I moved from Arkansas to Mississippi in early 2005, I brought with
me three Bibles and a shelf of books by Peter Drucker. That gives
you some idea of how much I appreciated his writing. I began reading
the ones I had not read, and re-reading those that I had read.
He was a pioneer
in management studies. Yet his books went beyond management into
He is the source
of the idea of the “knowledge worker,” as distinguished from the
“industrial worker.” He saw what a profound effect this would have
on society long before his peers did.
the use of demographics. Some of his most notable predictions about
America were based on trends that were already visible demographically
— yet only he spotted them.
in decentralization of business. He understood that business management
in a market economy is a way to reconcile the conflicting goals
of the many (workers) with the goals of those who employed them.
Society always seeks to do this. Management has achieved this. The
result has been economic growth that has transformed the world.
that the discovery of management techniques in the twentieth century
was one of the most momentous discoveries in man’s history.
how management made America’s victory in World War II possible,
how low-income, low-education workers could become highly productive
through training and by breaking down their tasks into a series
of component steps.
He had no grand
scheme of management, no cookie-cutter management technique. There
is no “Drucker theory.”
He was highly
successful as an author, a consultant, and a speaker. Before him,
there was no literature on management. He was the right man in the
right place in 1939 when his book appeared, The
End of Economic Man. From that day until the 1990s, he cranked
out book after book. They all sold well. He was giving interviews
almost to the end. Here is a fine one in the Wall Street Journal,
published in 2000 and reprinted
immediately after news of his death hit the news services.
In that interview,
he tells a story. It is a story about nurses. Nurses are basic to
health care. They know what they are doing. Nobody else in a hospital
can do what they do. So, management had better ask them what needs
to be done, not tell them. This should be obvious. It isn’t.
just spent 10 days in the hospital. This is our local hospital,
and I know the administrator. Nine of those 10 days I was in good
shape, but I had to lie flat and motionless because I had an IV
in each arm. So all the nurses came and chatted with me. They came
to me in the hope that I would get across to the administrator something
that irked them. I won’t tell you the details. It involved a change
in policy imposed on the hospital by the HMOs that altered their
professional status. They were being told what to do instead of
being asked what should be done. They are used to that from physicians
— but not from administrators.
And all I
had to do was, when the administrator came to say hello, I said,
“Look, you are creating trouble with your nurses. Yes, the HMO
put pressure on you. But instead of issuing orders, you should
call in the senior nurse from each group and sit down with them.
You explain the pressure from the HMOs and ask, ‘How do we handle
it best? What are your ideas?’ They may curse. They may say that
HMOs are perfectly stupid. But they should make the decision on
how to handle it. They should be treated as professionals who
know their job.”
And he did
it while I was still there. And in two days the atmosphere changed.
The same nurses came to me and said, “This is again the place
I like to work in.” That was all he had to do.
Two facts are
worth noting. First, this inherent decentralization of knowledge
is true in every large organization today. Knowledge of how to get
things done is mostly at the bottom of the hierarchy. Second, When
Peter Drucker spoke, management responded!
The only living
author I can think of who has had as long a career, equally distinguished,
Barzun, whose magnum opus appeared in 2000: From
Dawn to Decadence, a history of Western culture from the
Renaissance until 1999.
have provided models — targets — for my own writing and