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R.I.P. Corporate Clone: Arise Insightful Executive

This is the third in my Triptych of blogs about the work of Peter Drucker.  The first two were about Drucker, himself, and about Management by Objectives.  This one is about another concept he started to develop in his 1954 book,The Practice of Management.

The Man who Invented Management

Management by Objectives

The Knowledge Worker

Drucker first coined this term in his 1959 book, Landmarks of Tomorrow, saying that:

‘management’s new role is to
make knowledge more productive’

In his earlier book, however, he had started to see the manager’s role as understanding, interpreting and making decisions about the information they can access.

But it was two later works that crystallised his thinking and made him the clear progenitor of how we now interpret the term.

The Effective Executive (1966)

In The Effective Executive, Drucker argues that knowledge workers are executive in that they use knowledge to effect (or execute) changes.  He identifies five habits of an effective executive and, in passing, I note that he used the chapter title ‘First things First’ 23 years before Stephen Covey did, when he used it as one of his seven habits.  Executives must:

  1. know how their time is being spent.
  2. on results rather than the work.
  3. build on strengths first, and then give attention to weaknesses.
  4. focus on the key areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.
  5. make effective decisions.

The Age of Discontinuity (1969)

Peter F DruckerThe Age of Discontinuity’ is the book where Drucker really develops the concept of the knowledge worker, as a breed of thoughtful, intelligent executive, every bit as much a professional as a lawyer, engineer or teacher.  They are paid to acquire and apply knowledge, make informed judgements and take responsibility for leadership.

Dull, conforming corporate clones would thenceforth be no longer needed.  Instead, knowledge will be the source of economic power – all of which came 20 years before Sir Tim Berners-Lee made his first formal proposal for what is now the World-wide Web.

Subsequent Thinking

From the early 1990s, management thinkers and futurists seized upon the concept of the knowledge worker and have spun theories, models and predictions out of it.  Indeed, this coincided with the arrival of Generation X in the workplace.  Drucker too, continued writing about the phenomenon, notably in his 1992 book, ‘Managing for the Future’;

‘The world is becoming not labour intensive,
not materials intensive, not energy intensive,
but knowledge intensive.’

We may feel energy and materials intensive in a world that seems to be running out of each, but despite being far from running out of knowledge (take a look at the fantastic web info-graphic below) there is absolutely no doubt that the world is becoming more and more knowledge intensive.

State of the Internet 2011
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Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

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Peter Drucker: The Man who Invented Management


Peter F Drucker is a towering figure among management thinkers.

His thinking, consulting, teaching and writing won him many accolades and his ideas have become so mainstream, that some are considered to be purely ‘received wisdom’.


Drucker is also paradoxical in many way, and perhaps this is why his work is so good: it remains pleasingly simple, whilst it refuses to be simplistic.

Corporate or Individual

Drucker is primarily known for his ideas about how individual managers can work best, but he made his first big mark studying a huge corporation, General Motors.  In 1942, he was invited into the company to study it and report on findings, by the Board.  His observations are captured in a business classic: ‘Concept of the Corporation’.  Ironically, the Board and its CEO, Alfred P Sloane repudiated just about all of Drucker’s findings.

Management as a Science or an Art

Drucker was influenced in his earliest thinking by ideas of ‘scientific management’, but rejected them as too rigid.  Instead, he saw management as an art – and continued to do so for all of his life.  People who met him often commented on his erudition and love of the liberal arts – he was foremost a thinker and intellectual, and a management thinker second.  It was his rejection of scientific approaches to management that caused GM to reject his findings and, many years later, in 1956, Sloane’s own book, ‘My Years with General Motors’ provided a riposte to Drucker’s.

Invention of Management

As the 1950s began, there was almost nothing written explicitly about the practice of management: what a manager should do, day-to-day, to manage. That changed in 1954, when Drucker wrote ‘The Practice of Management.’  Drucker claimed, in 1982, that, with this book, he had invented management.  Perhaps this was hyperbole, but it is fair to suggest that he did invent the management book.  Arguably, without Drucker, no Management Pocketbooks.

To the response, without Drucker, someone else would have come along, the only answer is to acknowledge the truth of this but note that we still revere other innovators like Newton, Darwin, Edison – even though each had competitors doing much the same, at around the same time.

What is in ‘The Practice of Management’?

Using case studies from organisations like IBM, Sears and Ford, Drucker lays out the basics of a fundamental management curriculum:

  • What is management?
  • How to manage staff
  • How to manage a business
  • How to manage managers
  • How to structure management

It is hard to believe that some of his themes are over 50 years old – they remain fresh and relevant today.  the need for managers to:

  • make strategic decisions
  • take risks
  • build integrated teams
  • communicate information effectively
  • see their business in the context of its ecosystem

Drucker’s Influence

Drucker’s influence is huge: ‘The Practice of Management’ sets out for the first time, Management by Objectives, and not as a fluffy catch phrase, but as a robustly developed set of ideas and processes – perhaps his last nod to scientific management.  Since the 50’s he has been the originator of much business thinking that has endured, and predicting the rise of the knowledge worker (that’s me) as early as 1959.

Drucker gave his name to Claremont University’s business school, where he taught for thirty years.  The Drucker Institute’s website has a lot of biographical information about Peter Drucker, and a link to an interesting blog, the Drucker Exchange.

More on Drucker…

in our companion articles:

Management Pocketbooks you Might Enjoy

Drucker’s work has infused so much management thinking, you’ll find it in many of our Pocketbooks.  Here are some you might like:

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