Reading these lectures is like participating in a conversation, a knack of involving the listener that only the best speakers possess.
So what do we learn from these lectures, which, after all, are meant to present "Essential Lessons" according to the subtitle?
Prescient and Practical
First, we learn how current Peter F. Drucker's thoughts are. We are not reading history here; we are reading about the very problems we face today. Drucker is amazingly prescient in these lectures.
For instance, in one lecture he says,
"...for the last 30 to 40 years, to sit on your rear end and go to school was economically nonrational and counterproductive. The smart thing was to drop out at age 16 and go to work in the steel mill or the automobile factory or the rubber factory, the unionized mass production factory. And six months later, you would make more money than you had much chance of making by sitting on your rear end and getting a high school degree, let alone a college or a graduate degree. That's over" (p. 99).
Sounds like a fair summary of circumstances today, doesn't it? But Drucker wrote and spoke these words in 1989 – twenty-one years ago.
Here's another example that I thought perfectly captured current conditions. In "Politics and Economics of the Environment", Drucker said in 1971:
"Money is no substitute for thinking; indeed, to substitute money for thinking always does damage. I see a lot of bills being passed, a lot of conditions being deplored, yet don’t see us making much progress in learning how to manage the environment to make this country and this planet livable for human beings" (p. 50).
Indeed. How little has changed.
The rise of the knowledge worker, globalization, the decrease of manufacturing jobs – these are all things that Drucker foresaw.
Ideas We Can Apply Today
Second, we learn about possible solutions to some of the problems we face today and pick up ideas that we can apply to our own businesses.
In "Knowledge Lecture III", for example, discussing managing employees, Peter F. Drucker presents what he calls the elementary hygiene rules of managing people. As manager, we need to:
- Enable people to perform.
- Refuse to tolerate poor performers.
- Spend time on the placement of people (pp. 115-116).
He elaborates on how to do this within the lecture. But just think how much more effective your management of your staff could be if you focused on these three basic rules.
Another example is Drucker's discussion of the bottom line. Thinking of the bottom line as net income is fine for shareholders, he says. But the true bottom line needs to be based on an enterprise’s outside results and depending on what you decide these are, the way you manage resources within your organization will be entirely different (p. 236). Reading Drucker's example of the salespeople and the different results expected by two retail companies will clarify this and get you thinking about what your business is actually trying to do.
While Drucker tends to talk about big issues and sweeping societal changes, there are a lot of ideas for action sprinkled throughout for the thinking reader.
Insights into Drucker
We also learn more about Peter F. Drucker himself. While his life was filled with achievement, what I found most inspiring was his attitude. Drucker, as the phrase goes, walked the walk. He often spoke and wrote about life-long learning, for instance; he was an avid lifelong learner.
"Every three or four years I pick a new subject,” he explained. “It may be Japanese art; it may be economics. Three years of study are by no means enough to master a subject but they are enough to understand it" (p. 81).
And he was a life-long achiever, too. Drucker obviously saw no need to retire or even slow down as he aged. Two thirds of his thirty-nine books were published after the age of 65. Drucker accredited his indefatigability to (Giuseppe) Verdi, the nineteenth-century Italian composer who wrote his masterpiece, Falstaff, at the age of 80.