The World's Best Thinker


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Six years ago, in anticipation of New Year’s Day 2000, Biography on A&E released its list of the 100 most influential people of the Millennium. Johann Gutenberg ranked first. Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Galileo made the top 10. Abraham Lincoln was 23rd. Alexander Graham Bell came in at 44. The Beatles were 76th. And Steven Spielberg snuck in at 91.

If given the opportunity to revise the list today, the voters might find a way to include one more person. It’s a man whose life began less than a year after Teddy Roosevelt left the White House and ended last month, one week shy of his 96th birthday. He wrote three dozen books – the final one arriving soon – and received credit for coming up with the terms “knowledge workers” and “management by objectives. ” He also wrote the oft-quoted phrase: “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things. ”

Peter Drucker – “thinker”… “writer”…”uber-mentor” – may have contributed as much to the development of business theory as the legendary Adam Smith (who, incidentally, appears in 20th position on the A&E list). Consider these ideas, all originating with Drucker prior to 1955:

> There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.

> Highly skilled people are an organization’s most valuable resources.

> Decentralize decision-making and manage for the long-term by setting a series of short-term goals.

> A manager sets objectives, organizes, motivates and communicates, measures, and develops people.

Success Handler Action: Perhaps Drucker’s greatest asset was his ability to take complex business issues and present them in simple terms. He once joked that his ideas “have only one moving part, ” which makes them easy to understand. Use these three now-classic questions – proposed in 1954 by Drucker in “The Practice of Management” – to get back to the basics in your small business:

~ What is our business?
~ Who is our customer?
~ What does our customer consider valuable?

In his 1978 autobiography, “Adventures of a Bystander, " Drucker described himself as someone who stands in the wings and observes what is happening on stage…which allows him to see what “neither actor nor audience notices. ” A self-described loner, he purposely distanced himself, to see things from a different perspective, regardless of the popular choices at the time.

Fifty-five years ago, the consensus view was the worldwide market for computers would be less than 100. Drucker wrote computer technology would forever transform business. Forty-five years ago, he predicted the impending rise of Japan as an industrial power. Twenty-five years ago, he foretold Japan was heading toward long-term economic stagnation. In 1997, he suggested there would be an outcry against executive pay: “In the next economic downturn, there will be an outbreak of bitterness and contempt for the super-corporate chieftains who pay themselves millions. ” This, of course, came four years before the collapse of Enron.

Success Handler Action: As the leader of your small business, it is essential to think clearly, and to make solid decisions that keep things moving in the right direction. Here are five ways, as suggested by Drucker in a November 2004 interview with Forbes magazine publisher Rich Karlgaard, to take a fresh, new look at your own leadership skills:

1. Never ask, “What do I want to do?” Ask yourself, “What needs to be done?”

2. Pick the important things to do…and focus on only two priorities at a time.

3. Make sure people around you always know what you are trying to do.

4. Eliminate things that no longer make sense; don’t keep waiting for them to work.

5. Build on your strengths and find strong people to handle other necessary tasks.

Business visionaries like Peter Drucker come around about as often as a new century. In 1996, the McKinsley Quarterly referred to him as “the one guru to whom other gurus kowtow. ” He encouraged others to discover what they are good at, then work on removing limits – like lack of knowledge – that prevent them from capitalizing on those strengths. Utilize Peter’s Principles in your business, and you’ll be deserving of recognition as one of the most innovative leaders in your industry.

Copyright © 2005 by Success Handler, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Coach, David Handler, is the founder of Success Handler, ( ), and specializes in helping small business leaders find clarity and take action. He understands the challenges of running a business, because he’s been there – as a small business owner, franchisee, franchisor, corporate leader and trainer. Much like sports coaches, his coaching will show you how to compete on a level playing field in your industry.


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