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.

163 Ways to Pursue Excellence

As the subtitle indicates, this book contains 163 short and compelling messages that have come from Tom Peter’s experiences in business and his life. The stories are organized around categories such as Change, Action, Attitude, Initiative, Leadership, and of course, EXCELLENCE. There are actually 48 subsections to this book, and as Peters himself suspects, the sections are best read in short doses, probably while sitting on the toilet.

I first encountered this book as an audiobook, and I listened in somewhat larger doses while on vacation, mostly while on the airplane. Still, I was mesmerized, and I took my headphones with me to the pool. I listened, 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.

Some Background on Tom Peters

Tom Peters has led quite a full professional life. Trained as an engineer, he receiving his undergraduate degree as well as a master’s degree at Cornell. Later he completed both his MBA and Ph.D. at Stanford. With his masters in engineering in hand, Peters became a Navy Seabee. Eventually Peters worked at the Pentagon, and from there he had a stint at the White House during the Nixon administration, as a senior drug-abuse consultant. From there, he worked at McKinsey & Company for approximately seven years before starting his own consulting company.

His work as an author began in 1982, when he co-wrote In Search of Excellence with Bob Waterman. I first came to be aware of his work in 1988 when I read his book Thriving on Chaos. Thriving on Chaos was actually the first book on business I had ever read, and I actually forced my boss to read this book before I agreed to a promotion. My promotion was to Vice President of Sales, and included a move to the east coast. This was when I was just starting out, and the book was very impactful on my career. If I there was ever a management guru that I have looked up to in my career, it would be Tom Peters.

Favorite Passages From The Little Big Things

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

Lesson 94. Development: Are you finding and cultivating first-rate first-line supervisors?

According to Peters, 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. Tom Peters says that you should make this the top priority NOW. It’s important to also remember that he is not just talking about large companies, this is critical even in very small companies.

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

Here are some of my favorite quotes from this lesson:

“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 pursued 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.”

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. Early is not late. Early is respect. Early=I care. (Late is rude).

Inspiring Lessons From The Little Big Things

The Little Big Things is full of impactful 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 mull over and consider the lessons with which you can’t agree. The book is about stimulating you, getting you to think, and challenging the way you do business today. Listen to the book if you want, but keep a pen and paper close, and take notes. I recommend that you read the print version so you can bend pages, highlight ideas, and look for ways to inspire yourself and those around you to consider The Little Big Things.