Drucker is to management, what John Maynard Keynes is to economics or W. Edwards Deming to quality,
As Financial Times reviewer Simon London put it best “The biggest challenge for any management writer is to find something to say that management guru Peter Drucker has not already said better.” Charles Handy agrees. “Think of any management idea that is fashionable today and the chances are that Peter Drucker was writing about it before you were born.” And so does The Economist: “The biggest problem with evaluating Mr Drucker’s influence is that so many of his ideas have passed into conventional wisdom.”
Inventor of modern management
There are a few individuals whose work has greatly influenced successive generations. Any discussion about the pioneers who framed the business books genre must begin with Peter Drucker. It is impossible to escape Drucker’s long shadow. Intel co-founder Andrew S. Grove claims that his actions were influenced on a daily basis by Drucker’s simple statements. And while John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge claim that Tom Peters “persuaded more managers to think a little bit more carefully about what they are doing than almost anyone else alive,” Peters himself credits Drucker as the undisputed creator and inventor of modern management.
Drucker was never comfortable with the guru accolade and preferred to call himself a consultant. He once quipped that journalists used the word guru only because the word charlatan was too long for a headline.
The essential Drucker
Shortly before his death in 2005, Drucker edited and compiled a selection of his management writings in “The Essential Drucker: In One Volume the Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management”, which contains passages from Drucker’s best work culled from 10 of his 29 books. Drucker’s goal was to offer a “coherent and fairly comprehensive “Introduction to Management.”
The definition of business
The book opens with a hallmark Drucker insight on the definition of business; The conventional definition: “an organisation that makes a profit,” says Drucker, is not just wrong but irrelevant. Profit-making is not the purpose of management decisions, but a test of whether they work. “There is only one valid definition of business purpose – namely to create a customer. The result of a business is a satisfied customer”.
Drucker is responsible for the introduction of dozens of core management concepts that have become part of everyday parlance:
- Management by objectives;
- Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things;
- Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things;
- Learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change;
- The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different;
- Substance is more important than style
- Institutionalised practices are more important than charismatic, cult leaders;
- Management is not a science or an art – it is a profession;
- Employees should be treated as assets, not as liabilities to be eliminated.
And it was Drucker again who wrote about the contribution of knowledge workers — in the 1970s — long before anyone knew or understood how knowledge would trump raw material as the essential capital of the New Economy.
Despite Drucker’s singular contribution to management thinking, professors at most elite business schools tend to shun him because his ideas have not been rigorously tested using quantifiable research. Tom Peters of re-engineering fame, admits that he managed to earn two advanced degrees, including a PhD in business, without ever being required to read a single book by Drucker.