I’m a history/law/religion type guy, but I didn’t know myself as a younger person and studied social sciences like economics/political science/public administration. One author who stands out to me from that period and whom I still enjoy reading is Peter Drucker. Here was an individual who wrote penetratingly about management and organizations and who launched no fads. There was no “Theory X” or “Re-engineering” with Drucker. He simply had an awesome sense of effectiveness and strategy. Accordingly, he was paid astronomical sums for his advice. Tom Peters, for instance, is fun, but he’s just a cheerleader compared with Drucker.
Fortune magazine has a good obit/homage to Drucker available:
He had a brilliant line that skewered both groups: “The reason reporters call these people gurus is that they’re not sure how to spell ‘charlatan.’”
Drucker simply didn’t care about the conventional view on any management topic, since he had thought them all through and knew where he stood. Yet I was still surprised by the vehemence with which he disdained the modern vogue for exalting leadership, as distinct from paltry old management. It infuriated him, though he was too polite to say so unless you asked him about it, which I did. His reasoning was extremely simple: “The three greatest leaders of the 20th century were Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. If that’s leadership, I want no part of it.”
There were many things Drucker wanted no part of. Big universities, for instance. He scorned them all to remain at tiny Claremont College—payback, perhaps, for the scorn they’d heaped on him early in his career. Economists dismissed his work as cheap sociology. Sociologists had no use for business. And Drucker was dismissive of them all. “No economists were interested in organizations,” he explained in a 2001 interview with my colleague, Jerry Useem. The field “was based on the asinine assumption that organizations act like individuals. They don’t.” Here, Drucker had sensed a huge opportunity. Like any great entrepreneur—“somebody who creates something new,” as he once defined the term—he was raiding these older disciplines to create one that didn’t yet exist. Physics sprang from Newton, economics from Adam Smith. And Peter Drucker became the undisputed father of management—the discipline devoted to the study of organizations.
Last time I went on a really good vacation, I took two books with me. One was David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise. The other was Drucker’s The Effective Executive. He’ll be missed, but some of his predictions are still probably good for twenty more years or so. Start reading.