Liberation philosophy can still be oppressive: Roger Trapp has yet to be convinced by the latest book on management flair from the guru Tom Peters

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The Independent Online
IN THE league of international management experts, Tom Peters is close to the top. His books have shaped attitudes in businesses all over the world.

Now he has published another to follow In Search of Excellence (written 10 years ago with Bob Waterman), A Passion for Excellence (written with Nancy Austin) and Thriving on Chaos, released on the day of the 1987 stock market crash.

This consciousness-raising - in which other best-seller producers such as Peter Drucker, Michael Porter and Charles Handy have also played a notable part - has been of great importance for all involved in business. Everyone, from the one-man band to the senior executive of a multinational company, is thinking about management techniques and philosophies in a way that they never did before.

The problem now is that having had their thoughts stimulated, people are looking for something more than the messianic, sock-it-to-me approach. In place of slogans and sporting metaphors, they want hard facts.

In his latest book, Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganisation for the Nanosecond Nineties, published last month by Macmillan, Peters responds to this demand.

As the title suggests, the slogans are still there - in chapter headings such as 'Yo Fashion' and 'Go Cardinal', as well as sprinkled about the text. But alongside are so many facts that the reader's head is left spinning.

With breathtaking speed, Peters conducts a tour of the computer nerds of his beloved Silicon Valley, via investment banking to advertising, television news in the shape of CNN and publishing. Nearly every reader will find a business to identify with.

Moreover, readers have the opportunity to adopt the voguish concept of benchmarking against other industries instead of just comparing themselves with direct competitors.

But where does this all lead? Peters takes a positive view, suggesting that - assuming the traditional concept of business is about to implode - new structures will prove 'liberating' for both individuals and society.

Fragmenting markets and multiplying products with ever-shorter shelf- lives mean that all goods and services are becoming fashion products, he says. Acknowledging that this idea unnerves traditional managers since it demands liberation, flair and bravura, he suggests that the concept also provides great opportunities.

'It cries out for the wholesale exercise of the human imagination. In short, as the service sector grows and the service component of manufacturing comes to dominate, every one of us is in the 'brainware business',' he writes.

Fine in print, but what about practice? As an example, Peters cites the London-based creative consultancy Imagination, used by British Airways, BT and Ford.

Among its dicta are 'permanently flexible' and 'Nothing is impossible'. This spirit enabled the company to deliver a presentation on time despite having lost its premises in a fire days before. But although it is also guided by a principle of not doing anything unless it is fun, the human toll of working all hours is enormous.

This is where readers may find Peters' enthusiasm a little hard to take. Just about everybody in business knows that, thanks to the work of Peters and others, organisations have become so slim that there is no longer any middle way.

You are either in and under constant pressure, probably not enjoying it as much as you would if there was a little more time for reflection, or you are out.

(Photograph omitted)