Drucker Tells of a Revolution Half Done
CLAREMONT, CALIF. — THE first thing you notice in Peter Drucker's house are the books. They inhabit every room, and the shelves don't bend under the weight of Judith Krantz.
There is Toynbee and Yeats, Proust and Aristotle, Kierkegaard and St. Thomas Aquinas. Mr. Drucker, of course, could fill a shelf with his own works. The world's elder statesman of management - the teacher, consultant, and trenchant observer of economics, politics, and society - has written 27 books over a half century.
His works on management have become staple shelf material in the business world. Yet his pronouncements have extended beyond goings-on in the boardroom to include all the things that make societies tick, all the themes of the tomes in his library.
"When you look at political systems, when you look at economic systems, the best guides are not the historians, not the philosophers, and not the economists," he says. "The best guides are novelists."
Indeed, he is particularly dismissive of economists, a label some have pinned on him over the years but one that he doesn't want near his lapel.
"It might not be a bad idea to stop teaching economics for 30 years," he says. Erudition and anecdote
In a two-hour conversation, Mr. Drucker cites novelists, doctrines of 18th-century warfare, Chinese proverbs, German poets, the geometry of the kaleidoscope, lessons from the Napoleonic wars, and no economists in making points on subjects ranging from politics to productivity.
It is vintage Drucker. As in his books, he reflects an eclectic mix of erudition and anecdote, truism and shop-floor pragmatism, an ability to clothe broad themes in specific examples. He segues from the history of slavery in Brazil to how a nurse makes a bed.
Before he goes anywhere, though, he has a chore to finish: shooing a photographer away. He has been sitting for 2-1/2 hours while a magazine photographer clicks away, something Drucker dislikes as much - and does as rarely - as sitting for a journalist.
Even after the photographer leaves, Drucker keeps glancing at the door, apparently thinking the man might burst in with strobes blazing for one last session of "Chin up, please; mouth closed."
Finally convinced the man won't, Drucker relaxes in a sun room overlooking a lemon tree and small pool in the backyard of his modest ranch home in this Hansel-and-Gretel college town. It is the same place he sits when advising the corporate chieftains who drop by - the octogenarian now has them come to him - when he is not writing or teaching full time at the nearby Claremont Graduate School, in a building that bears his name.
He answers questions on his latest book, "Post-Capitalist Society" (HarperBusiness, 232 pp., $25) and on some contemporary issues. But mostly he gives an intellectual ride through the whorls of contemporary and historical thought.
The thesis of his book is that the world is in the midst of a historic transformation as far-reaching as the Renaissance. It is a change in which the primary resource is no longer land, labor, or capital, but knowledge.
In this new world, the economic and managerial challenge will be to make knowledge and service workers (the new class of post-capitalist society) more productive - to use knowledge to produce more knowledge.
The social challenge is to preserve the income and dignity of service workers who lack the ability to become knowledge workers and to prevent class conflict.
Drucker says the world is about halfway through this epic change. It will take another 50 years before the new order is established and probably another "70 before it is accepted."
It holds important implications for government and business. Society is no longer dominated by communities, nations, or families. Special-purpose organizations, such as businesses, schools, and nonprofit groups, are ascendant. They take up peoples' time and create much of the wealth.
Nor, in Drucker's post-capitalist society, are the nation-state and megastate as dominant. Money and information flow around the world, oblivious to its borders. New organizing forces are emerging: transnationalism (nations tackling issues that transcend borders such as arms control, terrorism, the environment), regionalism (nations forming trading blocs such as the European Community), and tribalism (people trying to maintain roots in a world with dissolving borders, resulting in upheavals like the civi l war in Yugoslavia). Contract out social tasks
Transitions can be messy. In his Henry Kissinger-deep voice, still tinged with the accent of his Austrian homeland, Drucker asserts: "Mr. Clinton can be guaranteed to be a failure in international affairs because nobody can be anything else. Nobody can predict what's going to happen tomorrow. Nor can you be prepared for it."
He doesn't buy the popular pining for less government. Tasks in the post-capitalist society may require more government - but of a different nature.
Among his ideas: Get government to contract out tasks in the social sphere, confining itself to the role of policymaker; drop military aid to other countries; create a public audit agency to eliminate pork-barrel spending and special-interest politics.
While there is a lot of hand-wringing over the decline of American manufacturing, Drucker isn't among the pessimists. The percentage of the gross national product attributed to manufacturing has stayed the same since 1975, even though employment in the sector has gone down. Upshot: Manufacturing has become more productive.
The American response to these trends is to rue the employment loss - and for every city and hamlet to chase manufacturers who offer blue-collar jobs. The Japanese response is to cheer the productivity gains - and move manual work out of the country as fast as possible, concentrating on design and marketing.
Drucker sides with the Japanese. "The only long-term policy which promises success," he writes with emphasis, "is for developed countries to convert manufacturing from being labor based into being knowledge based."
The United States is about 80 percent through the transition to a knowledge and service society. American blue-collar workers, Drucker contends, have been "amazing" in their ability to make the shift. True, some US automobile and steel manufacturers will continue to lose jobs - he doesn't think General Motors will exist at the turn of the century - as work is reorganized around knowledge rather than tending machines. But other industries, such as pharmaceuticals, are expanding job rolls in the new world. Reorganize work
Still, the 20 percent who haven't made the transition are the "hardest pieces," he says. Blacks, in particular, have been left out.
Improving productivity and competitiveness in this new age requires reorganizing work rather than changing it or retraining laborers. Example: a nurse making a bed with an immobile patient in it. Rather than hoist the patient out of bed, the nurse changes the sheets on half the bed at a time, leaving the patient at rest - and saving time.
"It satisfies both the demands of the work flow and the demands of human recognition," he says. "That is how one battles productivity. It is not working harder."
One institution that will shape the post-capitalist society, and be shaped by it, is the school. Drucker says education can no longer be the monopoly of the schools but must be be available from organizations of all kinds and continue through life.
The one-time newspaper reporter and economist will presumably continue to do his own part in this process by teaching, consulting, and drawing on the lessons he has learned since publishing his first book, "The End of Economic Man," in 1939.
As for his own continuing education, that will likely include more reading, of a certain kind.
"I read a lot of history, biography, science, and novels," he says, ushering a reporter out the door with a hint of relief. "I do not read management or economics."