Peter Drucker Revealed
How do you come to grips with the transformational contributions of Peter Drucker, the enigmatic man responsible for shaping today’s business landscape? After all, Drucker shunned publicity despite producing an archive comprising thousands of pages squeezed into 38 books that spanned six decades.
Jeffrey A. Krames, the best-selling author of Jack Welch and the 4E’s of Leadership, The Welch Way, What the Best CEOs Know and The Rumsfeld Way, visited the management guru at his home in Claremont, Calif., for a rare interview less than a year before Drucker died. The result of that day, as well as Krames’ extensive research into Drucker’s body of work, is the brilliant book Inside Drucker’s Brain, a concise yet illuminating insight into Drucker’s life and thinking.
“I thought the definitive book on Drucker had not yet been written,” Krames explains. “I had no intention of writing a biography, but rather a book that would accomplish two important objectives: one, to showcase his most important management philosophies and signature strategies, and show how they are as useful today as they were when Ducker first espoused them; and two, to reveal how many of the best-selling business books of the last two decades were built on ideas that he originated.”
While Drucker’s influence was felt in diverse disciplines including nonprofits, history, anthropology, art, literature, sociology and economics, it was business where he made his mark. In his interview with Krames, he traces the evolution of the organization from the family business through the rise of industrial barons like J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie and then the large hierarchal structures that existed for most of the 20th century (and still exist in many places to this day). The final phase in the business evolution is the information- and knowledge-based organization prevalent today.
No doubt Drucker arrived at the right time. Even though he never managed anything, he established management as a discipline, providing the tools to train middle management. The result was a host of strategies such as managing by objectives; getting feedback from customers and non-customers alike; using information as a means to look past yesterday and into the future; decentralizing; humanizing the workplace; identifying complacency and insularity as the enemies of innovation; and executing.
Practicing What He Preached
Drucker made it clear that it was the duty of all responsible managers to focus on strengths: “Nothing,” he told Krames, “destroys the spirit of an organization faster than focusing on people’s weaknesses rather than on their strengths, building on disabilities rather than on abilities.”
Drucker himself was a case in point. Although few aspiring scholars would turn down an appointment at Harvard, Drucker did because he knew himself and his strengths. Drucker knew that cases were a big part of the course work at Harvard, and he told Krames how much he despised cases. Harvard also discouraged consulting, and Drucker was not about to give up what he loved doing.
One of Drucker’s most overlooked ideas was his concept of purposeful abandonment. “The first step in a growth policy is not to decide where and how to grow,” he said. “It is to decide what to abandon. In order to grow, a business must have a systematic policy to get rid of the outgrown, the obsolete [and] the unproductive.”
For example, Drucker told Krames that after he wrote a book he never read it again. He abandoned it. When he had a new idea, he simply wrote a new book. He turned down chairs at both Harvard and Stanford and never looked back. He never reveled in past glory and there was no evidence of his past achievements on the walls of his home.
Despite his humility, his legacy was foremost on his mind in the last years of his life, Krames reports. In one of the more revealing passages of the book, Krames shares intimate details about how Drucker spent five decades working behind the scenes helping to make GE one of the most admired and emulated companies in the world, but receiving little of the credit.
Krames set out to provide the key to distill Drucker’s enormous contributions to both business and society. Given the current convulsive business environment, we should all take note.