Thursday, November 17, 2005

We Now Live in Drucker's Age of Discontinuity

I promised myself the other day to re-read my copy of Peter Drucker’s Age of Discontinuity. Of all his books, I remembered this one as the most important, but I have not read it in for over a decade. Shame on me.

But picking up my old, somewhat yellowed copy felt good the second I opened it up. There were all my underlinings and sidenotes written into the book in my previous readings. My first observation as I scanned my sidenotes: this man made me think.

The first responsibility of managers, Drucker said, was to ask themselves a simple question: What is your business? He was of the opinion that only the customer could really answer. That was a statement made way ahead of the current CRM boom. And yet it is a definitional problem that most managers still struggle with. At least I do.

Getting a handle on “what is our business” is deceptively difficult. I work for a software company. So the deceptively easy answer is that we are a software company. Wrong. At least in the eyes of our customers. They told us we were in the business of helping them to simplify complex business processes so they could make better, faster decisions.

Drucker brought clarity to discontinuities that he saw well ahead of his contemporaries. Scanning his classic book, he picked off issues that were predictive. They are issues that we now are struggling with in one business after another.

New technologies are upon us. Drucker could not envision the PC and the Internet, but his book was an early warning system on what we would have to ponder as technology became ubiquitous.

He saw the implications of the global economy before it resembled what we now live in. “The world has become one market, one global shopping center” … “yet this world economy almost entirely lacks economic institutions to energize global productivity” that could lift poor and largely colored nations out of poverty … we stood the probability of a new war between races. (Did Drucker actually see the Jihad coming?)

He saw the approaching disenchantment with big and cumbersome institutions – universities, hospitals, businesses, governments. And he warned we were not prepared for this complexity.

He challenged us 40 years ago to prepare for the Knowledge Revolution.

Big discontinuities seen so long ago and yet unresolved in this world.

Drucker does make you think. Even after his passing.

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