“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”*


    At least two august publications, the Economist and Harvard Business Review, chose to prominently mark the centennial celebration (yesterday, November 19) of the birth of Peter Drucker.  HBR asks on its November cover, ”What Would Peter Do? How his wisdom can help you navigate turbulent times.” The Economist says that “Four years after his death Peter Drucker remains the foremost management guru”.

  Author of dozens of books and hundreds of articles, he engaged me first in 1980 with his Managing in Turbulent Times just as the farm belt entered a difficult decade.  He advised: “A time of turbulence is a dangerous time, but its greatest danger is a temptation to deny reality.”  I was green, didn’t get it right off and the glue of our business model slowly dissolved.  But for a friendly banker we might have gone under.  Finally a light went on, I reread, and have been a fan ever since.

  Drucker was born in Vienna, moved to London in 1933 after falling into disfavor with the incipient fascist movement and moved to the US in 1933.  In 1939 he published his first bestseller, The End of Economic Man, in which he held that there was more to being a boss than worrying about the cost of payroll.

  Through the ensuing years, he was always out front.  “Management by objectives” and “knowledge worker” were his.  He foresaw the postwar rise of Japan and the tremendous importance of marketing.  He warned about public perception of oversized management compensation – in the mid eighties.  He famously said that the major consideration is not to figure out what to do, but “what to stop doing”.  Drucker devoted a significant part of his career to nonprofits which he thought formed a crucial part of a dynamic society.

  His take was always holistic and it will forever be fascinating to read him connecting disparate dots.  His preternatural perspicacity had to have been related to his interest in art.  During his forty year tenure at Claremont College he gave courses in both management and Japanese painting.

  An interviewer once took note of a “few black smudges on a yellow piece of paper” on a wall in his study.  Drucker said “I bet you don’t see much in that”.  Nope.  He then said that a Zen contemplative could offer the essential nature of a tree or whole landscape with a few quick strokes of a brush.  Forest gets lost in the trees all too often.

  Drucker was also an avid mountaineer.  He once said that: “I have always been a loner… I work best outside.  That’s where I’m most effective.  I would be a very poor manager.  Hopeless.”  Uh, yep, yep, and yep.

  Reminds me of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  When they’re in the mountains of Bolivia looking for work, the Strother Martin character asks the Kid to shoot a few blocks of wood he tossed out so as to test Kid’s skill set.  Kid misses – to Martin’s disgust.  Kid asks “Can I move?”  Martin says “huh?”  Kid rolls into action with Smith and Wesson shock, awe, and accuracy.

  ‘Scuse me while I step outside.

*If you don’t feel like reading any of his books, search for quotes and you’ll find something that resonates:

– “Management is doing things right.  Leadership is doing the right things.”

– “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

– “Follow effective action with quiet reflection.  From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”

– “People who take risks generally make about two big mistakes every year.  People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes every year.”

– “So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.

– “The computer is a moron.”

One Response to ““There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”*”

  1. andrew Says:

    rereading this reminds of of mies van der rohe’s biography. He too fled the facist regime and ended up in the states. I wonder if the two interacted at all, im sure they knew of each other.

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