Managing Oneself in the Digital Age: A Process of Continuity and Change
by Joe Maciariello

guestPosted by

The topic of the Drucker Forum is relevant to ongoing efforts to advance Drucker’s body of work.

The body of work can be looked at using a Drucker lens for managing during periods of discontinuity.


Peter Drucker projected that “We face long years of profound changes.” (Management Challenges for the 21st Century, 1999.) During these periods one should identify things that change and things that exhibit continuity. That way we avoid the temptation of throwing everything old out during periods of radical change.


By the end of the 20th Century significant changes were already underway. These changes have caused me to restructure my work to try to stay ahead of change. I have used FIVE principles and practices in Drucker’s work on “Managing Oneself” to managing myself.


The three principles are:

Knowing oneself by knowing one’s

  1. values
  2. strengths and
  3. purpose,


The two practices are

  1. feedback analysis and
  2. a deliberate process of continuous learning in the liberal arts.


I worked and taught from 1962 to 2013, applying a good deal of Drucker’s material. For most of this time the emphasis was on formal systems within the organizational hierarchy. But by the early 1990s, it became absolutely clear that information technology was facilitating the flattening of organizations as well as the widespread use of teams, and the extensive practice of six-sigma quality systems.


My study of leading edge U.S. manufacturing firms demonstrated that a substitution was occurring from manual workers to information technologists. In a few of these organizations the use of teams, empowerment, and the flattening of organizations was very old news! It was already a part of the culture.


The big error during this transition was to throw the “baby out with the bath water.”  Control was still necessary to pursue and achieve desirable results [i.e., continuity] and empowerment only worked when workers were trained to accept more responsibility. But the manner of achieving control in flat organizations is different than it is in hierarchical organizations.


The mechanisms for coordinating work teams for knowledge work rely heavily on recruiting specific talent appropriate for a given team; and on establishing input, process and result measures such as informal relationships, mission, and values, and expected results for each team.


At the same time in many kinds of manufacturing and service work operational steps to fulfil objectives are fairly well established and workers require less discretion.  Information and control systems can be designed to focus more heavily on result variables, including quality.


The second example is virtual teams whose members are spread out across the world. These teams are focused on the same task, for the same or similar products but in different markets. This is what Drucker calls the “systems structure.”


The great strength of the systems structure is the ability it provides individuals to adapt to local conditions. The weakness is the demand for continuous and intense communication placed on leaders and members which requires developing strong interpersonal relations. There is sometimes ambiguity about how to resolve workplace difficulties and disputes in this structure.


The third example pertains to Peter Drucker’s work. He projected that ten years after his death, in 2005, his body of knowledge would not be relevant.  That was clearly an overstatement. But, in 2015, we have experienced this to some extent. The reasons are in part the impact of the digital revolution including the rise in e-commerce, the growth of social media together with continued globalization and the emergence of new economic powers, in particular the European Union, China and India.


The US while still possessing military and political superiority, no longer possess clear economic superiority, just as Drucker projected.


Soon after Peter Drucker’s death I began to assume that he was correct in his assessment of the durability of his work, because he had spent fifty years tracking the knowledge and information economy and he knew the trends.  The digital age would not have surprised him.


This changed my work as I continue to work to extend his legacy.  Most importantly, I thought it was necessary to understand the methodology that he used and the vision that he worked toward [contained in our Drucker’s Lost Art of Management, 2011], and his process of mentoring executives toward that vision [contained in A Year with Peter Drucker].


The late Kenneth G. Wilson, 1982 Nobel Laureate in Physics, and a twenty-year reader of Drucker’s work, reminded me that the work of some prominent scientists lies dormant for centuries because of the lack of systematic attention to uncovering the underlying methodology and extending the work.

Drucker’s worldview and his work on managing people and organizations showed that people have their own fingerprint of potential placed there by the creator.  Most durable organizations develop people both intellectually and morally. This is a foundational assumption that underlies Drucker’s work and carries forward into the twenty-first century. It explains to a significant extent why Drucker called Management a “Human Activity” and a “Liberal Art.”


In contrast we also know that the topic of effective decision-making occupies a major portion of his book The Effective Executive. That is not going to change.  Yet executive decision-making is more complex when power relationships, political realities, and other constraints are imposed upon decision-making.


Cloud Computing, “big data,” and data mining are becoming essential elements of complex executive decision-making. Additionally, information technology has made significant progress in a number of areas that impinge on Drucker’s life work.

Artificial Intelligence assists executives in moving from data to information literacy, a major Drucker topic.


There are many digital tools available to help organize tasks, capture and share information with colleagues to improving effectiveness, and tools to identify strengths to help people know who they are, and where their talents can be best applied.

The decision-making framework in Drucker’s book is based upon excellent practice. Like Drucker, I also have found that historical analysis of the decisions of great leaders adds granularity to the decision making framework; deals with managing power and politics in organizations; and helps us to move forward in our overall understanding of executive decision making.


Drucker’s The Effective Executive remains one of the foundation books on leadership and management and, along with his The Practice of Management and Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is likely to continue to hold its status despite the need to add material, and to bring the subjects into the digital age


This is a timely topic for the Forum.


About the author:

Joseph A. Maciariello|Senior Fellow &

Marie Rankin Clarke Professor of Social Science and Management Emeritus,

Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management

Claremont Graduate University

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.