New book offers steps for practical implementations of Drucker principles

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Jeff Cattel

When Peter Drucker began distilling his management principles more than half a century ago, he focused on a "what to do," not a "how to do it" perspective. The point of his dozens of books and papers on management the modern workforce was to help companies begin to ask the questions to improve their processes and procedures. Now, Dr. Bill Cohen, a student and friend of Drucker, has published a book, The Practical Drucker, which is broken into 40 bite-size chapters that explain the how-to-do-it steps businesses can take when implementing Druckerian principles. Dr. Cohen sat down with us to talk about his just-released book, the legacy of Peter Drucker and the spread of Druckerian principles in emerging markets.

For more information on The Practical Drucker, click here. Listen to our chat with Dr. Bill Cohen above or check out the text of our conversation below.

You've written a number of books that distill these management principles put forth by Peter Drucker, so what was the impetus to put together this new book The Practical Drucker?

Drucker really was a remarkable management thinker. He was a true towering genius, maybe of the same class as Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci, or Archimedes in ancient times. But when I say a true genius, he was the first true management genius. Drucker didn't limit his concepts to a small segment of management, but rather he covered all segments—everything from marketing and finance and general management and so forth. Even in 70 years, he couldn't cover everything. I think he made the decision not to tell us how to do things, but only to tell us what to do. That's all he really had time for. So what I tried to do in The Practical Drucker is expand Drucker's "what to do" to explain how to carry out his concepts.

I understand your book pinpoints 40 Druckerian truths for solving real world problems, so can you give our listeners an example of one of the truths they'll find in this book?

I don't know whether it's 40; it's probably more like 400, but there are 40 chapters in general areas. So let me just give you one example: Drucker was the first to assert that marketing and sales were not the same thing. Everybody knows that today, but he was one of the first to do this. But he went a lot further than that. He said that not only were marketing and sales not the same, that they're not complimentary and that they could be adversarial. Now that's extraordinary and no one else has said this. And the reason for it, I discovered, is because marketing by its nature is strategic and selling is tactical. This means the key to success ultimately is not pressing people to buy products in a skillful manner. That's important and that's sales, but it's really to have a product that prospects want. Now this is really extremely important. It doesn't mean that selling isn't needed or isn't essential. But what it does mean is if you have this strategic control, when allocating your always-limited resources—whether you're a small business or a giant corporation—that you allocate them with a product optimized for a precise market. So your sales people don't have to break their heads trying to sell something; you already have something your customers want.

For example, you mentioned my school, the California Institute of Advanced Management. We only have one MBA and its in only one area. That is executive management and entrepreneurship, and that way we optimize it for the rising stars, who are managers and entrepreneurs that have a certain drive and ambition. That's all we're looking for. That way we can do this better than anyone else. But it's good advice, too, for even the tactical, that is, the sales person in this. Whatever product you have to sell, whatever service you have, if you want to lay out ahead of time the list of features which may be appropriate, or in some cases, may be inappropriate or undesired by someone, you want the ones that are appropriate and that are desired by the individual that you're approaching. That's a critical Drucker concept and one of the important ones which I discuss.

One thing you mentioned in the beginning of that answer is that at the time Drucker came up with all of these different concepts, they were absolutely groundbreaking—things that people had not thought about. But now they’ve become widely understood and universally recognized by a lot of people in business. It's been more than a half century since Drucker put forth a lot of these ideas and concepts. Can talk about their staying power in management and business?

As you mentioned, these truths are somewhat eternal. And Drucker recognized that himself. Drucker mentioned one time he wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal in which he was approached by some group that wanted him to do a presentation on leadership, which he felt of course was very important. But he said even the ancients have already written about leadership, and he mentioned Xenophon. Peter mentioned this in class also that his favorite book on leadership was Xenophon and Xenophon was written 2,000 years ago. Xenophon was an ancient Greek writer and he was also a general. He wrote many books, but one of them was on the Cyrus the Great of Persia. Cyrus the Great lived about 200 years earlier and Xenophon wrote about him much as leadership secrets of Attila the Hun were written. So all of these ancient secrets were written.

You say, gee, they're ancient and they're not good anymore. But they are good. In fact, in Xenophon, it talks even 2,000 years ago about how the concept of leading by the carrot and stick approach is really not the best way, and the best way really is servant leadership. Well, what's new? Nowadays, servant leadership is talked about as something brand new and cutting edge, but here it was 2,000 years ago. Drucker is the same. Drucker died 8 years ago, so his concepts live on and I believe they'll live on a lot longer than that and maybe the same as Xenophon.

One thing I wanted to delve into is this scene in your introduction where you're giving a speech at the Rosario University in Bogota Columbia. I know that Drucker and these Druckerian principles seem to have caught on in a big way in these emerging markets, whether it be South America or BRIC countries. So why do you think they've become so popular recently in these developing countries?

It is popular all over the world and there are Drucker societies, which have grown up since his death, which specialize on Drucker and his thinking and developing after his concepts and principles. I'm not sure anyone knows for sure why it seems to be growing. My own theory is, when Drucker was alive, as he aged—and remember he died when he was in his mid-90s, and he was working almost to the very end, but this work tended to fall off. That is, as he became older, he couldn't speak all over the country as he once did. He couldn't write as prolifically as he once did. In fact, during an interview once, he himself said that he felt his most important contributions had been made 50 years earlier. So he did less and less and finally he died. After Drucker died, I think the number of articles having to do with Drucker and his concepts and the books about various aspects of Drucker have grown substantially. Although I knew Drucker personally, he was my professor, and we became friends afterward, I never wrote a book about Drucker while he was alive. But in the last eight years, I've written four books about Drucker, and I'm tremendously interested in his concepts. And re-reading them again and again and trying to carry on further some of his thinking, as I mentioned, from what to do to how to do it.

I read a lot about Drucker, whether it be the columns you post on our website or the books you and others have written recently, so I want to ask: Do you think these principles remain ever-present in the daily lives of American executives? Do they have that same understanding of Drucker? If not, could these executives use a class or some time to read more about his principles?

I think it's a growing interest. I think the same level exists, especially those who know who he was, and I think as younger people are once again learning Drucker because of the increased interest in him, I think there's more and more of that. Several years ago, I was talking to Doris Drucker, who is now 101. She asked me: Is all the fuss about Peter really worth it today? I rather think Doris was baiting me about this because she knew that Drucker was absolutely no fad. The management fads and instant solutions to conflict problems, they seem to come and go.Fortune magazine did a special edition on this 10 or 15 years ago. Drucker, like the ancients, he has truths, which simply cannot be denied, so I believe that his genius can have powerful effects in everyday management that we do today. I use him, I refer to Drucker myself in everything we do in our school and I think he's important. In fact, I think he'll be around a couple thousand years.