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Wisdom from Peter Drucker

The legendary Austrian-born American management consultant, educator and author continues to instruct us more than a decade after his death. 

In Management Challenges for the 21st Century, Peter Drucker notes: “The technologies that are likely to have the greatest impact on a company and an industry are technologies outside its own field.” His explanation includes the example of how the zipper was originally used to close bales of grain and other heavy goods in shipments. The clothing industry was an original beneficiary of this invention. No one thought there would be an alternative to buttons.

Like most of Drucker’s writings, this applies to many examples in today’s world, 11 years after he died at 95. Researchers recently discovered that a cancer drug might have promise for treating Parkinson’s disease. This potential breakthrough resulted in many thousands of patients and their families seeking access to the drug even though its application for use as a Parkinson’s treatment has yet to be approved. In another example, researchers at The Ohio State University have implanted a computer chip in the brain of a paraplegic, allowing him to move his fingers.  

What technologies are you using that have come from other industries or disciplines? Chances are, you can identify a number in your own business or everyday activities.

Take e-commerce, for example. The proliferation of sites where you can sell and purchase most anything have become an essential part of everyday living. In Managing in the Next Society, Drucker notes that “selling is tied no longer to production but to distribution.” The consumer benefits from a wide range of brands, and prices and shipments can be updated in real time, showing exactly where an order is in the process.

At the time he wrote the article, Drucker knew of the growth of Amazon and its original focus on books. He probably could imagine the size and impact of its potential. At the same time, he encouraged the local bookstore to determine how to use e-commerce to fight back. In Managing in a Time of Great Change he noted that e-commerce most likely would add to the strength of traditional business. E-commerce was in its infancy when he wrote about it, yet his vision was right on target.

“The decision to push e-commerce is a risky one,” he wrote. “And yet, no business can risk NOT pushing e-commerce if there’s the slightest indication that it will become an important distribution channel for its goods and services, if not the most important one.” We all know how right he was. E-commerce has become the worldwide marketplace of goods and services, and Amazon’s initial footprint was just the beginning.

Drucker’s writings continue to have relevance today. His work continues to inspire and guide us. If you are not familiar with Drucker’s works, there are more than 39 books and countless articles and publications of all sorts. A good place to begin is The Practice of Management, published in 1954. It is the foundation of Drucker’s writings that followed.  

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