The World According to Peter Drucker
Jack Beatty has taken the challenge of distilling into a single book of only 188 pages plus endnotes the essence of Peter Drucker’s twenty-nine books, which have sold more than five million copies and have been translated into nearly every language. Beatty, a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly who calls himself a biographer of Drucker’s thought, does a professional job. He appears to have read and understood all Drucker’s books and countless articles. Beatty has spent some time conducting interviews in the great man’s modest home in Southern California, but he has relied primarily on Drucker’s writings. A book so compact as The World According to Peter Drucker requires close attention but is a gold mine of ideas for anyone interested in management, economics, government, or the outlook for the turbulent global industrial society.
Drucker was born in Vienna in 1909. He lived through World War I, which destroyed the Austro-Hungarian Empire and set the stage for the rise of fascism. He came to the United States in 1937 as a professor of political science at Bennington College but became disenchanted with politics and began a new career as a freelance journalist. The End of Economic Man: A Study of the New Totalitarianism (1939) was his first major book. When society is unjust and irrational, he wrote, the masses “must turn their hopes toward a miracle. In the depths of their despair reason cannot be believed, truth must be false, and lies must be truth.”
Drucker became fascinated with America’s mighty corporations. “The most important reason for focusing on business management,” he wrote in the opening chapter of The Practice of Management (1954), “is that it is the success story of the century.” The turning point in his career came with publication of Concept of a Corporation (1945), based on a study of General Motors, although some conclusions of “that Bolshevik book” irritated GM’s top brass so much that they threatened to fire anyone caught reading it. Although Drucker praised GM as one of the most sophisticated and innovative organizations in the world, he made the radical suggestion that management should regard workers as a resource rather than an expense.
Drucker’s concepts have permeated corporate and government thinking, including “privatization,” “outsourcing,” “empowerment,” “the importance of second careers,” “the knowledge worker,” “management by objectives,” “postmodern,” and “discontinuity.” For the past fifty years, he has been a management consultant to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses, charitable foundations, churches, hospitals, universities, and foreign governments. The Economist called him “the greatest thinker management theory has produced.” He is credited with being the guru of Japan’s postwar economic miracle.
Still active in his late eighties and increasingly disillusioned with capitalism, Drucker has pinned his hopes on nonprofit organizations, devoting half his time to giving them free management advice. He has coined the Druckerism “nonprofitization” to describe this important phenomenon. His book Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Practice and Principles (1990) is based on fifty years of experience in guiding such organizations into achieving the kind of efficiency found in successful corporations aimed at making profits. Drucker offers managers in the nonprofit sector the same kind of practical advice that made him the guru of management in the profit sector.
Drucker is also enthusiastic about what he calls the emergence of a truly entrepreneurial economy. He has estimated that between 1965 and 1985, the U.S. economy created nearly forty million jobs. These were not coming from Fortune 500 companies, many of which were downsizing, but from small and medium-sized businesses. In Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practice and Principles (1985), he explains the various ways in which opportunities for innovation evolve and become incorporated in production and distribution by people pursuing private interests.
Drucker is at once pontifical and modest. He told an interviewer that critics call him a “guru” because they do not know how to spell “charlatan.” In The Ecological Vision: Reflections on the American Condition (1993), he states that he has always considered himself a “social ecologist,” in the lineage of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose Democracy in America (1835/1840) he considers the greatest document of the discipline. A social ecologist, he explains, is concerned with the human-made environment, as the natural ecologist is concerned with the biological environment. He prides himself on being the first to identify management as the new social institution of the emerging society of organizations, to...
(The entire section is 1996 words.)