Book Review: Technology, Management, and Society, by Peter Drucker

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Someone once wrote that you should read Drucker just to learn how he thinks. Nowhere is that more true than this gem of a book: Technology, Management, and Society.

A collection of 12 essays, dating from 1957 to 1969, which are so evocative all I can say is we are still grappling with the issues Drucker was so prescient in foreseeing over 50 years ago. The essays are best summed up by Drucker himself:

...they stress constantly the purpose of management, which is not to be efficient but to be productive, for the human being, for economy, for society.

Drucker discusses the vital role of risk and profit in enterprise, as well as the brilliant observation that of all the institutions in society (family, church, government, professions, unions, not-for-profits, etc.) only the business enterprise is designed to create change:

Indeed, in the business enterprise we have the first institution which is designed to produce change. All human institutions since the dawn of prehistory or earlier had always been designed to prevent change--all of them: family, government, church, army.

Change has always been a catastrophic threat to human security. But in the business enterprise we have an institution that is designed to create change. It means that every business, to survive, must strive to innovate.

I can only provide a few examples of Drucker's thinking, which do not do this little book justice. Here are some of my favorites:

But it should be said that in human institutions, such as business enterprise, measurements, strictly speaking, do not and cannot exist. It is     the definition of a measurement that it be impersonal and objective, that is, extraneous to the event measured. A child's growth is not dependent on the yardstick or influenced by being recorded.

But any measurement in a business enterprise determines action--both on the part of the measurer and the measured--and thereby directs, limits, and causes behavior and performance of the enterprise. Measurement in the enterprise is always motivation, that is, moral force, as much as it is ratio cognoscendi.

This is another way of expressing [Ed] Kless' Law: All measurements are judgments.

On youth, Drucker wrote this:

The young are always in the right, because time is on their side. And that means we have to change.

Executives who believe they can change one aspect of a company without affecting others are ignoring the reality of a firm being an interdependent system.  Drucker explained the phenomenon this way:

There is one fundamental insight underlying all management science. It is that the business enterprise is a system of the highest order: a system whose parts are human beings contributing voluntarily of their knowledge, skill and dedication to a joint venture. And one thing characterizes all genuine systems, whether they be mechanical like the control of a missile, biological like a tree, or social like the business enterprise: it is interdependence.

The whole of a system is not necessarily improved if one particular function or part is improved or made more efficient. In fact, the system may well be damaged thereby, or even destroyed. In some cases the best     way to strengthen the system may be to weaken a part--to make it less precise or less efficient. For what matters in any system is the performance of the whole; this is the result of growth and of dynamic balance, adjustment, and integration, rather than of mere technical efficiency.

This seems to be lost on advocates of Lean Six Sigma, whether in professional knowledge firms or factories.

There's also an excellent discussion of why knowledge workers are different than manual workers, and why this requires leaders to change their thinking.

My only quibble is Drucker gives far too much credit to Frederick Taylor, who recent scholarship has determined was a fraud.

There is much else in this book to praise. Any leader would benefit from reading Drucker. A lot of his ideas maybe ignored, or unknown--like the concept of how knowledge workers are different, or the difference between efficiency and effectiveness--but that doesn't lessen their relevance. You can be alone in your views and be right.

To paraphrase the late Senator Patrick Moynihan, "In unanimity one often found a lack of rigorous thinking."

Good thing Drucker did the rigorous thinking for us. Read the book.

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