What Would Drucker Do Now? A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: February 23rd, 2012 by bobmorris

What Would Drucker Do Now? Solutions to Today’s Toughest Challenges from the Father of Modern Management
Rick Wartzman
McGraw-Hill (w3012)

For every especially important question or an especially serious problem, Peter Drucker probably has the answer or solution.

I recently read this book and What Would Steve Jobs Do?, written by Peter Sander and also published by McGraw-Hill. Initially, I suspected that both were (or would become) part of a “What Would X Do?” series that might also include Sun Tzu, Socrates, Machiavelli, and Von Clauswitz or, within the domain of business, Henry Ford, Albert Sloan, one or both of the Thomas Watsons, and Walt Disney. It turns out, the two “What Would” books share little in common, except for the quality of their content and of their authors’ presentation of it.

Rick Wartzman is well-qualified (as is his Drucker Institute colleague, Joe Maciariello) to select, from Peter Drucker’s 39 books and countless articles, “solutions to today’s toughest challenges.” When faced with a challenge, most business leaders attempt to respond to it guided by what they know and by what they have done. If their respond succeeds, fine. But if it doesn’t, what to do? They usually seek a second opinion, perhaps from an associate. I agree with Wartzman that they would be well-advised to seek the assistance they need from Drucker and this book is designed to facilitate, indeed expedite that connection.

At this point, it should be noted that, if anything, Drucker was even more proficient at asking the right questions (usually in combination) than he was at providing the right answers. More to the point, he asked those questions before anyone else did. Many people have characterized Drucker  as being “dated,” “out of touch,” “irrelevant,” etc. This suggests to me that they have read few (if any) of his works. Because Drucker was so expert at asking the right questions, he could then focus on answering them and thereby reveal essential truths. As cited by Wartzman, here are a few examples of insights that have enduring value:

“There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.”

“The business enterprise has two – and only these two – basic functions: marketing and innovation.”

“The shift from manual workers who do as they are being told – either by the task or by the boss – to knowledge workers who have to manage themselves profoundly challenges social structure.”

“Innovation and entrepreneurship are…needed in society as much as in the economy, in public-service institutions as much as in businesses.”

And here’s my personal favorite:

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Wartzman has created an immensely readable “cornucopia” of Drucker material, of course, but in combination with hundreds of complementary annotations, all of which help to create a context for the given Drucker insight. For example:

o  What C.K. Prahalad learned from Drucker, Pages 22-24
o  Drucker on the computer as a “logic machine,” Pages 39-40
o  Warren Buffett and succession planning, Pages 45-47
o  Kathy Cloninger and the “”keeping quiet” strategy, Pages 97-99
o  Drucker on “courting the noncustomer,” Pages 109-110
o  Sony’s “chief transformation officer,” George Bailey, Pages 121-123
o Florian Ramseger on Drucker’s relevance to cloud computing, Pages 172-174

With regard to this book’s formal organization, it caught me by surprise because I had expected the table of contents for the seven chapters to provide more than their titles. Each covers a general business subject such as “Management as a Discipline.” Granted, most (if not all) challenges fall within one of the seven categories and some, perhaps, in more than one. I would have preferred more specificity. That said, I presume to suggest that those who obtain this book skim read the heads and sub-heads, noting (preferably highlighting) which subjects seem most relevant to the given challenge, be it a threat or an opportunity.

Those who read this entertaining as well as informative book owe a substantial debt of gratitude to Rick Warzman, not only for his skillful selection of the material but also for his brilliant presentation of it. His own insights by no means intrude on the narrative; on the contrary, they enrich it. Bravo!


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