Managing in a Time of Great Change

In Drucker’s opinion, predicting the future is easy, but pointless: The really important fundamental changes cannot be anticipated. So none of the pieces contained in this book attempts to forecast the future; they deal with changes that have already irreversibly happened. The challenge for executives is to be aware of these changes, and act to exploit them.

This sounds easy, but business history is replete with stories of companies that failed to notice significant changes in their environment, or worse yet, noticed but failed to act. Sometimes doing what you have always done—even doing it extremely well—is not enough. Drucker’s cautionary tales and advice to executives are mainly contained in the first part of the book (titled “Management”). These six articles contain solid insights on business planning, managing the family business, and avoiding common management mistakes. This section alone would be worth the price of the book.

Most of the remaining writings deal with matters larger than the company. “The Information-Based Organization” covers the changing nature of information, what executives really need to know to make better decisions, and the current mania for organizing work groups as “teams.” “The Economy” is primarily devoted to shifts in the world economy, with particular attention to China and the Pacific Rim. Finally, “The Society” looks at the United States (reinventing government, the role of nonprofits) and the world (an extensive overview of social transformation in the twentieth century, plus other matters).

Drucker has long been one of the premier business writers: MANAGING IN A TIME OF GREAT CHANGE lives up to his reputation. Although every piece in it was prepublished, they do coalesce around common themes. The clarity and originality of the thinking, as well as the graceful writing style, are simply in a different class from most other business writing.