The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence (2010) is Tom Peters’ 16th book surrounding his favorite topic of EXCELLENCE. It is a compilation and rewrite of musings Peters initially published in his blog, beginning in 2004. You can find Mr. Peters’ blog at, where he continues to be a proficient and pragmatic business thought leader, a title I am sure he would despise.

As the subtitle indicates, this book contains 163 short and compelling messages that have come from his experiences in business and his life. The stories are organized around categories surrounding Change, Action, Attitude, Initiative, Leadership, and of course, EXCELLENCE. There are actually 48 subsections to this book, and as Peters himself suspects will be read in short doses, probably sitting on the toilet. I first encountered this book as an audiobook and listened in somewhat larger doses while on vacation, certainly on the airplane. Still, I also was mesmerized and took my headphones to the pool to listen, took notes, and enjoyed the practical, no-nonsense approach Peters is known for. I later purchased the print version so I could highlight and mark up the pearls of wisdom contained throughout the book.

If anybody does not know who Tom Peters is, he has led quite a full professional life. Trained as an engineer receiving his undergraduate degree as well as a master’s at Cornell, he later completed both his MBA and Ph.D. at Stanford. With his masters in engineering in hand, Peters became a Navy Seabee, eventually working at the Pentagon, from there he had a stint at the White House during the Nixon administration as a senior drug-abuse consultant. From there, he had a stint at McKinsey & Company for approximately seven years before starting his own consulting company. His work as an author began in 1982, where he co-wrote In Search of Excellence with Bob Waterman. I first came to be aware of his work in 1988 and his book Thriving on Chaos. Thriving on Chaos was actually the first book on business I had ever read, I actually forced my boss to read this book before I agreed to a promotion to Vice President of Sales and move to the east coast when I was starting out, the book was impactful on my career. If I had a management guru that I have looked up to in my career, it would be Tom Peters.

A few of my favorite passages from The Little Big Things:

From Lesson 8. Excellence is:

  • The best defense
  • The best offense
  • The answer in good times
  • The answer in bad times
  • What keeps you awake
  • What lets you sleep well

From Lesson 94. Development: Are you finding and cultivating first-rate (Godlike) first-Line supervisors?

The principal determination of worker satisfaction is “whether or not the employee gets along with his or her first-line supervisor.” Hiring, training, and developing front line supervisors and managers should be considered a first-order STRATEGIC decision. Make this the priority it should be NOW, and he is not just talking about large companies, this is critical even in very small companies.

From Lesson 110. Hell hath no fury: Celebrate “Disruptors of Peace.”

“Abiding anger at the way things are…coupled with an irrational determination to beat back the innumerable protectors of the status quo and find and implement a better way.”

“When you hire, look for clear evidence of times that a prospect has taken heat as she persued something important-if all references say she is easy to get along with, well, worry about that…Professional suck-ups have little time or energy left over to pursue innovation.”

From Lesson 123. It might be later than you think

“A couple of minutes late is…late. Five minutes late is…late. Late is…late. Better late than never?-Never. Period. Ealy is not late. Early is respect. Early=I care. (Late is rude).

The Little Big Things is full of these small business and life lessons. You may not agree with all of them, or you may find it hard to implement these lessons into your daily life, but by all means, read this book and take the time to argue with those lessons you can’t agree with. The book is about stimulating you to get you to think, to challenge the way you do business today. Listen to the book if you want, but keep a pen and paper close, and take notes. Read the print version and bend pages, highlight ideas and look for ways to inspire yourself and those around you to consider The Little Big Things.