A Dialogue with Atsuo Ueda: An Introduction to Peter F. Drucker
Why a Drucker boom again?: Read by young executives in this time of change
Isaka: We have another Drucker boom here.
In the world, there are three management authorities of whom it is said, “I will read and listen to”: Peter F. Drucker, Gurus’ Guru on management, Tom Peters, co-author of “In Search of Excellence,” and Michael Porter, for his management strategy. The most popular and most honored among them is Drucker, though he does not like to be called Guru.
Everything he writes becomes a best seller, being translated all over the world. Some companies provide his works to every employee. This condition has lasted for sixty years. At the age of ninety-one, he continues to provide consulting services to Fortune 500s, to new born ventures and to national and local governments, and to every kind of Nonprofit Organizations.
Claremont, California is where he lives and receives interminable visitors. Exchanging faxes once in ten days with him, I can visualize his days with a top business executive from Japan, a government leader and his advisors from an emerging country, and meetings with government officials from China, then officials from a Canadian provincial government.
I am always amazed at his energy and toughness. Forbes captioned its feature on him “Still the Youngest in Mind” four years ago. I wonder how he manages his physical condition.
Consulting means being sought after for advice. People need his advice for their problems and unseen opportunities. Thus every week, every month, problems and opportunities of every kind of organizations of the world are laid down before him. So he sees the most updated world and the future that has already happened.
Executives of cutting-edge companies come to visit him seeking ways to increase their success for their future. Other executives from corporations with the largest market shares in the world ask his advice on further globalization. Top level officials of emerging countries that have already taken off come for intimate consultation for joining the ranks of developed nations.
Movement for establishing a “Drucker Society”
Whenever he writes something in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Economist, The Harvard Business Review, Forbes and so on, it becomes the topic at lunch on the same day on Wall Street and in the City. Now, Drucker is writing a lengthy article titled ‘The Next Society.’ It’s sure to renew public interest again.
In Japan, whenever his articles appear in major newspapers and economic magazines, top executives and economists refer to and quote them. Any TV programs featuring Drucker always have a high audience rating and are sure to be re-broadcast.
Because of his age nowadays, he refrains from giving speeches abroad. However, live broadcasts and new videos of his lectures attract hundreds of businessmen. By means of three gigantic screens and fifty TV sets in a huge assembly hall, I have actually seen 3,000 people watching his lecture in Tokyo. Drucker seminars without Drucker himself have been a success — jam-packed with people. In so many cities and companies, Drucker’s workshops are held. Also, there’s a movement for the establishment of a Drucker Society.
Drucker, himself, is scheduled to finish a new book by the first part of next year. In addition, more books about Drucker have come out in rapid succession. In Japan, “Quintessential of the Great Drucker” by Koichi Edagawa (Taiyo Kikaku), “Drucker’s Proverb — Japan will Revive” by Ken’ichi Takemura and Mamoru Mochizuki (Shoudensha), “Dialogue with Drucker — Power to Read the Future” by Kaoru Kobayashi (Tokuma Shoten), and the translated version of “The World According to Peter Drucker” by Jack Beatty (Diamond) have been published recently.
So many CEOs are helped by Drucker
Management as invented and developed by Drucker, following the success of the reconstruction of Ford Motor Company and the organizational reformation of General Electric Company, which used Drucker’s work “Concept of the Corporation”(1946) as their text, prevailed through the 1970’s. The Business Management aisles in the bookstores were always full of customers in those days.
And only Drucker’s books, after this management boom was over, have been continuously read among people. He wrote “The Age of Discontinuity” (1969), foretelling the coming of today’s transition period, “The Unseen Revolution” (1976), telling us of the aging of society, “Managing in Turbulent Times”(1980), warning the danger of the bubble economy, “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” (1985), teaching importance of innovation and entrepreneurship, “The New Realities” (1989), telling us of the coming of the knowledge society, “Post Capitalist Society” (1993), describing today’s great change, and “Management Challenge for the 21st Century” (1999), teaching us the change of the management paradigms. His continuous popularity should not be any surprise.
Now again, we have a Drucker boom. It must be the result of increasing awareness that the age of discontinuity is coming to a climax, as Nobuyuki Idei, CEO of Sony Corporation, wrote a few months ago.
Top business leaders in the world say that they are sure to read his books. An uncountable number of executives are Drucker fans. I won’t publish any name because I would end up being complained at by those whom I failed to mention.
The owner of a very successful medium-sized business says he just follows Drucker. An executive of a large corporation, when he first joined the company, could not be sure if he had chosen the right career and wondered if he should have become a scholar or bureaucrat. It was at that time when he read “Practice of Management” (1954), a classic in management and a world best seller, and was encouraged fully by its opening words: “The manager is the dynamic, life-giving element in every business. Without his leadership the resources of production remain resources and never become productive.” There are so many people like this executive.
Many economists, management scientists, and commentators are also Drucker fans. The Drucker lecture tours being set up, many top management consultants joined them. The teachers’ teacher is Drucker.
Most of the major management concepts and techniques were conceived and developed by Drucker. Among them are “Management by Objectives”, “core competence”, “federal decentralization” and “Management Balanced Scorecard.”
Humanity, society and management are combined
Isaka: There seems to be two worlds in Drucker’s works.
Man has two aspects: the social aspect, which is satisfied by living with others, loving and being loved by others as well as serving others, and the individual aspect, which is expressed by the fact that people die individually. On the individual aspect, Drucker wrote only one thesis, “The Unfashionable Kierkegaard” (1949) at the age of 39. Except for that thesis, his works are all on humanity in the social aspect.
However, Drucker is repeatedly saying that, if we do not think of Man as individual, timeless, and eternally existing, the question as to the possibilities for existence cannot be answered. According to Drucker, “Society alone is not enough even for society.”
It is not widely known that Drucker taught philosophy and religion at Bennington College in Vermont from 1942 to 1949. It is no wonder why Drucker’s insight is so deep. An amazingly wide range of knowledge is Drucker’s outstanding characteristic. It was Drucker who anticipated that Japan would become a great economic power, and that the aging society would arrive, and also that the Soviet Union would collapse.
At first glance, Drucker participates in two different worlds. He is a social philosopher as well as a management authority. Kenneth Boulding called him “the greatest philosopher on modern society.” Margaret Thatcher, Former Prime Minister of Great Britain, took Drucker’s advice and ignited a privatization boom. Former US President Nixon contradicted Drucker’s dictum that government has its limits, and failed.
Those two worlds of Drucker interweave with one another, or rather unite into one. His concern is always the same. He is concerned about the happiness of Man as a social being. That’s why he is interested in society and its development. Drucker seeks both continuity and changes in society. If there is no continuity in society, it will not be society any more. If there is no change, society will not develop. His perspective is how the mechanism of change fits in with the mechanism of continuity in society. Prof. Kaoru Kobayasi says, “Drucker is a mountain range. There is a mountain beyond the mountain.”
His interest is in civilization. Believe it or not, his oldest childhood memory is a piece of conversation between his father, a government official in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Thomas Masaryk, later the first President of Czechoslovakia, overheard through a heating duct: “This is the end of civilization.” It was 1914 when World War I broke out. Drucker was four years old.
Almost all the social functions are fulfilled through the collaboration of people and organizations in modern society. Furthermore, most workers perform their jobs in or at least through organizations. The society became organization society. Now, Man’s happiness depends on how the organization pursues continuity and change, and how the organization is managed. Thus, people, society, civilization, organization and management are united to each other as a whole.
In his first book, “The End of Economic Man” (1939), Drucker bitterly criticized socialism, saying that the rise of Fascism was due to the failure of Marxist Socialism. Because of this, Western liberals who were enchanted by socialism at that time did not like him. Still, the authorities on organization and administration in the Soviet Union at the peak of Communism evaluated him most among all the Western management thinkers.
In Japan, one of the most influential Marxists socialists, the late professor Masao Takahashi of Kyushu University, was an enthusiastic fan of Drucker. His review of “The Unseen Revolution” (1976) in “Chuokoron” was most impressive and persuasive in telling us of the greatness of Drucker. Drucker was a must at the economics department of Kyushu University when Marxists economists dominated there. Now the Chinese government seeks advice from Drucker for management education.
Isaka: Then, who is Peter Drucker?
He calls himself a social ecologist.
Ecology is to observe things. A nature ecologist, going to the South American jungle, does not say that the trees should grow in such-and-such a way. So, a social ecologist does not define society, as it should be. First and foremost, a fundamental is to observe. Not only that, a social ecologist finds changes, and evaluates whether it is a real change that changes the meaning of things or not. Then, he tries to find a way to make the change into an opportunity for the betterment of humankind.
The phrase “social ecology” itself is a Drucker coinage, as well as “knowledge society” and “knowledge work.”
In Japan, he is extremely famous as a management authority because he influenced her post-war management systems so deeply. But his essential value lies as a social ecologist. Being a social ecologist, he is able to see an organization as a living thing and management as a social function.
Fundamental is to observe
According to Drucker, social ecology can be established, not by conception and analysis, but by perception and description. That is the difference between social ecology and sociology. Social ecology is not prepossessed with conception and analysis. Conception and analysis can never be perfect.
Besides, society keeps changing. The paradigm of social science should never stop changing. Social ecology deals with configuration in total. That is why social ecologists observe the whole. The whole may not be larger than the sum of its parts. But, it is not a collection of parts.
Drucker identifies himself with a lookout in Goethe’s “Faust”(1831). In the last act, Faust utters the taboo words in a contract with the devil, Mephistopheles, “Hold it! Time is so beautiful.” Just before the scene of the climax, Lynceus, a lookout on the top of the watchtower introduces himself loudly, “Born to see, Meant to look” and starts to report what is happening there and what is coming here. This lookout is Drucker. To observe and report what the world faces and what looms is Drucker’s job.
Drucker had the hunch during boyhood. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was defeated in World War I, and the Hapsburg domination was over. A few years later, there was a celebration parade marking republican institutions. When Drucker, as a boy, was marching at the head of the parade with a flag, there was a puddle in front of him. So, he stepped off to the side. Watching the parade from the sidelines, it occurred to him that he should not be the one to march, but the one to watch and report. Certainly he became neither a politician nor a businessman.
Drucker wrote a lengthy semi-autobiography titled “Adventures of a Bystander” (1979). A bystander is a man who stands there. Of course Drucker is not an irresponsible bystander who is just looking. He observes reports, teaches and consults.
Reading Drucker’s great number of books, you notice that some of the same stories appear in another context. This is exactly that everything is related to everything else. In this world, it’s rare to be able to put something in a different cubbyhole and discuss it separately. It is impossible to put everything in a different shelf because everything is related.
In a similar way, from here on, my story might jump around a bit.