Tom Peters on Getting Bigger & Slower


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It's no surprise that Tom Peters would have this take. He always asks, “what happens when you combine two big slow stupid elephants? it's usually a bigger, slower, dumber elephant” (I am paraphrasing, but that's his intent).

“E.g., if one were to combine three enormous, oversize, clunky, uninspiring car companies (oh, say, GM, Nissan, Renault) why would one imagine that the result would be a ‘seriously cool, fast-moving enterprise' capable of beating Toyota or Honda?

Hyper-big = Non-innovative. Period. (Just give Microsoft's Steve Ballmer truth serum.) The global auto industry has spent gajillions on R&D (eg GM = #1 R&D spender in U.S.A. over the last 25 years – no bull) and not given us a fundamental breakthrough in 75 years -unless you count automatic windows.”

Unless getting bigger can improve GM's speed to market, the cost savings and “corporate synergies” of a partnership probably won't live up to the hype, I would suspect.

Why do companies sometimes spend more time thinking about merging, partnering, acquring, divesting, etc. than working on improving their core processes? Do the GM people not realize that they haven't caught up to Toyota in time-to-market? GM has gotten faster, but so has Toyota. Does anyone have the data on that handy?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. As usual, Tom Peters is casual with facts. The last breakthrough to come out of GM was the automatic transmission, introduced by Buick in 1948. That’s 58, not 75 years ago. That is still a long time, but we should keep in mind that cars are mature products, subject to incremental improvements rather than major breakthroughs in the past half century.


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