Dispatches > The Buzz


Issue: "Finding the Best in the Worst," Dec. 15, 2001

PETERS'S LACK OF PRINCIPLES: Did Tom Peters fake it? Twenty years ago, his book In Search of Excellence launched the biggest wave of business gurus since the days of Dale Carnegie. In an interview with Fast Company, he's quoted as saying the data behind the mega-bestseller was phony. "I confess: We faked the data," he said. Fast Company used the stunning quote as a tagline on the cover of the December issue. Mr. Peters said his criteria for choosing the 62 companies profiled in the book were based not on data but on suggestions from colleagues in the consulting business. Now Mr. Peters says he never made the comment and that it was inserted before publication, though he had seen an advance copy of the article and didn't object to it. "Get off my case," he told Business Week's John Byrne. "We didn't fake the data. It's called an aggressive headline." Just as curious is Mr. Peters's newfound relativism about business strategy. He told Fast Company that he no longer believes that basic principles exist for good management. What matters now is doing something interesting, unusual, or just plain different. Mr. Peters said he would not write a book like In Search of Excellence today. "Excellence is simply too static a notion," he said. "And the world is simply changing too fast." WAVE A WEAPON: Gun sales in Pete du Pont's home state are up almost a third. That's good news, the former governor of Delaware says. "The people who feel the most vulnerable are taking action to protect themselves," he wrote in The Wall Street Journal. He says the current spike in Delaware is but the latest development in America's ongoing reevaluation of personal firearms. Terrorism and violent crime heighten concern about dangerous criminals. He cites Yale researcher John Lott's conclusion that simply "brandishing a gun" is enough to stop almost all crimes. "The antigun lobby's goal of eliminating the private ownership of guns-unilateral disarmament in the face of armed criminals-now seems an even more ill-conceived policy, likely to turn citizens into victims before it turns terrorists into law-abiding citizens," Mr. du Pont argues. IS THAT IT? As many expected, the much-hyped invention codenamed "It" and "Ginger" is a battery-powered scooter. Dean Kamen claims his invention will help cut down on urban car traffic. But will ordinary Americans shell out $3,000 for something that looks like a cross between an old rotary lawn mower and a Razor scooter? The U.S. Postal Service, General Electric, and the National Park Service will soon test the 80-pound Segway Human Transporter. The two-wheeled scooter can travel about 17 miles before it needs its batteries recharged. Riders control speed and direction by shifting their weight around. A gyroscope helps keep the scooter from falling over. What puts the invention in question is its own design: It is an expensive contraption built for one person. As an alternative to public transportation, the Segway is undoubtedly too expensive. Plus the gizmo is ugly enough that business people might consider it unprofessional to ride one to work. Critics call this a classic example of Internet hype. A website called Inside.com picked up the scent of the then-unrevealed invention and rumors spread. Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos supposedly called it a "product so revolutionary, you'll have no problem selling it." Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs apparently said it would change the way cities are designed. SLEEPING WELL: Former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson won't be able to change her guilty plea in her trial for attempting to kill police officers in the 1970s. She allegedly wanted to avenge the deaths of her fellow domestic terrorists in a 1974 shootout and planted bombs under police cars. They didn't explode-and she ended up running from the law for more than 20 years. After listening to three hours of arguments, Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler refused to let her change her plea. "She pled guilty because she is guilty" the judge was quoted in the Los Angeles Times. "The facts show she is guilty. The motion is denied." Judge Fidler said he gave Ms. Olson the chance to be cross-examined about the case again and she refused. That alone was enough to convince him. "I couldn't for a minute accept a guilty plea from a person who I believed was innocent," he said. "I couldn't sleep. I intend to sleep well tonight." Defense attorney J. Tony Serra, who claimed he coerced Ms. Olson into pleading guilty, did not even show up at the hearing, saying he missed his plane and citing bad "karma." Judge Fidler called that "absurd, unprofessional, and inexcusable." "We don't accept guilty pleas from innocent people," Judge Fidler said. "I took those pleas twice. I hate to put it [this way], but were you lying to me then or are you lying to me now?" Ms. Olson faces up to 20 years in prison, but is free on $1 million bond until her sentencing next month.

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