, instead take the teachings and if they are transformational we practice them in the classroom

            We understand Tom the Peters' trek into the nineties, where he awoke to find, and I am quoting Tom here: "a decade in a hurry," "a nanosecond culture," and "I saw..." "the bodies are piling on the street," and heard the stories of a "titter of terror" --- I saw "no sign the blood has stopped flowing" (1994: 5-6). On the contrary everything was moving at such an accelerated rate, Tom's point became: The pain of the abandonment of everything is good. Pain is good. It was a day in which Tom was riding on a plane, possibly, American Airlines, when he saw the terrorizing speed of the pace of commerce. Tom the Peters continues on to say (1994: 7); it was ...


... pointed out to me in June 1993, when I purchased a laptop computer. (I was tired of being the only businessperson in the airplane without one, even nervous I would become publicly known as a Luddite.) After a bit of study, I settled on an Apple PowerBook 165c. I came home and proudly showed to my 27-year-old stepson. "That," he sneered, "is the old one. I think it's been out four or five months." He quickly realized what he'd just said and laughed at himself. But he was right. It was an old one --- an antique at age 120 days. (It was officially discontinued in December 1993).


Tom's story was confirmed during a seminar in Philadelphia, when the CEO Hal Rosenbluth of Rosenbluth International, said "Our industry is beyond revolution" (1995: 7).


            Tom has come so that we can push far past today's value-added, down-sizing, to look at tomorrow, where, and I quote: "it is not just empowering employees but turning them into full-fledged businesspersons" working in the virtual global cyberspace (1994: xv). Tom has said in the book: The Tom Peters Seminar: "... the titles of the nine chapters that follow all begin with the [buzz]word "beyond" Here are a few:


"Beyond Change Toward the Abandonment of Everything,"


"Beyond Decentralization to Unleash Imagination,"


"Beyond Empowerment so Every Job becomes a Business,"


"Beyond Reengineering to the Corporate Talk Shop,"


"Beyond TQM toward Wow," and so on.


"Each 'beyond' captures a management model now in vogue" (1994: xiv-xv). Each beyond is part of Tom the Peters "comprehensive model" of organizing and managing and goes beyond the work of the guru for that model.


Beyond Empowerment goes beyond Guru Byington.


Beyond Reengineering goes beyond Guru Michael the Hammer.


Beyond TQM goes beyond Guru Edward the Deming,


and Beyond Imagination goes beyond guru Gareth the Morgan.


But the biggest beyond of them all is going Beyond Change.


Beyond Change is going beyond the work of the Father, Peter the Drucker.


Tom following in his footsteps teaches us to erase change from our vocabulary and substitute the word "abandonment" for the word "change." Tom the Peters' comprehensive model is not comfortable. And I quote Tom: "Never. In fact, discomfort is the point" (p. xv). Pain is the point. And pain is good! When Tom the Peters was awoken from his sleepwalking, he was riding on American Airlines, reading his Fortune Magazine and Business Week about Tom’s quest for excellence (1982) with the Waterman. He had a revelation: to move beyond, he must embrace the pain of change No, not change, beyond change; we must embrace the pain of abandonment. In his ministry to the CEOs of American he teaches that change is dead, and that is good.


In fact eradicate "change" from your vocabulary and substitute the word "abandonment" instead (1995: 3). Ladies and Gentlemen, please say this affirmation after me and with conviction:


The Pain of the Abandonment of Everything is Good.


The Pain of the Abandonment of Everything is Good.


The Pain of the Abandonment of Everything is Good.



            Change? Change! Yes we've almost all, finally, embraced the [story] that 'change is the only constant.' Well, sorry. Forget change! Tom the Peters says the word is feeble. Instead, keep saying "revolution." "If it doesn't roll easily off your tongue," then Tom suggests "you have a perception problem --- and, more to the point, a business or a career problem" as OB professors (1994: 8). In fact eradicate "change" from your vocabulary and substitute the word "abandonment" instead (1994: 3). Say it with conviction:


The Pain of the Abandonment of Every Employee is Good.

The Pain of the Abandonment of Every Employee is Good.

The Pain of the Abandonment of Every Employee is Good.


            We can also abandon place. Abandon the idea of everyone working together in the same building. In fact, abandon the idea of students and professors teaching and learning together in the same building. How dated --- and silly --- all that seems now in the time of the virtual professor, the video conference, distance learning, and the virtual university. Tom the Peters says this is "the end of education" (as we know it), as he has awakened from his sleepwalking to discover the Disembodied University. CEO and Dean, Perelman says that we are witnessing:


... an electronic graduate engineering school with no campus and no full-time faculty [which] beams its 12,000 hours of courses by satellite from its Fort Collins, Colorado, headquarters to over 5,000 engineers in video classrooms at work sites of scores of subscribing organizations scattered all over the United States. Leading faculty at over forty participating universities nationwide provide {National Technological University}'s telecourses. Students ....communicate with professors by telephone or electronic mail (1995: 8-9).


With the Disembodied University, Tom the Peters thinks we can put up satellite dishes and cut the cost of an OB class by at least twenty-five percent.


            Peters’ world is heaven on earth. Heaven is the global spinal network of Virtual Disembodied Universities.


            Like Tom the Peters, I too, opened the pages of The Economist (March 9, 1996). In fact, I have a confession to make. While, like Tom the Peters, I was riding on American Airlines, I did in fact, steal a copy of The Economist and I did indeed read its pages. And therein was an ad. The hands of capitalism, the Panda's hands, the Dragon's claws, and the Buffalo's hooves were through virtual reality morphing, working the hands of a human professor to peel the core of the earth, held in their grip. The peel was curling off into hyperspace, as the knife cut deeper and deeper into Mother Earth.


            Virtual, Neuromacer--Adolescent, Professors have a tendency to try to anesthetize their pain of change. Virtual Professors have the tendency to try to channel surf away from their pain of change. OB professors have the tendencies to try to create all kinds of theories, and exercises to buffer them from the pain of change. Download yourself. If you are one of the participants in the teaching of disembodied, Neuro-capitalism, then reembody yourself


            Tom sees a resurrection in that moment of downsizing and disembodiment that seems so bad. It is really an opening into a wider meaning of life itself.


            Right now Tom the Peters, me, and you are all in the belly of the beast, but soon we shall become digested and digitized as part of its spine. As Tom the Peters says: "The previous economic revolution (the industrial revolution) gave us Karl Marx. The information-imagination age hasn‘t found its Marx. Yet" (1995: 16).


            With acceptance, there is no suffering at all. Suffering is the human OB professor saying: "I wish it was different, " "why did this happen to me," imagining that things in the OB department are not the way they are. And if we hang in that space, we prolong the suffering of our soul. Tom the Peters was in pain, but he did not endure suffering. He abandoned one management model after another from In Search of Excellence, to Passion for Excellence, to Thriving on Chaos, to Liberation Management, to WOW, and here once again, has been reborn, and revealed in his book titled, The Tom Peters Seminar: Crazy Times Call for Crazy Organizations. Do not be like the Marxists and the Bolsheviks, says Tom the Peters (p. 19-20) and resent our hard times, that only prolongs and magnifies, and intensifies the blood letting, and suffering. Tom the Peters, says on p. 20, that he has a way to explain the "widening wage gap separating the haves and the have-nots in our society? We can just make the choice to accept the disembodiment of the university, and the OB professor, and the students, and just accept it, accept that there is a "tectonic shift in our economic base" (p. 20-21).


            The age-old question: "what is the purpose of human life?" If it is to peel away the resources of the earth, we are doing well. If it is to form an alliance between OB teaching and western capitalism, we are doing well. If it is abandoning our pain of change, well maybe we are answering the call from Tom the Peters, that we can be alive forever in the global Internet economy.


            In this moment of fellowship, we stop for a moment and we think for a moment about peeling the Mother Earth with the three knives of capitalism. As Tom says "what are our alternatives: 28 cents an hour or prostitution." Our hope is in embracing the beast. Wait, I seen a new revelation. Perhaps we are being called to shout. OB is a dance. We need a new dance.


We need a new dance

We need a new dance

We need a new dance



And they all said: "Amen. "

End of Sermon.

 Deconstructing the Peters’ Metanarrative (We did a bit of the following)

            We have tried to analyze the evangelical trope that Tom Peters uses to convey his message. In the next section we want to assess the message. We will suggest that there are quite conservative theories of capitalism that are artfully constructed in Tom Peters’ work. First, we want to situate Peters within the global transformation of organizational forms and corporate occupation that we see taking place in the condition Jameson describes as late capitalism or what Lyotard (1984) calls the postmodern condition.


            Evangelizing the New Self for a Post-Industrial Worker. Catherine Casey (1995) calls the postmodern condition, post-industrialism. Whatever the label, she asserts in her post-industrial condition thesis that there is a shift in careers of industrial work taking place away from specialization of function that has dramatically disrupted the materiality of labor toward forms of organizing that are discursive. We are "witnessing the disappearance of many typical industrial occupations..., the amalgamation of other skilled occupations ..., [and] the place of occupation as a specific social category in the historical industrial production of class, and of the self, is diminishing" (p. 186-7). We are witnessing the material changes in fewer employees doing more work for less wages, while retirement packages and other benefits are being restricted to a smaller and smaller cadre of permanent employees. We are witnessing the discursive formation of a new self, brought about by what Casey (1995) describes as "designer cultures" which are smiulacra substitutes for the diminishing social category of [modernist] corporate occupation. What we think Peters is a part of, knowingly or unknowingly, is the discursive work of a guru telling stories and performing evangelical ritual that constructs the "designer employees" for the simulacra, postmodern, post-industrial world of corporate work out of his peculiar readings of popular organizational culture. It could be assumed that it is the erosion of occupation and the transformation of the materiality of work into the "new designer organization of choice," a more temporary and fragmented attachment facilitated by investments in information technology that is giving Peters his re-invented, niche in the popular management guru marketplace. Peters seeks to become the guru of management gurus by re-packaging the buzz words and half-concepts of all other management gurus (Peters 1994). As an apologist for the CEO who is never downsized and always amply rewarded, as well as a guru to the survivors of the reengineered processes, Peters is re-constituting the "self" of the CEOs and the few survivors. He is pulling together a shared language from fragments of TQM, Globalization, Empowerment, and other genres to shape the self of the survivals as "good little business-persons" happily doing their cycle time routines and statistical process flow charts as they smile at the customers and bask in the approving gaze of their heroic CEO. But, as Casey (1995: 189) points out this new social sphere is a "simulated, artificial social world" that imitates family and team loyalties, in the hope that survivor loyalties to the CEO enterprise can be rekindled. "It is the new corporate workplace, the simulation of the caring, purposeful, related family of nostalgic, pre-industrial myth" (p. 189). A simulated return to the pre-modern ethic of the craft guild with its "religious virtuosity." But, we do not think the reconstruction of the self is entirely successful. The employee, we hope is resistant to promises from their downsized masters, as they wonder where their guild brethern and sistern have gone. It is only the echo of the old fellowship, a simulated and empty simulation of the pre-modern and the whispered memory of the modern corporate occupational family groupings grows more and more faint. In this milieu, Tom Peters preaches the Protestant ethic. This is the demand for the work of Tom Peters: to heal the wounds of downsizing, forgive the feelings of rage at the loss of the fellowship, and to preach the new work ethic under the postmodern conditions of late capitalism. Yet, deep down he must know that the disaffected brethern and sistern who do not fit neatly into the designer organization have been betrayed. Casey (1995: 191) refers to the "evangelical espousal" of the (religious) values and practices of the new culture, the new organizational form, the new corporate religion, under post-industrialized conditions. Peters preaches the neo-Protestant ethic of the "over-agreeable," "compulsive," "feel great," and "passionate" surviving, worker chained to the "corporate colonizing power" (p. 191).

            The religious values and practices are company-designed to engender the surrender of the self to the virtual organization as it pursues what Casey (1995: 192) refers to the "technological Holy Grail." Some employees resist the redesign and reconstruction of their basic self and point out that Peters is "just a showman," a "clever performer," and the religious manifestations are "too transparent" to be taken seriously. Yet, people put in long, hard hours, for not that much pay to perfect their practices of quality, service, and empowerment to help the designer-firm achieve its global preeminence. Here we shall look beneath the holy grail at some alternative formulations to the popularized theories of quality, service, empowerment, and globalization. We intend to deconstruct corporate faith. We are skeptical of uncritical and unthinking devotion to the new designer corporation. We are suspicious of the quasi-religious attempts to breed loyalty and unwavering devotion to the corporate gods. We also think that the pursuit of "excellence" of Peters and Waterman (1982) is being unveiled as the pursuit of "greed" in the more recent books and seminars, of which The Tom Peters Seminar (1994) is a primary exemplar.


"My entire life is devoted to the soft side of business." What does Peters mean?

 I am hoping that people clapped at the performance and the smooth way he became the victim of his marginalized critics, and not the message you heard last night. But, if you did clap at the message, the OBTC medium of the center stage, opening act, with the founder’s blessed protection, a sanctioned provocative session with homework, and done in the Stanford University tradition --- you are forgiven, the politics of this message are amazingly powerful -- let’s all clap for it. In fact, I will grade you. If you clapped for the message, give yourself an F in economic theory, an F in history, and an F in OB.



            Our radical questions to our guru, Tom Peters, are focused on asking ourselves: does this religious stuff radically improve the quality of our lives? We do not think it does. Like the Hare Krishna cult, the cult of quality and empowerment carries a lot of baggage. The reflexive gaze is missing along with the unanticipated consequences of quality, service, empowerment and globalization discourse. There are paths of resistance to be explored. This guru-discourse needs to be seen in a broader context of the transition to late capitalism.


Byrne, John A. (2001). The real confessions of Tom Peters. Business Week, Dec. 3, pp. 46.

Casey, Catherine. 1995. Work, Self and Society: After Industrialism. London: Routledge.

Clark, Timothy and Graeme Salaman 1996. "The management guru as organizational witchdoctor." Organization 3(1): 85-107.

Foucault, Michel. 1977. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Donald F. Bouchard (ed.); Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (trans.). New York: Cornell University Press.


Huczynski, Andrzej A. 1993. Management Gurus: What Makes Them and How to Become One. London: Routledge.


Peters, Tom J. 1994. The Tom Peters Seminar: Crazy Times Call for Crazy Organizations. NY: Random House.


Peters, Tom J. 1994b The Pursuit of Wow!: Every Person’s Guide to Topsy-Turvy Times. NY: Random House.


Peters, Tom and Nancy Austin 1985. A Passion for Excellence: The Leadership Difference. NY: Warner Books.


Peters, Tom and Robert H. Waterman Jr. 1982. In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies. NY: Harper & Row.


Rosile, Grace Ann and David M. Boje. 1996. "Pedagogy for the Postmodern Management Classroom: Greenback Company." In D. M. Boje, R.P. Gephart, Jr., and T.J. Thatchenkery (p. 225-250) Postmodern Management and Organization Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


Smart, Ninian 1995. Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2nd Edition.


Note: Others references appear in the attachment.






QUALITY: Does Quality management radically improve the quality of life for the majority of human beings?

            The earlier texts (e.g. 1982) did have something profound to say about the quality of working life, but not so in recent years. Quality has become the gaze that has been internalized by workers to effect designs requiring not only fewer workers, but fewer managers and supervisors. Workers took on more managerial tasks but have not received in more compensation. Tom Peters is Taylor reincarnated doing to white collar work, what Taylor so skillfully did to blue collar work. There is a correlation between Peter's quality revolution and the Capitalist control over Labor Process. Peters tells us we do not compete on price, we compete on quality and speed. But to compete on quality and speed, the worker gives up more and more discretion and autonomy to managerialist process and mind control programs. As speed, efficiency, and control are maximized, Lyotard's (1984) performativity sets in and what Parker and Slaughter (1993) call "management by stress" is the result. With In Search of Excellence (1982) Peters and Waterman identified how America, following the lead of the "best-run corporations" could respond to the Japanese invasion. And like another guru, Frederick Taylor, Tom Peters blamed inefficiency, waste and low quality on management (Wilkinson & Wilmott 1995: 7).


Cost and efficiency, over the long run, follow from the emphasis on quality, service, innovativeness, result sharing, participation, excitement, and an external problem-solving focus that is tailored to the customer (1982: 321).

            In Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution (1988), Peters is the messiah leading a "crusade for quality" and he is a "personal witness" to the movement. Derrida in a 1991 presentation to the Philosophy Roundtable at NYU uses the term "Messianicity." For Derrida every act of communication is an messianistic attempt to convert the other to your point of view. Even this one. Peters, as an apologist for the corporate CEO is trying to convince us that quality does not mean quality of work life, it only means quality of profit-life. For Peters, quality does not mean quality of working life improvements; it does not mean improvements in pay or benefits; there is no profit sharing either in the fundamentalist creed. With the death of People Express, Peters stopped favoring employee ownership as a cornerstone of empowerment. Peters, our guru, tells us that quality will lower cost and make our products and services more desirable, but has little to say about employee-ownership, capital control, and participation in business strategy. Peters does not tell us that racheting up quality will "destaff" and contribute to unemployment as fewer people do more worker, under higher stress levels, without more wages. Nor, does he include examples of companies like Optiva, that unleashes human potential by offering stock options to hourly employees. Or, New corporate Steel where the motto is "share the pain and share the gain." Starbuck Coffee’s CEO Howard Schultz offers medical dental benefits to part time people.

            Excellence, TQM, Reengineering, and Taylorism programmers with their stop watches, flow charts, and clip boards are not much different from each other except that with excellence, the workers are trained to observe, monitor, and flow chart themselves. Peters is more Tayloristic than Taylor’s original vision. Quality and continuous improvement programs eliminate waste in the production and delivery process. Peter's quality while rooted in Taylorism, goes a step further by downsizing the inspector and in-sourcing inspection right into the mind of the worker. Internalized gaze is a much more efficient exploitation of the worker than Taylor or Ford ever imagined.


SERVICE: Does thriving on service radically improve the quality of life of most human beings?

            An alternative to Petersí theory would be to think of service as an internalization of market ethos into organizational relationships under the pretext of customer sovereignty. CARE is an interesting word defined by Peters to mean Customers Are Really Everything. Neat how the feminist "ethic of care" is subverted into a "market force" (Illich, 1981). It also has become a way to introduce internal markets with "internal customers" by replacing the ethic of pride in work or profession. In both instances, the manager becomes the agent of the market forces who must control the work process to improve service. Then we get to internal customers. Each employee is a supplier to the next person in the supply chain (Wilkinson & Wilmott 1995: 15). ""The chain metaphor represent manacles as well as links ... a culture change program is introduced which promotes the notion that it is only by seeing the next person down the chain in the labor process that quality can be assured" (Tuckman 1995: 58-9). Each employee gets to gaze the quality of the work that they receive from their (internal) supplier (i.e. their fellow workers), their chain-gang mates. Internalized market transaction is done with a rhetoric of chains and manacles. Instead of CARE, (Customers Are Really Everything), a Walmart employee said "DARE," Dollars Are Really Everything. Oliver Williamson's logic is to lower transaction costs. Peters tells us how to do this by internalizing the market by constituting the worker as a supplier-customer transaction. What is wrong with internalizing a logic that indoctrinates workers to see and interpret themselves as buyers and sellers of commodities. It is the internalized logic of modern capitalism for people to see themselves as a link in the customer/supplier service chain directed by their internal and external customer networks. Middle management can be eliminated since workers self-manage and can now gaze other workers as part of their CARE.

            It is hegemonic to treat market forces and relationships as unproblematic. Tuckman (1995) sees this as a class offensive such that workers internalize an "employee-as-market-cipher" ideology that makes them more conducive to capitalism. Webb (1995) found that while the supply chain idea of internal and external customers was supposed to promote an ideal of service in an alienated workforce under British authoritarian management, it served to reproduce exploitation based on an ethic of power enacted with managerialist, immoral expediency.



EMPOWERMENT: Does passion for empowerment radically improve the quality of life of most human beings?

            An alternative to Peters‘ theory of empowerment is to look at empowerment as an intensification of control and a doubling of work while decreasing wages and extracting monies. Why do gurus of quality and customer sovereignty also advocate "empowerment?" Empowerment borrows from the New Right rhetoric to tell the story of the substitution of market for bureaucratic ethos (Tuckman 1995: 59). Workers are empowered to eliminate waste, add value, and continuously improve their performativity. Peters sells us the empowerment panacea: if we can only tap the internal powers of self-motivation we can reverse the decline of western industrialism. Gurus stitch the rhetoric of internal customers with an image of the autonomous, independent, self-reliant, individualist. Instead of being externally controlled and micro managed, the employee self-manages, self-schedules, and self-audits through empowerment. As in the service project, employees learn to do what Michel Foucault (1979) calls: "internalize the gaze." Peters tells us that through storytelling, employees can learn the values of a culture that will dominate their thinking about quality, service, and continuous change. They learn to surveille, monitor and control their own enslavement. But, empowerment does not extend to the choices of business strategy, investment, and out-sourcing. Wilkinson and Wilmott (1995: 17) argue "... are they empowered only to take responsibility for activities that were previously undertaken by other employees (e.g. supervisors, quality controllers), without a commensurate improvement in their own wages and conditions?" They also question whether hierarchical control is relaxed or intensified with greater empowerment. McArdle et al. (1995) argue that empowerment intensifies work, but does not give workers more participation in decision making. Empowering gains in efficiency and profits, while out-sourcing, and downsizing wages and job security allows owners to greedily take money out of the firm and put it into their pocket while everyone is in the hypnotic trance of the guru of excellence.

            There may be poetic justice in empowerment. Once the genie of participation is out of the bottle and people see through the guru's slight of hand, the riots may follow. In sum, empowerment leads to management-by-stress and seduces worriers into enabling and internalizing their own exploitation.



GlOBALIZATION: Does globalization radically improve the quality of life of most human beings?

            An alternative to Peters‘ theory of globalization is to consider globalization as a mask for the terrorizing of local concerns within a rhetoric of fear. Peters‘ theories of empowerment, service, and quality are necessary evils because of the threat of globalization and global competitiveness. Shareholders demand that managers organize work globally to maximize profits and shareholder dividends. The other side of this story is that shareholders bribe CEOs to downsize on Friday so that stock prices will rise on Monday and they can all cash in on Tuesday. It is not about quality, service, empowerment, or globalization, it is Michael Douglas in a movie shouting "Greed is good."



            According to the new rhetoric of globalization, we are to transform bureaucracies into global networks of subcontracting firms, linked by internet and satellite around the globe. Most of us are implicated in reaching out to global customers and supplying our curriculum to the world. The language of globalization is persuasive because it has political and ethical objectives and because it is conservative, free-market, transnational ideology. In business schools we are encouraged and seduced to reconstitute ourselves as global citizens. We train students to be globally-aware.




            Derrida might refer to our "work" as professors implementing guru-theory this way:


The Student as an Ear

From a postmodernist perspective, instructors as well as students are structured and otherwise controlled by the disciplinary discourse of management theory, of the university, and of business and capitalism... [Derrida’s image of the student as the "ear"] As a student, note taking "links you, like a leash in the form of an umbilical cord, to the paternal belly of the State [the Beast]. Your pen is its pen ... like one of those Bic ball-points attached by a little chain in the post office... The speaker or teacher is little more than a mouth that transmits what the ear transcribes (Rosile and Boje, 1996: 233).


Furthermore, as Tom Peters and other gurus emit this discourse with emotional and sexual frenzy, we have suggested that Peters and others do not themselves produce it, but reads it between the lines of the popular business culture press. Peters is the master that reads, so that we can transcribe what he has deciphered and write it into the texts of our lectures which our students must pen on their examinations. We become a mouth that transmits the new values and practices of the neo-Protestant corporate religion and its is what the student as an ear transcribes.

            This discourse which is transcribed is never critically challenged as it emanates from the popular press. It is conservative and promotes and apologizes, but also rationalizes unemployment, child labor, depersonalization, greedy stock manipulations, and ownership-concentration. Information technology and reengineering gurus do this quite subtly by substituting market relationship discourse for human relationship discourse; talking pert-charting and flow-charting instead of pre-industrial fellowship. Cross-functional, delayered, teaming, across global boundaries is just one side of the story. The other side of the story is a narrow economic initiative with long term social and political consequences that does not get debated in the halls of Academia and certainly not in the large rooms of the OBTC. Rather, the deans of AACSB just implement the rhetoric into the mission and value statements and even the curriculum and evaluation processes of the Business College.

            In the Business (Corporation) to Business College (University) partnership, TQM-ing the business college allows the Vice Chancellor of UCLA to install more low-paid graduate students without benefits and reduce the staff of tenured, high-paid, and full benefit professors. It allows the President of New Mexico State University to reengineer the tenured lines and departmental programs without any input whatsoever from the faculty in order to put more Ph.D. trainees into more sections with more and more chairs. The departments organize advisory boards and graft centers for this or that excellence in quality in order to raise more money. The service rhetoric of "students are our customers" translates into course evaluations used as surveillance mechanisms to control critical expression. Enrollment figures control departmental lines. Business colleges embrace the "management skills" movement and with the threat of irrelevance are becoming vocational schools. Soon all core courses will be standardized with multiple choice outcome tests required for (regional) accreditation. In the end the business college, like the emperor has no clothes. The Business College is a business and a neo-Protestant religion on the same mission as the management evangelical gurus.




If you want to read up on guru, critical theory, please read:


Jackson, B.G. (forthcoming). "Reengineering the Sense of Self: The Manager and

the Management Guru". Journal of Management Studies, September 1996a issue.


Jackson, B.G. (1996b). "Guru's Line Is It Anyway?: An Exploratory Geology". SCOS

Notework, 14, 1 , 12-16.


If you do not see the "evangelical trope" in Tom Peters’ discourse, please read:

Keenoy, T. 1990. "HRM: rhetoric, reality and contradiction," International Journal of Human Resource Management. 1 (3): 363-84.


Keenoy (1990) asks why has making money become associated with "a fundamentalist evangelical crusade?" His answer is that books like In Search of Excellence "provide a legitmatory managerial ideology to facilitate an intensification of work and an increase in the commodification of labor - both of which are regarded as part of the ‘solution’ to the crisis" (p. 374-5).


Whipp, Richard 1992. "Human Resource Management, Competition and strategy: Some productive tensions." In Paul Blyton and Peter Turnbull (eds.) Reassessing Human Resource Management. London: Sage. pp. 33-55.


Whipp (1992: 38-9) points out that the evangelical perspectives of gurus, including culture change and "excellence" as a strategy, have slipped into management parlance without looking at context or "intellectual consistency" of those perspectives.


Sewell and Wilkinson 1992. " Empowerment or emasculation? Shop floor surveillance in a total quality organization." In Paul Blyton and Peter Turnbull (eds.) Reassessing Human Resource Management. London: Sage. pp. 97-115.


Sewell and Wilkinson (1992: 100) point out that Peters has amassed a personal fortune convincing others that two fundamental assertions are true: (1) An ordinary company can be (re)engineered into an "excellent" one; (2) "Charisma is not an intrinsic human gift but is a commodity which can be bought (or learned)" (Swell & Wilkinson 1992: 100).


Tom Peters is the evangelist of excellence, quality, customer-service, and most recently TQM, reengineering, and the Virtual Corporation. People pay big bucks to be preached at by Tom Peters. Tom Peters is a trendy management catechism, the bible of management thought. It is not just a way of doing business, but a way of thinking about business and a way of speaking and a way of writing about business.


Sewell and Wilkinson (1992: 101), for example, point out:

The excellence literature provides a popular account of the idealized new form: organizations should be relatively flat, small ‘profit’ or ‘accountability’ centers should be set up, responsibility should be pushed to line management or ‘team leaders’ at the point of production or service delivery, and everyone should have a customer, whether internal or external, to ensure quality by exerting a form of consumer seventy on the relationship.


In the more recent texts, Peters (1994a; 1994b) idealized new form: is the CEO organization where ‘accountability’ centers have been outsourced and the CEO contracts in a global network for service delivery and consumer seventy has become market sovereignty. But, in this virtual, global, CEO form, there are no more employees, everyone but the CEO is an external customer. In the new form, the firm does not "stick to its knitting" and it does not pursue "long-term employee development" goals. In both the 1982 and the 1994 forms, humans are (re)designed to fit the CEOs intended organizing strategy and this is legitimated as in pursuit of profit, excellence, or global competitiveness.


Keenoy, Tom and Peter Anthony 1992. "HRM: Metaphor, Meaning and Morality." In Paul Blyton and Peter Turnbull (eds.) Reassessing Human Resource Management. London: Sage. pp. 233-255.


As an evangelical platform, critical discourse is excluded. Peters manufacturers representations of representations in order to construct a simplified and simulated form and storyline from one decade to the next. The recent text is an apology for downsizing. But, the evangelical rhetoric also mystifies the assuredly sterile and moral "market forces." There is not much critical reflection about the destruction of people’s livelihood or experience of community.


As Keenoy and Anthony (1992) indicate "unemployment is a normal and necessary social cost of ‘efficient’ market relations" (p. 242).


Is there a relationship between guru Taylor and guru Peters?

Taylorism and Peterism have much in common:

Merkle, Judith A. 1990 Management and Ideology: The Legacy of the International Scientific Management Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press. "At one time or another, we find all the foremost Taylorites lecturing, or even receiving professorial appointments (along with honary degrees) at major institutions. Barth lectured regularly at Harvard and the university of Chicago; Hathaway was for years on the faculty of Business Administration at Stanford, and Taylor himself lectured at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, the Universities of Cincinnati and Illinois, and many other business and engineering schools" (footnote 55 p. 74). Taylorism, like Peterism, preaches peace through productivity and uses "the strategy of creating and monopolizing bodies of knowledge as a means of perpetuating and expanding professional job opportunities" (p. 75). But, whereas Taylorism was a formula for increasing white-collar workers per industrial establishment, Peterism is a formula for out-souring and otherwise displacing white-collar professionals. Peterism removes the layers of middle class, middle management that Taylorism installed between owners and workers. Both Taylorism and Peterism eliminate blue collar class from the place of work. Both Peters and Taylor are the anarchist Prince of their time. Taylor’s Scientific Management and Peters’ Liberation Management are each secular Protestant ethics, substitution efficiency and speed of customer service for the amassing of money as the visible sign of grace (p. 292).

"Between 1910 and 1920 the ranks of supervisory employees grew nearly two and a half times as fast as the ranks of wage earners" (p. 81).


The "reality is that" gurus like Tom Peters, are trying to make the "white collar economy" more productive, just like Frederic Taylor made the blue collar economy more productive. And there is a way in which this is happening by knowledge transfer that is analogous to guru Taylor.


Both Taylor and Peters spread their religion. Taylor and Peters berate then engineering profession for not being efficient in terms of productivity or profits (Merkle 1990: 292). Both have ideological views of human nature and the role of the business firm in the world economy.

Boje, Rosile, Summers, and Dennehy (1995) presentation at the Academy meetings deconstructing reengineering discourse. The approach is to open up the texts of gurus to new readings that are glossed or somehow hidden. Hammer, Peters, and other gurus construct their world view through rhetorical practices. Peters defines what is normal and deviant and what is included and excluded in his stories and principles. There are a series of rhetorical postures and discursive practices that constitute the trope of evangelism.


If you think Tom Peters speaks to all stakeholders, please read:

What is managerialism?

There is a regime of truth that says: "Managers know best." It is the metanarrative that most OB and management texts swear by. Peters focus is on the rhetorical postures of managers and all other discourses are subjugated to that discourse. Managerialism is the official discourse. The other side of the story is to look at the rhetorical struggles over the nature and meaning of organizational reality. Peters’ rhetorical postures and discursive practices facilitate the reproduction of the current social order.

Privileging the heroic and rational voice of the CEO

Brown, Harvey Richard (1992) "Rhetoric, textuality, and the postmodern turn in sociological theory." Sociological Theory 188-197. Brown points out that every representation is always a representation from some point of view. The view taken by Peters, as the years roll by, is that of the CEO. Peters’ truth is not scientific, it rhetorically-based. As a rhetor, Peters is seeking to persuade us to believe a particular form of social, economic, and political control.. By constructing an organizational world in which CEOs are corporate gamesmen, downsizing and rightsizing to free employees to be repackaged and reabsorbed by the invisible hands of the great economic market place, Peters is foreclosing other constructions of the world order. It is these reality projection practices that postmodernists seek to deconstruct. That is there is a protected, established interpretation in Peters’ writing and performances.


Farnham, Alan 1989 "The trust gap." Fortune (December 4) 56-58, 66, 70, 74. With all the leaner, meaner, fewer layered firms, the CEO is putting the savings into his or her pockets. Employees believe top management is getting more than it deserves. Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines want to the board and told them to cut his salary and bonuses. "If there’s going to be down-side," he says, "you should share it." Peters used to talk about profit sharing, but in the recent books, only the CEOs are compensated.


Business Week 1991 (April 1): 52-60. "CEO Disease: Egotism can breed corporate disaster - and the malady is spreading." CEOs have the heftiest paychecks and ply around in private jets. Peters treats CEOs as exalted omnipotent Gods. Peters preaches to the boss who does not understand their business anymore and who must do MBWA to get back in touch with the common folk. F. Ross Johnson of RJR Nabisco had 26 corporate pilots and 10 planes housed in a palacial Atlanta hangar with marble Italian floors, inlaid mahogany walls and a Japanese garden and atrium. Or the $50 million dollar Armand Hammer art museum. While Lone Star Industries CEO James E. Steward ordered layoffs and sold off corporate assets, he did not touch his own $2.9 million expense account, even when they filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The article presents story after story of CEOs whose main agenda is to sacrifice others to preserve their own power and privilege.


How do workers collude in their own oppression?

Wittington, Richard 1992 "Putting Giddens into action: Social Systems and Managerial Agency." Journal of Management Studies 29:6 (November): 693-712. Workers actively accept the identities extended to them by capitalist organizations. In the case of Tom Peters, the identity extended to workers is that of the good, little "businessperson."


The marginalization of environmental sustainability

Read environmental chapters in Boje, Gephart and Thachenkery (1996) or consult your local Body Shop for Anita Roddick campaign literature.


Tom does tell us heroic stories about the brain power of CEOs like Bill Gates. He seems to believe that capitalism will save the world, but ignores the reality of business-environmental sustainability --- earth resource base is depleted. Can not sustain the 1.7 billion Asians or us. Consulting firms, and Tom has one, do make tens of billions of dollars. Contingency theory is a cop out in life.


If you think Tom Peters is an original, please read: Fads and Fashions

Abrahamson, Eric 1991 "Managerial fads and fashions: The diffusion and rejection of innovations." Academy of Management Review, Vol. 16 #3: 586-612. There is a skeptical view to innovation that is not part of Peters’ writings. Some technically efficient innovations are being resisted in the dubious decades of the 1980s and 1990s. "Fads and fashions facilitate the diffusion of technically inefficient administrative technologies" (p. 588). Reengineering, for example, has a 65 to 75% failure rate and TQM has an equally high failure rate, yet Peters advocates going beyond both of these to capture the fad and fashion market. Organizations imitate other organizations and adopt the fads talked up in the mass media. This imitation is contagious as imitators imitate imitators and we might add, gurus imitate gurus. Consulting firms, mass-media organizations and business schools constitute the fashion-setting community.

Scase, R. and R. Goffee 1989. Reluctant Managers. London: Unwin Hyman. In the past decade, a pollination of management is taking place with a "growing divide between on the one hand, senior executives, and on the other, middle and junior executives" with respect to status, reward, and ideology. With downsizing and outsourcing, only senior management remains. It is the fashion to outsource middle management.


Case, John 1993 "A Company of Businesspeople" Inc. April 79-93. A 1992 stuffy by Ernst & Young concluded that the business community was growing "disenchanted" with the axioms of quality: "After implementing management practices that were reputed to lead to improved quality and improved overall performance, companies have experienced mixed results" (p. 84). TQM is all but passé. Consultants and book publishers reaped the biggest rewards of the quality movement. Since excellence and quality are passé, what is a guru to do, but to jump onto whatever bandwagon, be it reengineering or empowerment, that is passing his way. The next wave, In Search of Excellence will become In Search of Stock Options. But, for now Peters preaches employee ownership and empowerment, but without stock options because the in the New Organization, only the CEO remains, since everyone else has been out-sourced. Soon the gurus will point to Tom Chaparral and Herb Kelleher and say that investing in employees is the way to build an excellent company. In his recent book, The Tom Peters Seminar, Peters asks that CEOs make businessmen out of all the remaining employees, but does not ask that they be stock holders, too. In the twenty-first Century Corporation the employees will share in the rewards and the risks of the enterprise.

Burrell, Gibson and Harry Scarbrough 1993. "Knowledge of, in and for management." Paper presented at the 11th EGOS Colloquium, Paris, July 6-8, 1993. Management can be internalized, as part of the self-surveillance of the workers of themselves. Management knowledge is being transferred to the shop floor.


"Significantly, TQM displaces the ‘heroic manager’ in favor of surveillance systems, work-force empowerment, and the rhetoric (and pressures) of continuous improvement" (p. 6). Middle managers are becoming the dispossessed service class and TQM is the primary instrument of their removal from corporate life and transmutation into the open market place of late capitalism. And unlike the blue collar, down-sized workers, the middle managers are going willingly. In Tom Peters, the middle managers are being identified as being part of the bureaucracy and dangerous to capitalism in its latest form. It is now our task to educate this new class of displaced, dispossessed, anti-managers. The teaching of TQM in management education is the Achilles heel of middle managers.


Cassicio 1993. "Nearly a million US managers earning more than $40,000 a year lost their jobs in 1991 and, in fact, each year for the past three years, between 1 and 2 million middle managers were laid off." Peters creates the euphemisms to legitimate the "blood letting:" "greater ownership of the manager’s career." MBA granting institutions have become the willing hand maidens of the training departments of large firms.


Calas, Marta and Linda Smircich 1993 "Dangerous: The feminine in management meets globalization." Business Horizons, April, 73-83. The delayering of the firm has crated lots of stress on those who remain. Middle management is being delayered and downsized at precisely the time when greater numbers of women were making their way into this occupation.


How Tom Peters’ stories are extracted from popular business press and works of other gurus, desegregated, and resituated in the construction of the "Tom Peters Account" (or "meta-narrative"). The deeper disorder is simplified into a formula of principles.


The relocation of golden insights from other locations into the center of Peters’ stories and principles. Read the table of contents of the Tom Peters Seminar (1994) book.


If you think Tom Peters is the Prophet of a New Economic order, please read:

            Frederick Jamison’s The logic of Late Capitalism. Peter Drucker’s Post-Capitalism.


Whose economic order is being tended by Tom Peters?

Surf the internet for the topic of "downsizing." Find articles in NY Times on this topic. You will uncover statistics on CEO compensation immediately following acts of downsizing. The privileging of organization and system and CEO privilege over people is the topic of this search..


If you think Tom Peters is the Facilitator of Progress, please read:

Lyotard’s (1984) critique of the progress myth and the plight of local narratives. Look at the concept of performativity. See Boje and Dennehy (1994) for a more practical treatment applied to management context. Then read Purser et. al’s critique of Lyotard’s version of systems theory in Boje, Gephart and Thanchenkery (1996). Peters is a bystander.


How Tom Peters canonizes the search and worship for progress.

Read Carey’s (1994) book on the post-industrial thesis. Carey covers Tom Peters Grand Theory of Society with organizations as the "mini-society."


Philosophical outlook of Modern Cyber-Civilization.

            Covered in this paper.


Peters’ Utopian Proposals

The myth of progress through technology while adopting the Protestant Work ethic. See work by Max Weber as well as cutting edge stuff by Ivan Illich. Illich’s recent book, In the Vineyard of the Text covers the rise and worship of technology. He is particularly sensitive about using cyber words to replace human relationship words in our everyday language. He also thinks reading is more fundamental to the human condition than staring at cyber-screens.


The Disciplinary Discourse of Human Control

The upshot of TQM as applied in Japan is to invoke the "smiling robot" in all workers. See article by Boje and Winsor, 1993 in JOCM special issue on anti-TQM.

If you think Tom Peters is pro-feminism, please read:

            Any work by any feminists.

Focus on Tom Peters and Paternal & Authoritarian Management Strategies and metaphors. Tight fisted male domains of power


If you think Tom Peters does this for free, please think it over:

In Search of Excellence had an initial press run of 15,000 and ended up selling more than 4 million copies over a 10-year period. The last two books were probably not even written by Peters or by guru Hammer according to a Fortune magazine article. Send me source if you find this one.


Other images of organizations:

Avoid Gareth the Morgan and instead seek other works. e.g. The carnival

Bakhtin, M (1981) The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press.


If you have any additions to make to the Tom Peters Deprogramming text, please write Thank you.