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Peter Drucker, The Age of Discontinuity (1968) after 15 pages read

I’d only read 15 pages of the total of 358 in Peter Drucker‘s The Age of Discontinuity, but it already inspired somehow.

Drucker’s knowledge of the history of nations and his swift introduction of interesting facts regarding national productivity figures, quirks and logic in economics combined with solid writing style gives a true treat of a book. I’d known Drucker as name, that he was one of the pioneers (if not the pioneer) in management sciences along with Fayol and Taylor.

The words “innovation” and “disruption” are somewhat exploited nowadays. Marketing likes to think of “doubling the resolution of a screen” as something truly disruptive. It isn’t. Doubling resolution is called progress. A disruption means that a new product approaches the market from truly unexpected direction, often reversing the ordinary adoption order so that “lead users” are not the ones responsible for making the product a success. A disruptive product often means simplification, not added complexity. In cars, nowadays, an example of a disruptive car model would be one that kids could drive safely, and it wouldn’t require the driver to attend driving schools. It could also be dirt cheap and still of high quality. Take the aforementioned car example and compare it with how linearly progressing car turn out year after year: they have more features, more complex modes of operation, a thick manual, a lot of “don’ts” and so on.

Drucker is perhaps the most theoretical one of these three management authors. Henri Fayol had a direct background in mining industry, while Taylor was a mechanical engineer. Drucker came from a background of interdisciplinary home, where high ranking officials, intellectuals and scientists were frequent guests. Peter’s mother was in the medicine, and his father was a lawyer – and civil servant by profession. Wikipedia says it well:

I suddenly realized that [John Maynard] Keynes and all the brilliant economic students in the room were interested in the behavior of commodities,” Drucker wrote, “while I was interested in the behavior of people.”

So Drucker was infinitely fascinated by human motivation, creativity, and change. Management science could be described as being the science of achievement, efficiency, and innovation viewed through the glasses of a cognitive psychologist. In English: in order to cultivate an environment where X can happen, what should the manager do?

Drucker, in his own words, was witnessing the paradigm change from “rote management” of workforce into the more tactful and perhaps challenging management of intellect; that of the human brain. Management used to mean quite a mechanical, army-like operations to make large groups of employees work in an efficient manner. Later, perhaps from around 1950s or 1960s, there were more and more jobs classified as information work; and even the industrial jobs carried more requirements and thus possibility for employees to differentiate their output.

This major paradigm change is still ongoing; one of its most central areas has been first in the mechanization, and then automation of many kinds of production tasks.

Farmers use nowadays very technologically advanced machines, ready with even capability to be autonomously operating in the fields. A modern farmer who utilizes the full spectrum of tools can do the work that would have required as many as 50 or 100 farmers without these tools. However, as with all sociological movements, there are many shades to this truth. It doesn’t make sense to automate all kinds of work, for the time being. Agriculture also carries a fair sense of pride in the production process. The same can be seen in certain luxury products: would cigar smokers feel good to know that hand-made production was sapped because now robots can do the rolling and preparation of a cigar? Let’s say that once the main production problems have been overcome, the rest can be tricky and more down to perceptions of quality.  With cars, the robot welding process gives almost certainly a superior quality weld, partially since a machine doesn’t have to see in the same sense as a human welding operator.

Why was Drucker so successful as a researcher and writer?

Often successful researchers are very social; they get to see a lot of people, new ideas, and get a glimpse here and there about what’s to come in the future. (Continuing once I get the book again to my hands…)

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