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CREATE YOUR FUTURE THE PETER DRUCKER WAY
Developing and Applying a Forward-Focused Mindset
By BRUCE ROSENSTEIN
McGraw-Hill EducationCopyright © 2014 Bruce Rosenstein
All rights reserved.
CREATE A FUTURE-FOCUSED MINDSET
People must take as much control of their own future as possible. Increasingly even long-lived institutions have become unstable, and many companies can't or won't provide the security that earlier generations of workers could count on. Gone are the days when you could take for granted corporate or even government benefits.
In their 2010 book The Truth about Leadership, top leadership authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner write, "The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting future possibilities is the defining competence of leaders. Leaders are custodians of the future. They are concerned about tomorrow's world and those who will inherit it."
Peter Drucker's writing on the future was sharp and perceptive. In helping you to best understand his approach to the subject, I have organized into a framework his ideas on the subject, beginning with what I believe are the 10 main elements, Drucker's core beliefs about the future. These elements, outlined below, can be applied by both individuals inside and outside the workplace, as well as by organizations, business or otherwise.
Most of the readers of this book will be what Drucker called "knowledge workers." You depend more on brains rather than brawn in your daily job. Your work centers on learning, conveying, applying, and developing knowledge, based on what you have learned throughout your life and what you will continue to learn. The portable and mobile nature of this knowledge meant, Drucker believed, that you own your own means of production. Knowledge workers are found in a variety of positions within business, academia, nonprofits, government, and related fields. They can be leaders and managers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, information technology workers, clergy, librarians, archivists, and many other professionals.
Peter Drucker 101
Peter Drucker (1909–2005) developed an approach and a mindset to the future that permeated his work as a writer, teacher, and consultant. His working life continued for more than 70 years. It encompassed writing more than 40 books, contributing regularly to such publications as the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal; consulting for companies, nonprofit organizations, and governments; and teaching at a school that eventually was named for him, the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management, at Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President George W. Bush in 2002.
Drucker was born and raised in Vienna, went to college in Germany, then lived and worked for several years in London, before immigrating to the United States in 1937. He and his wife, Doris Drucker, were married for 68 years, with four children and six grandchildren.
Before moving to Claremont in 1971, he taught at (in reverse order) New York University, Bennington College, and Sarah Lawrence College.
While living in London, he began an intense, lifelong interest in Japanese art. He taught a course on the subject during the 1980s at Pomona College in Claremont. You can read the illuminating 18-page essay, "A View of Japan through Japanese Art," in the 1993 collection The Ecological Vision: Reflections on the American Condition. He and Doris developed an important collection, the Sanso Collection. I attended the opening of an exhibit, "Zen! Japanese Paintings from the Sanso Collection," at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College on the Claremont campus during the beginning of the Drucker Centennial in 2009.
He had many other interests in life, including mountain hiking, music, and literature. He engaged in intense, three-year self-study projects until nearly the end of his life. And though most of his books were either about business or societal issues, he even wrote two novels, The Last of All Possible Worlds (1982) and The Temptation to Do Good (1984).
His influence remains strong, and his ideas continue to reverberate throughout social media all day, every day. A number of books about him have been published since his death. For the 100th anniversary of his birth, there was a major, yearlong commemoration, the Drucker Centennial, at the Drucker School and the Drucker Institute. It began in November 2009 and ended in 2010. I was privileged to participate in 2010, as part of a panel of authors who had written Drucker-themed books.
In 2009 the Harvard Business Review published an extensive, 19-page cover feature, "The Drucker Centennial: What Would Peter Do?" It included articles by luminaries such as Harvard Business school professor and best-selling author Rosabeth Moss Kanter and brief "What I Learned from Peter Drucker" essays by Frances Hesselbein, A.G. Lafley (the recently returned chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble), and Zhang Ruimin (CEO of Haier Group, China), among others.
At the same time, Leader to Leader published an entire special issue, "Celebrating the Peter F. Drucker Centennial," with articles by Hesselbein; Rick Wartzman, executive director of the Drucker Institute; Jim Collins, author of Good to Great; leadership guru Marshall Goldsmith, and others. And in spring 2009, the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science also published an entire special issue, "A Tribute to Peter Drucker," which included Wartzman's interview of A. G. Lafley and an interview of Drucker by Drucker School professor Jenny Darroch, one of the editors of the issue.
Drucker's influence in Asia remains particularly strong, especially through the considerable efforts of organizations such as the Peter F. Drucker Academy (China), Peter F. Drucker Society of Korea, and the Drucker Workshop (Japan). I had the great privilege of being one of the main speakers at the workshop's seventh annual conference in Tokyo in May 2012.
The best-selling book in Japan in 2010, with more than two million copies sold, was a surprise hit: a novel based on Drucker's work, loosely translated as What If a Female Manager of a High School Baseball Team Read Drucker's "Management," by Natsumi Iwasaki. In 2011 Iwasaki joined the board of advisors of the Drucker Institute.
10 Elements of the Future
Drucker's approach to the future allowed for changing times and different eras. Within his work, the future is always "on" and always running, similar to a computer's operating system. My study of Drucker's teaching and writing about the future has led me to distill and delineate a number of elements, outlined below and throughout the book, that are crucial to understanding how he approached the future. Although he wrote and taught about these areas, he did not group them together in the manner I have done for this book.
Whatever is happening in your personal or work situation can be matched against these elements. Not all of the elements will apply every time. But if you think of challenges that lie ahead in terms of these elements, I believe they will provide you with a guide to a brighter, stronger future. We will return to these themes throughout the book, as we consider them for both individuals and organizations.
Think in terms of transformations when considering the Drucker future-oriented mindset. We are all aiming to make something different (and ideally better) of ourselves and our organizations, all the time. It is somehow easier to deal with constant, unrelenting change, risk, and uncertainty if transformation is one of our primary goals. Considering how you can incorporate these elements into your own life and work should help make it easier to navigate the world and to determine, through all of life's changes, what is really important.
Here is a capsule look at the elements, which will be described in more detail in this chapter and will be referenced to throughout the book.
Mindset. The best way to approach the future is to keep it in mind as you go about your daily life and work.
Uncertainty. The future is essentially unknown/unknowable, uncertain, and unpredictable. You can't assume that it will be similar to today.
Creation. Despite and because of its unpredictability, the future must be built and created.
Inevitability. Accept that a certain amount of the future has, as Drucker put it, "already happened," because of the inevitable coming effects of events that have already taken place.
Present moment. The future unfolds based on and because of the thoughts, actions, choices, commitments, and decisions that you are making right now.
Change. People and organizations must accept this as normal and ongoing and should be organized for change, driven by change leaders/change agents.
Reflection. The observations you make about potential futures must include the implications for your personal life and work situation.
Remove/improve. The future is created by systematically stopping what is no longer useful, while continually improving what remains. This represents the combination of systematic abandonment and kaizen, which will be described further below.
Innovation/entrepreneurship. Innovations in services, products, and processes are major drivers of creating the future. Entrepreneurs create valuable new enterprises for the future gain of society.
Risk. Continual change means challenges from disruptive technologies and disruptive businesses, as well as nonstop turbulence. Risk is ever-present, but doing nothing is often not helpful, either.
The Mindset of the Future
Drucker maintained a mindset focused on the future in much of what he wrote. It can be a valuable guide as you strive each day to improve your life and the organization you work for. I believe it is important to consciously, intentionally, and deliberately think about future implications for everything you do, as Drucker did in his own life and work.
Besides the foundational element of the mindset, thinking about and applying the rest of the elements are how you can further put this mindset into operation. We all want to cultivate a sense of hope and optimism for a better and happier tomorrow, even and especially if life is going well now. It is too easy to become discouraged and sidetracked. Drucker believed in understanding exactly where you are now, as a way of getting to where you'd eventually like to be. Adaptability, flexibility, ingenuity, and resilience are goals to strive for, especially when so much is uncertain and nothing can be taken for granted.
We have to consider carefully how whatever we read, hear, see, and experience can affect the future, for ourselves as individuals and for our organizations, our families, and our professions.
Unfortunately, it is easy to be overwhelmed by what should be done now to have a better tomorrow. There are competing demands on our time and unreasonable expectations we often place on ourselves. Then there is the blessing—and curse—of social media. Blogs, Twitter feeds, online forums, news websites: they can be wonderful to learn from, offering all sorts of exciting and promising opinions, news articles, studies, surveys, and so on. Yet the sheer number of these sources of information (many of them undoubtedly excellent) can be not only overwhelming, but also anxiety producing. For one thing, there is no way you'll be able to read them all. And for the ones you do read, there can be the nagging sense that you are still somehow behind because you are not implementing recommendations.
Drucker was fond of saying that he looked out the window to see what was visible but unseen by many others. To do this, you need to cultivate skills of observation, of knowing what to read and to whom to talk. This will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 2 and throughout the book.
Managing for Results (1964) was a particularly future-oriented book, with a chapter called "Making the Future Today." An edited version of this chapter also appears in the revised edition of Management, published posthumously in 2008. It contains one of the early uses of the phrase "the future that has already happened." Here, Drucker also writes of "making the future happen," speaking to the idea of taking as much control of your own destiny as necessary and feasible.
He notes that "even the mightiest company is in trouble" if it has not worked on the future, because tomorrow inevitably comes, and it is different from what we expect. The world changes, and if we have not changed for the better, the consequences could be disastrous. He advocates not guessing about the wants and needs of the future and makes a bold statement that gets to the heart of the concept of creating the future, contending that "it is possible to decide what idea one wants to make a reality in the future, and to build a different business on that idea."
That idea could be narrow and fairly specific, but it should be entrepreneurial and capable of producing new wealth. It means being ready to identify and capitalize on changes outside an organization: changes in the wider society, in specific knowledge, or in the economy. It means commitment to the future you are trying to make happen and faith that it can happen, all the while understanding the risks and uncertainties. There is also scope for seeing how a powerful idea can have implications far beyond your daily work and what your organization does. You can put your most important resources to work to create something new and different, something more important than what you originally envisioned.
The Uncertain Future
It's important to accept that no one can completely know what the future will bring. As an individual, you can try to affect it, which is where the idea of creation comes in. The world is so complex that it may be futile to make predictions, especially to make important decisions based on those predictions. There is a high degree of uncertainty. On this score, it is helpful to recall the words of a British blogger, Mark Vernon, writing about philosophy in 2009. He was calling on the ancient wisdom of Socrates, whom Drucker often referenced in his writings. The genius of Socrates, Vernon writes, "was to embrace ordinary human uncertainty and doubt, and fashion it into a flourishing way of life." Reaching beyond the unknown in this way can point to major breakthroughs in many endeavors. I love the idea of embracing change, uncertainty, and doubt, rather than running away from them. This is obviously easier said than done, but this can provide a more clear-eyed sense of what is possible in the future and what isn't.
In Managing for Results, Drucker lays down two preconditions about the future. The first is that it "cannot be known." The second is that "it will be different from what exists now and from what we expect." Those ideas may seem obvious, but perhaps only in retrospect. Too often people and companies operate on the opposite, or differing assumptions.
Certainly, the world of 1964 looks much different from today. People have different attitudes and changing values. Societal institutions have changed, and technology has advanced considerably, as has science and medicine. We are considerably more globalized, and the media landscape has altered.
We live in a world of uncertainty, and things are apt to get only more uncertain and nuanced. Although Drucker wrote about the futility of predictions, he himself was sometimes labeled a futurist and made, if not predictions, what he called "conclusions." The number of things we can confidently "count on" dwindles all the time. Every day brings new surprises and new challenges. It brings requirements to do things that we did not think we would have to do. In dealing with these challenges, we also should investigate whether today's futurists/ forecasters have useful and important insights. This will be explored in more depth in Chapter 2.
Creating Your Future
At the most basic level, this principle involves developing, on an ongoing basis, what you want to accomplish and work toward and how you are going to get there. It also means not putting off decisions and actions so far into the future that they lose all meaning. Create knowing that life will be uncertain, that there will always be risks, and that change is the norm.
A major statement by Drucker about the future was made in 1999's Management Challenges for the 21st Century, his last book of completely new material. I believe that he wanted to influence how managers and others could approach not only the (at the time) coming new century, but the future in general. In those pre-9/11 years, the idea of a new century and how it would be different from all that came before was on the mind of many. In keeping with the creation theme, he writes that "a growth industry that can count on demand for its products or services growing faster than economy or population manages to create the future. It needs to take the lead in innovation and needs to be willing to take risks."
The unpredictability of the future was brought home only two years after the book's publication, with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the wrenching aftermath that continues to unfold.
The ideas on future approaches that Drucker advocated remain contemporary and useful. In consideration of recent popular books such as Peter Sims's Little Bets, about the power of incremental approaches, it is instructive to read Drucker's words that "there comes a point when the small steps of exploitation result in a major, fundamental change, that is, in something that is genuinely new and different."
Excerpted from CREATE YOUR FUTURE THE PETER DRUCKER WAY by BRUCE ROSENSTEIN. Copyright © 2014 Bruce Rosenstein. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill Education.
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