Sunday, March 20, 2016

Peter Drucker

"Managing Oneself" is a vanishingly small book that could edify just about any reader.  It is a plumped-up copy of a 1999 article that Peter F. Drucker, then 90 years old, published in the Harvard Business Review.  It is available as a paperback, on Kindle and in various online PDF postings.

Drucker was by any measure the most distinguished management consultant of the 20th century.  He wasn't the flashy guy telling corporate execs to expand their conglomerates by milking cash cows and investing the proceeds in potential stars.  Rather, he observed the behavior of individuals and their interactions, and also the character of large organizations.

"Managing Oneself" is a tiny introduction to the corpus of his work.  It speaks to challenges faced by individuals who seek to achieve (and not to shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly) as they pursue careers and affiliations with other humans and  organizations in the 21st century.  This is the general point:

        Now, most of us, even those of us with modest endowments, will have to learn how to
        manage ourselves.  We will have to learn to develop ourselves.  We will have to place
        ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution.  And we will have to stay
        mentally alert and engaged during a 50-year working life, which means knowing how
        and when to change the work we do.

He notes that most of us do not understand how we absorb information, do not really know our strengths and, perhaps worse, do not know our personal weaknesses.  Similarly, we do not understand the strengths and weaknesses of the people who work with us, and we do not understand which kinds of organizations are the right kinds of places to suit our strengths.

No wonder so many people are frustrated with their jobs.

Happily, the article recommends several helpful habits and actions to improve our understanding of ourselves and our situations.  Worth a read.

Drucker in Perspective

In fact, the article I mention is but a tiny bit of Drucker's work, which thoughtful people still share among themselves today (he died 10 years ago) and will continue to read long into the future.

Drucker was born and educated in Austria and Germany; a secular Jew, he fled first to England and then the U.S., claiming citizenship in 1943.  It seems fair to infer that the newcomer experience, as well as a formidable intellect, made him particularly sensitive to the nature of the American organizations and how they functioned.  In 1946 and after years of inside observation, he published "The Concept of the Corporation," an analysis of General Motors, which established his reputation.

At that point, Drucker was just getting started.  Almost 40 other books followed, including "The Practice of Management" and "The Effective Executive."

Drucker coined the term "knowledge worker" to describe a developing shift in what was required of employees as organizations became more specialized.  Then, in 1991, came "The Age of Dislocation: Guidelines to our Changing Society" that anticipated many of our personal, economic and political struggles today.

I could read the "Managing Oneself" article every year and learn something new each time.  My only regret is that I didn't get my hands on it when I was younger and even stupider than I am today.

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