Dusting Off a Managing Tome
Of all of Peter Drucker's achievements—advising captains of industry and heads of state, coining the term "knowledge worker," winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the most remarkable may be this: In 1974, his 800-plus-page tome, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, vaulted past The Joy of Sex on the national best seller list.
Last week, HarperCollins (NWS) released a revised edition of Management. And regardless of whether it winds up eclipsing Bonk, the latest hot-selling volume on the physiology and psychology of sex, I can tell you this: It deserves a spot on every manager's shelf, much as the Physicians' Desk Reference can be found in every doctor's office.
The new edition of Management—slimmed down, though still not exactly svelte at nearly 600 pages—contains updated facts and figures and examples. But more important, it has been tailored to reflect the evolution in Drucker's thinking and writing in the three decades between the book's initial publication and his death in 2005.
The person who filled in the gaps is Joseph Maciariello, a professor and longtime colleague of Drucker's at Claremont Graduate University and the academic director at the Drucker Institute, which I run. As Maciariello describes it, the project was a true labor of love, with an emphasis on the word "labor."
"This was Drucker's magnum opus," he says. "But even though I just tagged along, it is also the biggest thing I've ever done." Maciariello first happened upon Drucker's work in the early 1960s when he was helping to design management systems at Hamilton Standard, the old aerospace giant. After a few trips to the corporate library to investigate what had been written about the general discipline of management, Maciariello discovered that it was pretty much a canon of one: Drucker's 1954 landmark, The Practice of Management, was about the only thing available on the topic.
Maciariello later went on to study economics at New York University. Drucker was teaching there at the time, "but I couldn't get into his classes," Maciariello recalls. "My schedule didn't work out."
In 1973, Maciariello received his doctorate. That same year, Management was published. Maciariello's wife, remembering his admiration for the The Practice of Management, bought him the new book. He devoured it.
"Drucker was trying to bring The Practice of Management up to date," Maciariello says. "But I began to see that in spirit, it was the same." What resonated in particular for Maciariello was Drucker's "deep, deep concern for the human being."
A Couple of Epiphanies
In another book, The Ecological Vision: Reflections on the American Condition, Drucker recounts being at a 1934 lecture in Cambridge delivered by John Maynard Keynes. "I suddenly realized," he wrote, "that Keynes and all the brilliant economics students in the room were interested in the behavior of commodities while I was interested in the behavior of people."
Reading Management, Maciariello had a similar epiphany. It struck him that the subject he had been focusing on—economics—"lacked flesh."
"I felt like I was dying in economics," Maciariello says. "This is not to disparage it. Peter used a lot of economics. …But his work was really about bringing out the best in people. This was powerful stuff. It was inspired."
In 1979, Maciariello came to teach in Claremont, where Drucker was by then on the faculty. The two became friends, and over the years they began to collaborate. In the late 1990s, when Drucker started to cut back on his hours in the classroom, Maciariello developed a Drucker on Management course.
They later worked together on two books, The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done and The Effective Executive in Action: A Journal for Getting the Right Things Done.
It was during the editing of the latter—about six months before Drucker passed away—that Maciariello broached an idea he had long been contemplating: How about revising Management?
Drucker didn't hold back. "That," he said in his thick Austrian accent, "is going to be a lot of work."
Road to Redux
And so it was. Just scrubbing the facts in Management was an arduous process. Despite Drucker's reputation for being loose with them—"I use anecdotes to make a point, not to write history," he once said—Maciariello found that he was accurate at least 95% of the time.
More daunting, Maciariello says, was trying to understand, in a careful and considered way, the major themes Drucker had concentrated on in the years after Management had first come out. During a nine-month sabbatical, Maciariello pored over the more than 20 books and hundreds of articles that Drucker had written since Management's debut.
The result is that the redux edition weaves together a lot of original content with Drucker's later writings on innovation and entrepreneurship, the imperative for each individual to "manage oneself," the crucial role of the nonprofit sector, and, especially, the significance of "knowledge work." Tellingly, chapter four of the new book is titled "Knowledge Is All."
An "Overwhelming Sense of Responsibility"
From the opening words of chapter one—"Management may be the most important innovation of the 20th Century…"—the book blends theory and practical application, reminding us that effectiveness is a skill that can be learned and that the health of society depends upon our institutions functioning ably.
"Organizations are far from perfect," Drucker concluded. "As every manager knows, they are very difficult; full of frustration, tension, and friction; clumsy and unwieldy. But they are the only tools we have to accomplish such social purposes as economic production and distribution, health care, governance, and education. And there is not the slightest reason to expect society to be willing to do without these services that only performing institutions can provide. Indeed, there is every reason to expect society to demand more performance from all its institutions, and to become more dependent upon their performance."
In the end, says the 66-year-old Maciariello, the hardest part of revamping Management was "the overwhelming sense of responsibility, bordering on fear, that I not do harm to Drucker's legacy."
On this, Maciariello has more than met his objective. He has not only protected Drucker's legacy, he has enhanced it for a new generation.
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