The eight attributes of corporate success identified by management consultants Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. in their study of excellence in large U.S. manufacturing and service companies:

* A bias for action: Too many firms become paralyzed by overanalysis. They cite Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (makers of Scotch-brand tape) as one of the exceptions. 3M turns out a steady stream of new products with a "conspicuous absence" of paperwork.

* Close to the customer: "They provide unparalleled quality, service and reliability." The Frito-Lay potato chip sales force's "heroic" efforts assure that retailers get their deliveries 99.5 percent of the time. If Detroit auto executives had joined customers commuting on California freeways, Peters speculates, they might have discovered the growing popularity of small cars in time to capture the market from the imports.

* Autonomy and entrepreneurship: Good companies foster innovators of new products and "champions" who fight for them. And they are not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.

* Productivity through people: "The excellent companies treat the rank and file as the root source of quality and productivity."

* Hands-on, value-driven: They subscribe to a basic philosophy--belief in being the best, providing superior quality and service--and practice it.

* Stick to the knitting: "The odds for excellent performance seem strongly to favor those companies that stay reasonably close to the businesses they know." Conglomerates do not rate high with Peters and Waterman.

* Simple form, lean staff: Too many middle managers can bog down productivity. The "bright ones," says Peters, sometimes are the worst, and he cites himself as an example. As a Pentagon Navy lieutenant, he dispatched requests for information with gusto. "I was driving my field forces crazy, tying up busy people."

* Simultaneous loose-tight properties: "The excellent companies are both centralized and decentralized," which means there is autonomy on the shop-floor level but "they are fanatic centralists around the few core values they hold dear."