Wishing Tom Peters a Happy Retirement


I was hoping that Tom's announcement, via his email newsletter and his website, was an April Fool's joke. But the announcement came out on March 31th and one of his team members confirmed Tom's plans.

Tom Peters: My Retirement

As Seth Godin did, I'd like to share some of my memories and experiences with Tom. He turned 80 in November and has certainly earned the right (or just flat-out deserves) to do what he likes. He's given a lot to the world — including to me.

I'm quite certain that my father had a copy of Tom's In Search of Excellence (1982) on his bookshelf when I was in high school (late 1980s until 1991), but I don't remember the title or the cover screaming out “read me!” I was just a kid.

In 1997, I remember having the opportunity to attend a virtual conference. You had to go to a location where a closed-circuit broadcast was playing. Today, it would be a Zoom event or something similar. But 25 years ago, that was still pretty rare.

I recall some of the other speakers being management gurus and professors like Gary Hamel, maybe Regia Hertzlinger. To me, the star of the show was Tom Peters.

Tom was the opposite of a sober, buttoned-down academic. Tom yelled. He wore his passion on his sleeve. And he was incredibly insightful.

The one story that sticks with me was about “six sigma chocolate chip cookies.” I asked Tom about this the first time I was able to interview him on my Lean podcast and I remembered it more vividly than he did (but it's written up on his website).

Tom told a story about visiting Motorola and how proud they were about Six Sigma and quality. Tom had nothing against that. But, I remember him saying that he could tell that a corporate program like Six Sigma “has gone off the rails” when people are applying it in ways that seem like “just because.”

He said somebody in the cafeteria was proud that the number of chips in each chocolate chip cookie was so consistent that they were “six sigma cookies.” Maybe they were joking. I don't think Tom was joking. I see one side where you might say, “Hey, let the cafeteria workers take pride in their work and in their improvement efforts.” But I think Tom's argument was basically, “Who cares? What matters is if it tastes good!” There should be more exclamation points there, I think. That's how he talks!

I found that to be a helpful cautionary tale. If we're using a tool (including Lean tools) in a way that seems forced… or tool-focused instead of customer-focused, that could be a problem.

My Podcasts with Tom Peters

I was fortunate to interview Tom three times: twice on my Lean podcast and once on “My Favorite Mistake.” You can find them below:


My Favorite Mistake:

tom peters my favorite mistake

Thank you, Tom, for what you've learned and shared with us. Thanks for challenging people. Thanks for collaborating. Happy retirement!

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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.


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