Reflections on Peter F. Drucker and the 50th Anniversary Edition of The Effective Executive

Reading this iconic book again calls to mind themes and principles Drucker approached in different ways throughout his career as a writer, professor and consultant.

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Although Peter Drucker wrote a number of books that could justifiably be called classics, perhaps his most beloved is The Effective Executive, which was recently reissued earlier this year as a commemorative 50th Anniversary Edition by HarperCollins, his longtime publisher. We are living in a much different world than the one of 1967, but Drucker’s relatively short guide to getting the right things done, and done well, still packs considerable power.

There is also significant added value with a seven-and-a-half-page foreword (“Ten Lessons I Learned from Peter Drucker”) by Good to Great author Jim Collins, who also wrote the forewords to The Daily Druckerand Management: Revised Edition; and an afterword by Zachary First, Executive Director of the Drucker Institute, which also published First’s contribution on its website. It’s also nice to see the new edition as a standard format hardback, after years of paperback editions.

When I interviewed Drucker on April 11, 2005; seven months to the day before he died, at what now is the Drucker Institute in Claremont, California; for my first book, Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life, I asked the following question:

If you could update some or all of The Effective Executive, which was written in the 1960s, is there anything you would add or change, especially because of our changes in computing and telecommunications?

Drucker: “Well you know Bruce, I’ve actually done that; it’s coming out early next year. A new, revised, updated edition which the old Effective Executive, and I’ve added to it very big, much more than an article; it’s a short monograph on… I’ll call it new effectiveness which brings in telecommunications, and above all which is I think more important, the global world. And the shift from managing manual workers, which we have largely computerized, to knowledge workers, which we are doing very poorly; and to the productivity of knowledge workers, which is still incredibly low, and it hasn’t changed.”

He was referring partly to what became a highly useful and handsomely designed workbook, The Effective Executive in Action, which I reviewed for USA TODAY in January 2006. The monograph, “What Makes an Effective Executive?” also appeared in 2006 in a new (but otherwise not updated) paperback edition. It is also the introduction of the new commemorative edition, and originally appeared as an article in the June 2004 Harvard Business Review.

Reading this book again calls to mind themes and principles Drucker approached in different ways throughout his career as a writer, professor and consultant, including:

  • the effective use of precious, irreplaceable time;
  • taking a wider view of yourself and your organization;
  • thinking bigger, acting responsibly
  • and striving for personal development that has ramifications for other people and institutions.

The importance of the future, the subject of my book, Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way, is woven throughout The Effective Executive. Regarding Theodore Vail and the 20th century innovation breakthroughs of Bell Laboratories, and calling to mind current-day constructs like disruption, Drucker writes that “… research, to be productive, has to be the 'disorganizer,' the creator of a different future and the enemy of today.”

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