(yep, he called himself a loner, which makes
those decades of acclaim even more puzzling...)

by Frank Gregorsky -- www.ExactingEditor.com

Biographer John Tarrant called him "the man who invented the corporate society" -- thatís Peter Drucker, born 1909, died 2005. Right after this author, consultant and trend-definer died, we heard from the usual suspects. From the Wharton School to HBR to Steve Forbes, the tributes came forth. They went on and on about his books, his influence, his legacy, his many hits, and the rare miss.

Having read Drucker since 1980, I sensed some key part of the story missing. That led to this piece, which is neither eulogy nor celebration. I am after the segment Drucker rarely explained -- "how" he worked, week to week. How did those often striking insights find him? And then how did he "deliver" them so they could be heard and acted upon by the right audiences?

Since this Profile was created in late 2005, and became accessible through the Wiki entry offering Drucker links, several Druckerites requested the hard copy of Cathy Taylor's 1992 column. Turns out itís available online -- you will see the link when you get to that section of the Profile. My thanks to Juan Boggio (U. of Mexico) and to Craig Olson of Islesboro, Maine, who wrote: "I've been reading Ducker for years, all through the time I ran history museums and worked in city government, and now as the owner of a small business." Olson recommends http://ccdl.libraries.claremont.edu/col/dac/
     I also want to call attention to the work of Chris Blanc of Houston, who writes: "I met Drucker once (very briefly) while I was at Pomona. Neat fellow, undisturbed by things around him; sign of a man with a purpose. It seems awkward now to call it a meeting since I didn't get to ask him any of the stuff I'd like to ask him now." Like most of us, Blanc did not find Drucker by a conventional path. "In pursuing descriptions of how unrealistic expectations can sink projects, I discovered Drucker's very realistic statements about management and how it can have positive value. I'm amazed at how many people complain about management, and how few decide to 'turn it around' with a more scientific approach, instead of a political one. This fit perfectly into the theme of Zero, my first novel. I'm also following upÖby applying to the Claremont Graduate School's Drucker School of Management."  In October 2008, Blanc web-published a review of Bill Cohen's book A Class With Drucker -- see www.chrisblanc.org/blog/management-science/2008/10/24/a-class-with-drucker-by-william-a-cohen/

Youíre in for some adventurous inferences bordering on recklessness. This essay develops the hypothesis that Peter Drucker had to learn, sometime in his forties, to structure his intuition. Consciously or not, this need led to certain occupational environments. As a result, an innovative mind would not fall victim to the egotism and dangers of being a "guru." I go further to distill lessons for other restless, idea-receptive loners.

Which brings us to the intended audience. Unless you have some Drucker-like aspirations as well as traits, this piece will make very little sense to you. Are you strongly "intuitive" but donít want to spend the next 20 years underpaid, unfocused, and without results? If so, youíve found fertile ground. Conversely, if you value Drucker solely for his ideas and texts, what Iím about to do here will strike you as mostly pointless personalized guesswork.

If you don't know much about Drucker in the first place, or havenít thought of him since business school, you might welcome a concise account. I nominate this one, by John A. Byrne of Business Week. Every segment matters, so donít skim it. Byrne nicely conveys Druckerís public trajectory and doesnít dodge the downsides. Best of all, the personal vignettes and speculation jive with where this essay is headed.

One navigational note: At one point, this document weighed in at 8,600 words. Even though it qualifies as weighty speculation, that size carried too much fat. Shifting non-vital segments over to one sublink and two appendices knocked 2,000 words off the main body of the essay. Biggest shift: A long section on the two-edged sword of intuition, quoting from Carl Jung and calling on MBTI, is now Appendix A.

One need not be a Jungian to understand Druckerís life and work. But you do have to grasp the strange wonders of "intuition," which is Latin for "to look at or into." Though never having met him, I came to see Drucker as a hyper-intuitive. It was key to his "seer" side. Yet the related mental lunges could have turned him into a dreamer or a nobody, had he not -- well, "managed" it.

Remember, Druckerís life output had to do with making ideas "effective" (one of his trademarked words). He wasnít content to expand your mind, unless you then went on to "do something useful." What if he had to do that with himself -- i.e., go beyond the rush of ideas to the delivery or at least definition of defensible change -- before he could show the rest of us how?

Big-Picture Managers plus Amateur Futurists

Author of 30+ books, Drucker earned two categories of influential readers and heeders. One consists of people who run large enterprises. The other is made of up those whoíd like to understand the future before their associates perceive it as the present.

Drucker told business-book editor Harriet Rubin: "Iím not a professional historian, but Iíve learned that nothing helps me as much in my work as a little bit of historical knowledge about a country, technology, or industry. Every few years I pick another major topic and read in it for three years. Itís not long enough to make me an expert, but itís long enough to understand what the field is all about. Iíve been doing this for 60 years."

In terms of keeping their landscapes fresh, donít good CEOs function somewhat like that? Consciously or not, they apply the 80/20 rule. Twenty percent of the "new information" holds 80% of the exploitable newness. A good CEO tracks the evolving big picture of society, and of course their industry, without getting caught up in any one "angle" or theme. Amateur futurists work the same way (as opposed to professional futurists, who get locked into their paradigms and start to shut out conflicting realities).

Half the Drucker books played to one audience -- those responsible for some large entity and who thought in "corporate" terms -- and the other half inspired individuals who needed to somehow look around corners or over mountains. For the latter, my phrase "amateur futurists" might be flawed. You could also call this second group of Druckerites trend-watchers or non-ideological visionaries: They love to think ahead, but hate to be locked in.

So, the "managers" and the "trend-watchers" were different professional types. Still, because theyíd have a Drucker book or two in common, they could profitably converse at conferences. And why did both groups keep coming back to Drucker? Because, as a book author and peripatetic columnist, he called most of the big trends right. He also defined "discontinuities" as the source of new trends.

The November 2005 tributes covered all of that ground well. They explained the "who" and "what" of this man Peter Ferdinand Drucker: Who he was and worked with; what he divined and the track record of those forecasts. Sometimes a sidebar story covered the "where" (his Austrian birth, the four colleges where he formally taught). What was left out? Again, itís the "how." How did he go about his weekly work, and what might those environments and disciplines tell us about staying on top for decades?

None of the eulogies came near those factors. Didnít Drucker himself always say "effectiveness can be learned"? If you are an amateur futurist and non-ideological trend-hunter -- and donít have a corporate entity securing your income -- can you learn from Drucker how to build an effective public presence?

I say yes -- but not by concentrating on what he wrote.

The Professor Who Avoided Becoming an Academic

Peter Drucker had a third group of admirers and echoers, and they did not speak in the weeks after his burial. Thatís because they -- we -- are too disorganized to speak. This web analysis fills that gap.

Drucker lived out roles many of us self-employed "knowledge workers" (a phrase he coined) would like to emulate, even if just for a few years. We do not work for big firms, nor are we forecasters or futurists. But, like him, we require plenty of solitude, even while striving to be heard. At least half our income comes from sources that are not secure. So why not use his career -- rather than the manís ideas per se -- as a source of guidance?

Well before each of these methods of advancement and achievement were publicized as strategies, he did them:

ONE, get clear on the root purpose of your career.

Seeing Adolph Hitler remove the economics from German society, Drucker wrote his first book, The End of Economic Man. He watched Nazi-ism and Fascism give the ordinary man of approved lineage both function and status while building a brutal party machine. Beginning a new life in America in 1937, Drucker slowly perceived that large companies were the best (or maybe the only) way to transcend the chasm between authoritarian politics and laissez-faire. One reassured ordinary workers yet bred militarism and polarities; the other created national wealth combined with individual anomie.

By the mid-1940s, drifting away from political science, he was creating a new field -- not just of research or study, but of practice: He sought ways to teach top management how to run little societies. And remember the massive incentive: The Free World did not want to repeat the horrors of 1930-45, yet neither could the clock be turned back to the 1920s, a time when business operatives rode a wave of breakthrough technologies almost without thinking. By mid-century, large companies were open to advice on new roles.

TWO, "own a word" in the mind of your audience or desired clientele.

This has been the primary marketing counsel from Al Ries for three decades. What does he mean? "Create a category" in the mass mind, and you wonít be forced out of it -- out of that "space" -- by rivals. In his 1996 book Focus, Ries shows that marketing requires doing everything you can to allow the market to understand you. Not in depth, but by locking into some core theme or service or product.

Complexity and fine-tuning can take place later. Introduce yourself with something simple and compelling. Ries claims this works for products, for companies, and for individual entrepreneurs.

Druckerís word was "management," which would become the title of his most comprehensive book (1973). An account of how he ended up at New York University by 1950 -- see www.ExactingEditor.com/Drucker-NYU.html -- speaks volumes about what happens when you "create a category." But donít depart from our flow unless you know how to process that kind of footnote. In other words, if you havenít read Al Ries, itíll seem like just another "war story."

THREE, use your profession rather than disappearing into it.

By the late Ď40s, Drucker knew how to be a professor, and had studied General Motors from the inside. Yet "teaching" management had few methods. Because hardly anyone outside New York University took this new "discipline" seriously, he could -- once finding that NYU berth -- set the standards. He could "create without being crowded." Fellow faculty members left him alone. As a result, Drucker was a professor who never became an academic. He got the occupational legitimacy without the substantive blinders.

In fact, the "crowd" was elsewhere: Returning war veterans were flocking to large companies for the "status and function" they had found in other ways during a world war. In so doing, they became his market. Get it? Though secure in a teaching slot, Drucker, then in his early forties, couldnít be judged on historical footnotes or theoretical rigor. Because he had to write for executives as opposed to academics, Druckerís inherent pragmatism -- by which I mean not opportunism, but a refusal to be ideological -- was rewarded. By the 1960s, he could popularize, as well as pragmatize.

FOUR, avoid being seduced by any one industry or group.

Maybe this is a variant of Rule Three, and perhaps he did both by virtue of extreme individualism, rather than conscious calculation. No matter, they played out beautifully -- and GM unwittingly helped. It was the first large enterprise he got to examine from the inside. And the resulting 1946 book -- Concept of the Corporation -- triggered such bafflement or hostility in Detroit that Professor Drucker remained without a sandbox. The upside? He did not lose his identity to any one business sector. The path toward becoming "Mr. Management" stayed open, along with duty to forge it.

In contrast, think of author-consultants George Gilder or Gary Hamel, who destroyed their objectivity by swallowing Silicon Valleyís Kool-Aid through 2001. "Swallowing" it? They built their peak fame on franchising that very special brand of lemonade stand. One hundred billion (not million, but billion) dollars in venture capital disappeared while Hamel and Gilder cheered like awe-struck teenagers. Not good. Then think of Jim Collins -- probably the nearest thing to a middle-aged Drucker now -- who looked for "good to great" outside of specific sectors; and commendably began his early Ď90s research in a university setting with few biases.

In sum, four rules or career strategies: (1) Get clear on the root purpose of your career, and itís never too late; (2) "own a word" in the mind of your audience or desired clientele; (3) use your profession rather than disappearing into it; and (4) -- if you are a consultant -- avoid being seduced by any one industry. There you have this documentís first stab at "reverse engineering" Peter Drucker as career planner. Only his family will ever know how much of what transpired was in fact "planned" -- and thatís not a big issue here. Now we can dig deeper...

Being Global and "Right" versus Savoring the Particulars

From Robert Townsend to Jack Welch, Drucker acquired legions of corporate endorsers -- less by telling them what to do, and more by forcing them to act on what they mostly knew. Think about how "unique" this made the typical Drucker consulting session. The client became a collaborator in hammering out new wisdom. The consultant was not a guru coming in to offer it.

So Drucker had a "method" -- but it wasnít "seven habits" or "14 principles" or "12 steps" or a set of "megatrends." The method was rooted in relentless questioning. Indeed, as a consultant, he told John Tarrant that a better word for his time with CEOs would be insultant. In 1976, Tarrant produced a biography of Drucker thatís only available in non-new, and sometimes half-dead, forms:


Drucker: The Man Who Invented the Corporate Society -- itís an astounding book, and one that most self-professed Druckerites never heard of. Several chapters portray Drucker going about the work of consulting. Reading those parts, one sees why "consulting" needs to be thought of, and carried out, as a set of repeating behaviors, not as an agenda or idea-fixated mode. The behaviors are the m.o., not the content or even the message.

Iíve worked with gurus who decided they could also consult -- without an awareness of the attitudinal chasm between the two roles. You can develop your own worldview and preach it everywhere with minimal fine-tuning -- thatís guru. Or you can go into a new setting with open ears, adopt the clientís vision while assuming the plans need to change, and then focus on helping him or her get there in one piece -- thatís consulting.

The guru focuses on speaking widely and being right, years ahead of time. The consultant needs to listen intently, and make a virtue out of diversity and peculiarity. In the latter environment, the priority isnít being right, but enhancing effectiveness -- which means you canít walk in with a vision. Instead, begin with their vision, which you somehow attempt to serve (unless itís fatally flawed). Consulting thereby reinforces humility and innovation, whereas the big-picture guru drifts the other way, in the worst case becoming a secular priest telling todayís client the same thing he told the previous 10 or 20. Big talk has long since edged aside faithful listening.

In that forgotten Drucker biography, he occasionally tells the author about method rather than events or trends: "The contribution I make to a client is basically to be very stupid and very dense; ask simple, fundamental questions; demand that you be thoughtful with the answers; and demand that you make decisions on whatís important... The greatest contribution I make isnít what happens in this room. Itís when I sit down and write [the client] a letter, a week or two later. Sometimes the letter is one page, sometimes itís 50 pages..."

A letter? Not a memo. Not "go read chapters four and nine of my last book." Not a (gag) retooled and data-drenched Power Point. Heíd write the client a letter?!? How un-guru. How anti-celebrity. The letter is something that goes from one insightful individual to another one who says he or she is open to new strategies.

In talking with Tarrant, Drucker also deals with his other side -- his big-picture, explain-it-to-the-world side, which animated roughly half of the books: "I have been able to see how things work, and this surprised me, because I never considered myself to have any gift in that area. And another thing that surprises me is the satisfaction that Iím getting out of making things work. I can connect unlikely facts and trends -- probably because of the need to make a little information go a long way... I have a journalistís kind of feel for what makes sense and what doesnít. Iím better about things that about people. Iím more interested in people than in ideas, but Iím better at ideas." Most likely, this lifelong "interest in people," reinforced by the trade of consulting, kept his ideas from taking control of him.

Seems to me we need to listen to Drucker the way he learned to listen to his clients. Tarrant opens the door there -- the same door left closed by nearly all those late-2005 eulogies. The stage is being set, in terms of the individuals he interacted with, and what he did during a session. From there comes the "how" -- e.g., letters instead of numbered programs; blunt questions instead of confident recommendations; skepticism instead of dogma.

Drucker in the Ď90s, Pursued by Another Editor

On the hunt for more How, I sifted through a "by and about Drucker" file that dates back to 1982. As fortune would have it, fellow editor Harriet Rubin wrote at least half the explanation I set out to produce. She began with a stance: "For years I had the itch to bail out of corporate life to see if I could do for myself what I'd done for my company" -- Currency/Doubleday -- and it led to a big question: "How would I build a name brand selling no one but me?"

If you are self-employed, and your craft isn't defined in any conventional way -- architect, tailor, mechanic -- you've got to tackle some version of Rubin's question. Almost a decade ago, deciding to go see Drucker, she reasoned: "No human being has built a better brand by managing just himself than Peter Drucker has..." So, like me in the weeks after he died, Rubin became obsessed with the "how" of this manís trajectory. She correctly reasoned that some kind of methodical, and largely private, behavior contributed greatly to his public effectiveness.

When she got out to Claremont, California, and inside Druckerís middle-class home, Rubin was told: Forget this "build a brand" folderol. Do not think of yourself as a product, or a wise woman, or a futurist or a PR campaign. Instead, "think like a bystander." The specific analogy he offered her was the "fireman in the theater," who will notice goings-on missed by the scripted actors and the mesmerized audience. In fact, thatís why the fireman is there.

Think like a bystander? One who waited a week or two to "write the client a letter" and refused to hand out generic and numbered advisories? No wonder Drucker was perceived as a "brand in decline" during the CEO-adulating, techno-infatuated 1990s. By this point he was working mostly with non-profits (The Girl Scouts, hospitals, some of the larger churches, evangelical author Rick Warren).

In fact, Druckerís 1993 book raised the question of whether capitalism was consuming itself. He did not detect big companies using his longstanding themes. Instead he heard their endless tributes to "information" and "empowerment." The latter word sounded unnervingly like "entitlement" to him:

"We should instead be talking about responsibility and contribution [emphasis added]. For power without responsibility is not power at all; it is irresponsibility. Our aim should be to make people be more responsible. What we ought to be asking is not Ďwhat should you be entitled to?í but Ďwhat should you be responsible for?í The task of management in the knowledge-based organization is not to make everybody a boss. It is to make everybody a contributor... The structure of the post-capitalist society will therefore be different from either the earlier capitalist or the socialist society. There, organizations tried to encompass the maximum of activities. Organizations of the post-capitalist society, by contrast, will concentrate on their core tasks. For the rest, they will work with other organizations in a bewildering variety of alliances and partnerships..."

Harriet Rubin was asking the eighty-something Drucker about standing out amongst that "bewildering variety of alliances and partnerships." If youíve come this far, you deserve the option of digesting the whole Rubin write-up. It appeared in the March 1998 issue of Inc. magazine, on pages 62-68 -- here's the link, and it's toll-free:


Otherwise, be content with my "takeaways" from Rubinís time with Drucker some eight years ago. The following quotes are hers and the rest is my paraphrase. Besides "think like a bystander," what other counsels did he offer her?

Be a source of ideas, not a celebrity of them. Practice seeing the obvious and "try practicing simplicity of description." "When others learn to look through you, you are accorded the full weight of authority." Take up a new intellectual interest every few years and work it hard. If you are a talker, find a way to teach (so you can listen to yourself think out loud). If you are a reader, avoid specialization over the long-haul. Donít spend much time planning your career; instead plan the serious time around what you need to learn next, and what skills might need to be acquired...

As noted, Harriet Rubin turned up at least half of what I was looking for when launching this essay. For the other half, one has to go to where Drucker did the majority of his work when he wasnít alone writing and rewriting. And where was that place? It wasnít the CEOís office, the boardroom, or the podium at business conventions.

When the Knowledge Society "Puts the Person in the Center"

In 1996, Inc. magazine editor George Gendron asked him whether he considered himself an entrepreneur. Drucker replied: "No, I'm a writer. I could not or would not ever run a business. You know, I don't even have a secretary. And contrary to some of the stereotypes, entrepreneurs are not loners. I am."

Seven years later, at age 93, and physically failing, he told John A. Byrne: "I did my best work early on -- in the 1950s. Since then it's marginal. O.K.?" Anxious to get off the phone, Drucker resisted Byrneís probe for introspection. "Look," he sighed, "I'm totally uninteresting. I'm a writer, and writers don't have interesting lives. My books, my work, yes. That's different."

A writer, hmmmm? Itís worth noting how Drucker loved that word -- far preferring it to the equally accurate roles of "teacher" and "consultant." He also called himself a "loner" whose method of generating ideas on paper was a "compulsion neurosis." Does that sound to you like anyone who has since climbed to heap of the business-visionary hill? It doesnít to me. These days, even consultants who admit to being "insightful" are also what the late Dr. Edwin Friedman called "data junkies."

Drucker, by contrast, was dismissive of mere data. One way he showed this was by getting so many facts wrong, not just in his lectures, but in the books as well. And Chapter 7 of the Tarrant biography remains the best explication of Druckerís almost schizoidal take on the computer. Speaking in the mid-Ď70s of mainframes, he said "the computer is a mechanical moron" and cackled that, despite the rhapsodies of the futurists, computers had no impact on management strategy, policy or planning. Yet he looked forward to the time, "not too far distant," when individuals in and out of companies would have direct access to the computer, and "machine language" would be a thing of the past.

The advent of the networked PC vindicated some of those 1970s hopes. Yet he resisted the Ď90s mantra that an "information age" would digitize advanced societies into one huge database, one where even going to the bathroom would require a software program. He liked to set data and information to one side, and keep knowledge and wisdom on the other. This passage from Post-Capitalist Society spells out why: "Knowledge is not impersonal, like money. Knowledge does not reside in a book, a databank, a software program; they contain only information. Knowledge is always embodied in a person; carried by a person; created, augmented, or improved by a person; applied by a person; taught and passed on by a person; used or misused by a person. The shift to the knowledge society therefore puts the person in the center."

If heís right, itís only when the person sets aside the addiction to data and group-think. Only when the Power Point reflects oneís "three years of study in a new field," as opposed to two hours of aggressive fact-stealing and repackaging via Google. Only when the person functions like an intuitor who has a goal thatís greater than being "well-informed" or heretical or expedient.

Drucker always counseled putting time into discovering the right question. My hunch is that, sometime during the 1940s, he in effect asked himself: How can the extreme intuitor be effective commercially? Not "get rich" or "be famous." I am explicitly using a Drucker type of standard: "Be effective commercially." He loved that word "effective" because it pushed aside dogma, ego and grudge matches. You could avoid the swamps of ideology, or golden handcuffs, or academic sterility -- and still serve clients in a way that helps them and keeps you off the street.

When Rubin asked her question -- about building a personal brand -- she heard from Drucker that it was the wrong question. And this essay is getting ever closer to the question at the top of the page: HOW DID DRUCKER STAY ON TOP for 60 YEARS? AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR OTHER INSIGHTFUL LONERS? Besides taking up a new topic every three years, what did Drucker do? What routine did he put himself into that reduced the risks of his mental restlessness? How could he be "flighty" -- itís another word he applied to himself -- and focused at the same time?

Our purpose remains to get ever closer to the weekly work of man who can no longer be questioned. The reward is coming to understand what he did to stand apart from the crowd -- and "contribute" in heavy-duty ways -- without looking like a fool or living like a pauper; and without letting his ego make him a determinist.

Cumulative Gains from the Right Repeating Situations

By elevating the term "writer," Drucker missed or masked his own essential strength. Something made the writing come forth, and something else made the text valuable. All of the "successful" effects had causes. Where else can we look? This is where the cynicís explanation of "friends in high places" feels especially weak.

No question about it -- Drucker had good allies in the publishing world. And before that, he found a big firm to hire him (GM) and used those 18 months to create a book -- Concept of the Corporation -- that previewed his lifelong niche. Then, as a certified academic, he ground out dozens of articles for business publications during the Ď50s, well before becoming the consultant others treated as a guru. Yes, yes, yes. If you can pull off a present-day version of any of those moves, you probably don't need this essay.

Yet, when it comes to business forecasting or sociological insight, the competition is murderous in 2006, as opposed to 1946. At the same time, channel-flipping and web-surfing has collapsed the target audienceís attention span. To be "different" today therefore means using a traditional approach -- one that puts time on your side, even as it puts your intuitive powers on something of a leash.

If Drucker had, by 1950 or so, begun to channel his intuition, he did it the way the World War Two generation would. Not by Zen classes or psychotherapy or PDAs, but by an effective professional setting. Donít think of this factor as "job," though. Rather, analyze it from the standpoint of "the right repeating situation."

Drucker had two "functions" -- two distinct social roles, with all the structure and practices they imply. These roles and this structuring carried him for decades. They reined in -- but rarely choked -- what would otherwise be rampant intuition. They let him keep updating his "content" and supplanting (more so than renewing) his relationships, all the while forcing him to do the same types of things year in and year out. It was an odd but productive mix of repetition and newness -- almost the inverse or todayís business guru who takes the same set of messages all over the world, and quits asking questions.

So, what were those roles? He called himself a "writer" and we think of him as an author. But these are actually derivative. They are not jobs or roles, nor do they have a weekly structure. In my view, the missing link in any analysis of Drucker's staying power for half a century was a fortuitous blend of two different roles. The way he did them, they were workmanlike (as opposed to exotic or episodic). One is college teacher, the other is business consultant.

John Tarrantís 1976 book did much to show "how" he carried out the consulting. By the 1990s, though, other and younger Druckerites could only deal with the manís ideas and books. Weíll also hear from Tarrant about the classroom side. For now, think of the yin and the yang at work: Literally, Peter Drucker -- at work -- as either college teacher or corporate (and finally non-profit) consultant.

Every three months, the college teacher gets 30, 60 or 90 fresh minds. A few are hungry to learn, and fewer still -- but enough -- are so bold as to call attention to things missed by their elders. At the other end of the bell curve and demographic, the Fortune 500 consultant is interacting with powerful, focused pragmatists. In a college classroom, the professor does 95% of the talking. Up there in the boardroom, the non-dogmatic consultant is at least half there to listen. The college teacher is exposed to "the ignorance of idealism." The high-level consultant deals with the "wisdom of cynicism." The college teacher has 10 weeks to make a lasting impression. The business consultant probably gets a few weeks to download information, and then an hour or two to deliver the goods.

Set aside the content and the personalities. All of the above are behaviors. They are as repetitive as being a meter-reader or inspecting circuit boards, although vastly more stimulating. When you put the weekly "work" of being a question-asking consultant together with teaching management and government, you have a "drill" in place that will keep you disciplined and creative.

The reason Drucker could invent the term "knowledge worker" 50 years ago is because he needed to be one. But not as a corporate manager or as someone confined to an R&D lab. He was an intuitive who "liked people" -- as long as they werenít the same individuals or the same professional types for 30 years running!

That mix of college students and big-company insiders -- can you think of anyone who can instruct and inspire youth and also listen to and advise power-wielders? The only way to be effective in either setting is to give up control. To be apart. To care about the situation (or perhaps individual students) while having no responsibility for what happens longer run.

This man who hated routine and never took a corporate job -- he kept his teaching responsibilities to the end. In the Wall Street Journal on 11/22/05, a five-strong set of letters appeared. They were from Drucker colleagues and academic protťgťs. The longest was from retired Claremont economics professor Gordon Bjork, who reported: "Peter never demanded special consideration or compensation and taught a disproportionate number of students... He served insightfully on faculty committees. He had no teaching assistants and he read his studentsí papers himself. He had a standing offer to students to reread their reworked papers for a higher grade -- and he demanded the same high quality of exposition in their work that he exhibited in his own..." Another wrote: "Peter never shortchanged his own colleagues, students, or institutions... Peter was a polymath in an age of specialists and a wonderful human being."

Reading those comments confirmed for me what was missing in the eulogies. Not only did Drucker discipline or channel his own intuitive powers, he did so with a balance of weekly behaviors based on two very different social roles. This mix of new faces and repeat, repeat, repeat behaviors dodged boredom while rewarding habit.

Drucker in the Classroom -- Rare Looks

The best journalistic account I ever saw of what Drucker said and did in a typical class is by Cathy Taylor, business columnist for the Orange County Register. Her column from Sunday, January 26, 1992, recounts a three-hour Drucker MBA class at Claremont.

Taylorís report is unprecedented in the public Drucker annals -- even though thousands of people who've taken his class could write their own version of it. She sketches him as hard of hearing (he is 82 at that point), informal, and devoted to flinging out questions that are sometimes riddles. Near the end of the three-hour excursion in the auditorium, "His stories and mien have redrawn the chilly lecture hall to the size and comfort of a living room."


Where else can we go to know Professor Drucker? Back to that valuable 1976 "lost" book by John J. Tarrant. Chapter 13 is called "Drucker the Teacher: Humanity in the Case Method." How often has this happened in a biography? The author takes his subject and reproduces class assignments given in the form of case studies! Only two pages of this remarkable chapter are prose from Tarrant. Let him say what unifies the case studies from this mid-'70s Claremont Drucker classroom, and how it ties to the life narrative.

Tarrant, page 167: "Harvard, of course, originated the case method in management education. But Drucker's use of the method is radically different... Harvard cases are notably long and detailed. They concentrate on giving the student heavy volumes of data on which to base his analysis. Analysis of a case is laborious and exceptionally difficult task... [But] Drucker's cases are short. More important, they are about people, not things and numbers. One can get a full appreciation of this only by reading the cases. So here, with Peter Drucker's permission, [are eight] cases that he uses...prefaced by the introductory material given to incoming students. They are short. They are perceptive. They are well-written. They entertain while they teach. And above all, they are human."

Drucker tells (or writes for) the student:† "The presentation of the case should be short -- a maximum of 15 typewritten pages, double-spaced. It should not attempt to try to give an 'answer' -- the case does not provide enough information for this. It should try to ask the questions: What are the alternatives? What are the things to consider? What are the basic questions altogether? Reading is not necessary to handle the case; some thinking is."

Kudos to Tarrant for documenting a typical Drucker class. The weakness of his í76 book, though, is one more reason for this essay. Tarrant mirrors Drucker by being overly cerebral and analytical. On page 10, Tarrant spells out what he is trying to find out about his subject: "What is Drucker saying when he writes? What does he teach? On what principles is his consultation based? What ideas does he have, to whom does he transmit his ideas, what has happened to his ideas in the marketplace of world affairs?"

You do notice all of the "whats" in the previous paragraph, yes? They comprise a solid roster of "substantive" inquiries, making for a great bio, 30 years ago. But even Tarrant ends up weak on the How. How Drucker stayed on top goes beyond the "what" of his columns and case studies and the "who" that comprised the list of enthralled corporate clients.

I keep coming back to the two roles: College teacher, business consultant. Commemorating his books and ideas slights that structural, real-life factor. It can be gauged by removing those roles and asking "what if?" Specifically: Absent the teaching and client-service Drucker organized around his mind, where might he have ended up? What did the interaction -- of him with students; of him with clients willing to be pressed with hard questions -- in turn do for Druckerís wisdom?

The Behavior Suggested by the Two Roles

Drucker professed to hate introspection -- unusual for an introvert (a word even more socially odious than "loner," though a few of us are preparing to alter that). I'm happy to keep discussing his management staples and trend-definers. But the dog that did not bark is the one that we self-employeds, in particular, need to care for and feed. What does Druckerís self-management say about how to be commercially effective? Study one of the masters, and stick with the inquiry: How did Drucker stay on top for 60 years?

Unfortunately, we live in an age of Checklist and Formula, and -- being an editor rather than a mystic or a guru -- I feel obliged to boil it down to fundamentals. With proper thanks to John Tarrant in Ď76, Cathy Taylor in í92, Harriet Rubin in Ď98, and John A. Byrne for his Business Week cover story in November, here goes:

  • If you believe you have some version of Druckerís intuitive powers, then go somewhere where you can be cross-disciplinary. Heed what he told Harriet Rubin: Forget being a specialist -- but also recognize how this very same decision could make you look flaky and/or impoverished.

  • If you are a "loner" and an intuitive (even a mild one), find a way to work with printed material while also exposing yourself to what a former congressional boss liked to call "comments, questions and counterattacks." A few hours a week will suffice. And a classroom or training situation (because theyíre paying to hear things) is vastly better than adversarial settings or a so-called debate, where polarity is the norm and the ego is prodded to fight back.

  • Get all "guru" pretensions out of your head. The only way Peter Drucker got to be treated as a guru (mostly by other authors, let it be noted) was by caring about individuals and their business aspirations, not by letting his ego and/or paradigms compel him to make predictions and be "right." Stating this point as a positive and measurable absolute: Always put more questions to your colleagues and audiences than they are putting to you.

  • And this is perhaps the most powerful Drucker marketing lesson of all: Find a growing but somewhat confused sector and learn enough -- just enough -- to speak for them. Did he not do exactly that, 60 years ago, with managers? Intuitive CEOs as well as systematic "sensors" a few levels down? Once youíve produced something that allows your target audience to begin to rally to you, put more questions to the best people in it than they are putting to you.

Hold on -- two of the four bullets ended with the same lesson? You bet. Itís totally contrarian, this bent for listening and probing. But Druckerites are not Druckerites if they -- we -- donít spend a good part of every class, lunch, and consulting gig...listening. The profitable intuitive canít afford to listen to only the voices coming from within.

Nor can our listening be too passive. Weíve got to question aggressively to drive down the blather quotient. One final career marker: Before Drucker became a professor, he was...a journalist!

Carry On

So ends one Drucker admirerís "adventurous inferring bordering on recklessness." No doubt Iíve missed a couple of Drucker staples that are pertinent to the opening premise. Theyíll come later. Itís never too late to learn from this man who stayed active teaching, discerning and delivering into his 10th decade; to replicate the behaviors and effective structures that made the most of intuition while neutralizing its dark side. The result will be, or ought to be, what Drucker was pleased to be known for: Insightful writing, farsighted yet pragmatic. That writing might have often felt, to him, like the result of "compulsion neurosis." But -- he took pains to direct it.

If the problem of intuition is one you have also wrestled with, 
try this additional commentary.