BOOKCASE : The Definitive Drucker: final advice from the father of modern management

• Elizabeth Hass Edersheim • McGraw Hill • $49.95

The Economist once described Peter Drucker as “the most enduring [management] guru of them all”. And endure he did. He lived to ripe and wisdom-packed 95, thinking about enterprise, dispensing advice and posing, in his Socratic way, the right questions until the end.
And with the same unerring prescience that served him extraordinarily well all his thoughtful life, Drucker called Elizabeth Hass Edersheim 16 months before he died and invited her to write book about him, or rather book that “looked at how he had created the modern concept of management”. What could business strategist, writer, Drucker devotee, former McKinsey partner and mother of two teenagers do but agree?
Drucker didn’t want biography – authorised or otherwise. They agreed instead to cherry pick from his life experiences and ideas to help companies navigate the treacherous waters of the 21st century. She would distil his ideas into practical book about how to help organisations thrive as their traditional ways of doing business are overturned. “We need new theory of management,” said Drucker. “The assumptions built into business today are not accurate.” With that, the unlikely partnership began.
Drucker spent his life looking ahead – creating, as he put it, tomorrow. And now, after 39 books and countless other writings about business and the future confronting it, Drucker and Haas Edersheim divided his insights into five main themes essential to survival and success in the century in which he spent only five short, but startlingly energetic, years.
Drucker, the chronic visionary, focused on telling managers to connect with customers; innovate and abandon; develop lasting collaborations; attract and grow knowledge workers and establish discip-lined decision makers. He argued that the assumptions on which most businesses are run no longer fit reality.
The world has been turned on its head through the combined impacts of an explosion of information, the expanding reach of companies and customers, the upending of basic demographic assumptions, customer takeover of company control and the collapse of the walls that define the inside and outside of company. We are now doing business in “lego world” and the implications for managers are profound. He and the author explain why.
Customers define the purpose of today’s enterprise. They determine what business is, what it produces and whether it will prosper. After explaining what being joined at the hip to customer really means, Drucker suggests: Ask yourself every day, which customers did I touch today, and what did I learn.
Drucker was convinced that the customer is at the “centre of it all” and that belief shaped his thinking from the start of his illustrious career, according to Haas Edersheim.
Drucker suggested in 2004 interview that “the best way to predict the future is to create it”. So, he argued in defence of constant and committed innovation, managers who don’t understand innovation don’t understand business and while the difficulty of innovating for the future is understandable, he spent much of his life proving just how essential it is to any and every enterprise.
This is not finely crafted, elegantly argued and minutely reasoned Drucker text. It does, however, contain the essence of his thinking along with myriad practical experiences and supporting testimonies that prove his many well made points.
People, be they customers, knowledge workers, decision makers or chief executives, are at the heart of every sound management strategy and every effective practice. The book is practical, as befits the ever practical academic. It is also about vision, ethical practice and “looking at the whole” of an organisation. “Vision, organisational personality and influence take uncertainty out of the future in the 21st century,” he said.
Drucker tried to make executives look forward, not back. He believed opportunities had habit of asserting themselves. “As things collapse, you can’t say, ‘I’m busy’.” This is very handy check list of things to consider when considering managerial things. – Reg Birchfield

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