Peter F. Drucker and the Consequences of Horizontal Thinking

The Man Who Invented Management: Why Peter Drucker’s ideas still matter ,” by John Byrne, BusinessWeek, 28 November 2005,

Peter F. Drucker and George W. Bush

I have heard the name my whole life, but only read one thing my him: a short piece that made me compare the Main-Stream Media to the French Encyclopedia. On the occasion of his death, BusinessWeek summarized Drucker’s life and his greatest accomplishments. Drucker was creative — what Mark Safranski would call a “horizontal thinker.” Peter F. Drucker was to management what was to strategy: a genius able to change the orientation of people who met him. Some excerpts:

Well before his death, before the almost obligatory accolades poured in, Drucker had already become a legend, of course. He was the guru’s guru, a sage, kibitzer, doyen, and gadfly of business, all in one. He had moved fluidly among his various roles as journalist, professor, historian, economics commentator, and raconteur. Over his 95 prolific years, he had been a true Renaissance man, a teacher of religion, philosophy, political science, and Asian art, even a novelist. But his most important contribution, clearly, was in business. What John Maynard Keynes is to economics or W. Edwards Deming to quality, Drucker is to management.

After witnessing the oppression of the Nazi regime, he found great hope in the possibilities of the modern corporation to build communities and provide meaning for the people who worked in them. For the next 50 years he would train his intellect on helping companies live up to those lofty possibilities. He was always able to discern trends — sometimes 20 years or more before they were visible to anyone else. “It is frustratingly difficult to cite a significant modern management concept that was not first articulated, if not invented, by Drucker,” says James O’Toole, the management author and University of Southern California professor. “I say that with both awe and dismay.” In the course of his long career, Drucker consulted for the most celebrated CEOs of his era, from Alfred P. Sloan Jr. of General Motors Corp. (GM ) to Grove of Intel.

— It was Drucker who introduced the idea of decentralization — in the 1940s — which became a bedrock principle for virtually every large organization in the world.

— He was the first to assert — in the 1950s — that workers should be treated as assets, not as liabilities to be eliminated.

— He originated the view of the corporation as a human community — again, in the 1950s — built on trust and respect for the worker and not just a profit-making machine, a perspective that won Drucker an almost godlike reverence among the Japanese.

— He first made clear — still the ’50s — that there is “no business without a customer,” a simple notion that ushered in a new marketing mind-set.

— He argued in the 1960s — long before others — for the importance of substance over style, for institutionalized practices over charismatic, cult leaders.

— And it was Drucker again who wrote about the contribution of knowledge workers — in the 1970s — long before anyone knew or understood how knowledge would trump raw material as the essential capital of the New Economy.

Drucker’s work at GE is instructive. It was never his style to bring CEOs clear, concise answers to their problems but rather to frame the questions that could uncover the larger issues standing in the way of performance. “My job,” he once lectured a consulting client, “is to ask questions. It’s your job to provide answers.” Says Dan Lufkin, a co-founder of investment banking firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Inc. (CSR ), who often consulted with Drucker in the 1960s: “He would never give you an answer. That was frustrating for a while. But while it required a little more brain matter, it was enormously helpful to us. After you spent time with him, you really admired him not only for the quality of his thinking but for his foresight, which was amazing. He was way ahead of the curve on major trends.”

Drucker’s mind was an itinerant thing, able to wander in minutes through a series of digressions until finally coming to some specific business point. He could unleash a monologue that would include anything from the role of money in Goethe’s Faust to the story of his grandmother who played piano for Johannes Brahms, yet somehow use it to serve his point of view. “He thought in circles,” says Joseph A. Maciariello, who teaches “Drucker on Management” at Claremont Graduate University.

Part of Drucker’s genius lay in his ability to find patterns among seemingly unconnected disciplines. Warren Bennis, a management guru himself and longtime admirer of Drucker, says he once asked his friend how he came up with so many original insights. Drucker narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “I learn only through listening,” he said, pausing, “to myself.”

Among academics, that ad hoc, nonlinear approach sometimes led to charges that Drucker just wasn’t rigorous enough, that his work wasn’t backed up by quantifiable research. “With all those books he wrote, I know very few professors who ever assigned one to their MBA students,” says O’Toole. “Peter would never have gotten tenure in a major business school.”

Drucker taught at NYU for 21 years — and his executive classes became so popular that they were held in a nearby gym where the swimming pool was drained and covered so hundreds of folding chairs could be set up. Drucker moved to California in 1971 to become a professor of social sciences and management at Claremont Graduate School, as it was known then. But he was always thought to be an outsider — a writer, not a scholar — who was largely ignored by the business schools. Tom Peters says he earned two advanced degrees, including a PhD in business, without once studying Drucker or reading a single book written by him. Even some of Drucker’s colleagues at NYU had fought against awarding him tenure because his ideas were not the result of rigorous academic research. For years professors at the most elite business schools said they didn’t bother to read Drucker because they found him superficial. And in the years before Drucker’s death even the dean of the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont said: “This is a brand in decline.”

Mark Safranksi on horizontal thinking

Peter Drucker on management

Embracing Defeat, Part III: The Born Gimp

Note: This is part of a series of reviews for Blueprint for Action. The introduction and table of contents are also available.

Tom Barnett has been embracing losing.

Now it is time for him to embrace defeat.


In the first part of Embracing Defeat, I outlined Barnett’s two plans for winning the Global War on Terrorism: the Reverse Domino Theory to move countries to the Core, and the A-Z Rule-Set for dealing with bad guys. I went on to describe America’s fear and trembling of nation building. The “Systems Administrator” Tom Barnett describes in Blueprint for Action is crippled at birth.. Dr. Barnett’s SysAdmin is a born gimp.

Dr. Barnett is a globo-imperialist. He wishes to prevent a reemergence of mini-Cores and instead build an Empire of the Core – a rich-country security force using his A-Z Rule-Set to slowly yet surely shrink the Gap. But Barnett’s dreams are both incompatible with the depths of American cowardice and treachery and incompatible with the heights of American idealism.

In his new song Happy Christmas and a Whole Lot of Love, emerging web-artist writes the following verses

At this hour
the world is witnessing
terrible suffering and horrible crimes
in the Darfur region of Sudan
Crimes my government has concluded are genocide
The human cost is beyond calculation

More troops are need
to protect the innocent.
We need to intervene now,
before it’s too late.


I still can’t figure out
why it’s a good thing for us to be at war with Iraq
And have all these middle class people
over there sacrificing
Surely there’s some way we can find
in this new moment of hope
Peace in the Middle East

Rx’s pleas to leave Iraq and enter Sudan are not examples of liberal hypocrisy. Rather, they are evidence that the American people want a functional Systems Administrator: one able to stop genocides, ethnic cleansings, mass murders, and mass rapes, even before they begin. Also, they want a SysAdmin that won’t cost thousands of American lives per use. Sadly, Barnett’s vision now shuts the door on these dream.

Everything wrong with Barnett’s vision is summed up in one slide from his recent presentation


and, for that matter, in one slide transition:


Barnett’s plans for the lawful multilateralism — liberal institutionalism — of his SysAdmin are the equivalent of hammering an infant. It creates a gimp unable to function as an adult, which will only leave pain and disappointment to all who hoped for it.

For example, imagine that there was a genocide. Say in a country like Sudan, and a popular outcry demanded that something must be done. Barnett’s own words would prohibit involvement. No removing the problem on his watch:

Does the tyrant have a friend in Hu Jintao or Jacque Chirac? Then no SysAdmin!

The employment of our SysAdmin force must represent the highest order of our military cooperation with the rest of the world’s advanced militaries. Moreover, if structured correctly, whereby the United States provides the “hub” to the rest of our coalition’s “spokes,” our unilateral ability to employ our portion of the larger, multilateral SysAdmin force will be effectively curtailed, meaning we will be unable to wage peace inside the Gap without effectively gaining at least the approval of the Core’s other major pillars, such as Europe, Russia, India, China, and Brazil. ( 36)

After all, ending genocide isn’t a “permanent” victory since another intervention might be needed in a generation. The lives saved in the short-term just aren’t worth

So yes, a unilateral America can bomb a Gap country back to the Stone Age (for some, a very short trip), but what sort of permanent victory would the resulting fear and loathing represent in an age where disconnectedness defines danger? (36)

Would a local government, or just an end to the government’s export of violence, be worth it? Nope, because no regime change without nation building — circumstances be damned

So what we’re looking for is a rule set that makes the application of the solution transparent to all interested parties (eliminating the sense of zero-sum competition among great powers), judicious in its application (the Leviathan does not generate more work than the SysAdmin an handle), consistent in its use (a sense of due process), and just in its outcomes (the guilty suffer, but the innocent are reconnected to the larger global community in a manner respectful of local needs and desires). (50-51)

And again. Who cares if just removing a government would solve the immediate crisis: no peacekeeping, no peacemaking.

There will always be the temptation, in trying to create a global SysAdmin function, to pretend that we can somehow outsource that function to Gap nations themselves… Better warfighting is not the answer; better peacemaking and nation building is. (64)

Barnett wants to neuter the Leviathan (blitzkrieg force) by tying it to the SysAdmin (peacekeeping force) — and tying the SysAdmin to the liberal, multilateral institutionalism that has done so little for the Gap.

Dr. Barnett’s SysAdmin cannot survive the world of John Kerry and Howard Dean. It’s a gimp unfit for America after Vietnam, or any world with the French. It is deaf to the cries of the needy, because its ears have been plucked out by Barnett’s need for Core-wide buy-in. And its impotent, because it’s castrated by the political whims of the American people.

The wretched of the world don’t need Barnett’s born gimp. They need a knight in shining armor.

Who is the Knight in Shining Armor, and how will he make globalization truly global? Stay tuned, and find out!

This has been Embracing Defeat, part of a series of reviews for Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett’s Blueprint for Action. The posts in Embracing Defeat are:

I. Barnett’s Two Strategies
II. Blood and Will
III. The Born Gimp
IV. Embracing Victory