As technologies mature and converge, our choices will determine whether the result is extreme centralisation and surveillance, or a humane future envisioned by Peter Drucker.
Drucker Forum 2021
A car shoots out of a side street towards ours. Both cars slam on the brakes. Tyres squeal. I grab the seat in front of me as we collide.
Two athletic men jump out of their damaged sportscar and start yelling at us. Just our luck – they are military intelligence. When they learn that my friend and I are on our way back to the airport after a speaking tour, they warn: “Pay up, or we’ll give narcotics a call, and you won’t be getting on that plane.”
I start with that chilling personal experience of corruption because a key motivator for Drucker was preventing totalitarianism and state corruption. The country in question was rich in natural resources. Some people think countries are corrupt because they are poor. Drucker knew better. It’s a case of deliberate or ignorant mismanagement – like other social “car crashes”.
Ready for a New Narrative
For all his influence, Peter Drucker was very willing to admit that his ideas had not yet won out in the world. “Where the prevailing doctrines preached control by big government or big business, I stressed decentralization… and the need to create community,” he writes in the introduction to his autobiography, Adventures of a Bystander. He goes on to note that he was “swimming against a strong current”, but that now, at last, “the tide has turned, and it has turned my way. We are moving toward organic design, informed by mission, purpose, strategy, and the environment, both social and physical – the design I began to advocate forty years ago in The Practice of Management (1954).”
While Drucker was optimistic that the tide had turned, the turn certainly seems to have happened slowly – or even to have been reversed. For the last three decades, the dominant narrative has been that business is about profit maximisation at the expense of other factors, human and environmental. However, as a consequence of Covid-19, we finally do have a fundamental change in mood. People are again ready for a new narrative – but we need to ensure the change in mood translates into a change in the dominant philosophy of management.
No Narrative is an Island
As Drucker well knew, disillusionment alone can create a dangerous narrative vacuum. The current trend toward environmentalism is good insofar as it encourages resources being better used. But only if it is married with other positive narratives.
For example, if someone believes the world is overpopulated, they may love people individually, but at some level they will see humans as a kind of parasite upon the planet. The consequence of the narrative? The Golem effect has us living down to negative expectations. The quality of our global community life declines.
Even when true in a narrow sense, “humanity as parasite” is a damaging narrative, offering no solution other than damage control (and political control): docile people, and fewer of them.
Narratives don’t have to be true to be believed. For two hundred years, fears of resource scarcity have been connected to overpopulation, when research suggests that population growth has actually made resources proportionately more plentiful – because people are creative. In any case, within my lifetime, world population is clearly set to decline.
Let’s reframe the narrative. Could it be that we need a bigger “human footprint”? What if the footprint isn’t human enough? Wasn’t that Drucker’s whole point? Because of his biblical worldview, Drucker saw every individual as unique and valuable. So many of today’s narratives are in urgent need of Drucker-isation! Why isn’t Drucker’s voice heard as powerfully as it should be?
To shape the Narrative, use Stories
In his autobiography, Peter Drucker gives us insights into a changing world as well as into how his own views changed – using stories. “Society is, after all,” he writes, “made up of individuals and their stories.”
But what are the ways in which we usually promote Drucker’s work? Quotes, principles, arguments and case studies! While case studies are useful and can win over individuals, they lack the imaginative power to go viral.
The consequence of this for me was that for many years, I myself only knew Drucker primarily as an authoritative source of quotable gems such as “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
I’d come across dozens of Drucker quotes, but not a single story. If we want Drucker’s ideas to win, this will have to change. To shape the narratives that shape the world, principles won’t cut it. Those must be embodied in inspiring stories. Because the brain is an experience simulator, stories raise the perceived value of an idea and even model behaviour.
Winning the Next Generation
I dropped out of school at 15 to become a writer because academia taught explanation and isolated thinking when the real world needed experience and integrated thinking. To paraphrase Drucker, we’ve been becoming increasingly efficient at running our systems, leaving those systems far from effective in achieving the desired end of human flourishing.
Fortunately, this problem is starting to be recognised by business and academia, as I know from my own work with companies and universities. My generation is rejecting the narratives that got us here. But we need good alternatives.
By sharing stories that demonstrate Peter Drucker’s approach and values, let’s build a new narrative together and usher in a “Century of Drucker”.
The alternative is a dark place that Peter Drucker warned us about.
The clock is ticking.
Let’s launch a business storytelling revolution to ensure that Drucker’s time is finally here.
Who has a good Drucker story to share?
About the author:
Jyoti Guptara is a business storytelling consultant, executive coach and international speaker. His most recent book is Business Storytelling from Hype to Hack: Unlock the Software of the Mind (Pippa Rann Books & Media, U.K.).
This article is one in the “shape the debate” series relating to the 13th Global Peter Drucker Forum, under the theme “The Human Imperative” on November 17, 18 & 19, 2021.