Not at all, it is quite the opposite, no, just the reverse, that is where you are wrong, a commonly held myth, the popular wisdom, instead I would say that. . . .
Peter Drucker is holding forth in a Harper & Row office on 53rd Street: expounding, spieling ("I make decisions by listening to myself") and, always, contradicting. Outside the window, Manhattan spires up and up, buoyed by taxi horns and aiming at a wild but waning blue yonder, powered by the ferocious corporate energy to which Drucker has been sage, kibitzer, doyen and gadfly.
Drucker will be 70 this year. He has just written an autobiography, "Adventures of a Bystander," a title that tells a lot about his life as consultant, miscast banker, maverick academic and journalist. But a biographer summed it up better in the 1975 title, "Drucker: The Man Who Invented Corporate Society."
"I didn't invent it, I just discovered it," Drucker says, yet another contradiction rendered in his guttural bustle of a Viennese accent. He grins a huge grin beneath horn-rimmed trifocals and hangs a shirtsleeved elbow on the back on his chair. "No! I didn't discover it, I just described it." He will contradict even himself, it seems, for lack of someone else.
"Bystanders have no history of their own," he writes. "They are on the stage but are not part of the action. . . . Standing in the wings-much like the fireman in the theater-the bystander sees things neither actor nor audience notices."
Consequently, his autobiography consists largely of anecdotes about other people, who for all their variety-from Jewish bankers in London to Buckminster Fuller to his cantankerous gradmother - bear an extraordinary resemblance to him, being, on the average, restless, eccentric,, intuitive rather than analytical, and ferociously energetic.
An upper-class Viennese, son of a lawyer and holder of a law degree himself, Drucker published papers on economics while working as a journalist in Germany before he emigrated first to London to work in a bank in the 1930s, then to America as an advisor for European financial institutions and correspondent for several British newspapers.
In 1939, he published "The End of Economic Man," which won him a handwritten note from Time-Life's Henry Luce. This led to editing and advising projects, which led to a consulting job with the ill-fated New York newspaper, PM. In 1941 came "The Furture of Industrial Man," which prompted a phone call, two years later, from General Motors, asking if Drucker would do a study of its top management.
Since then, Drucker has combined consulting with teaching and the writing of 15 books, most with the trade-mark engraved-in-stone Drucker titles: "Concept of the Corporation"; "The Age of Discontinuity"; "The Unseen Revolution." His great text would come in 1973: "Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices." It laid out the American corporation like a well-dissected frog, with simple questions, simple answers, chapter headings such as: "What Is a Business?" or "Managing Growth."
In the executive suite, he specializes in the simple question, says biographer John J. Tarrant: What do you really want to do? Why do you want to do it? What are you doing now? Why do you do it that way?
Ideally, to judge from Drucker's delight in contradiction, he would spend his consultant days like Socrates, pointing out the obvious, all the unnecessary tasks an executive does, all the pointless burdens he puts on his subordinates.
Or, says Tarrant, Drucker "may call a group of managers together and harangue them with the fervor of Knute Rockne . . . or he may concentrate on one indvidual and deliver what may seem to be a harsh critique of performance."
Later, he may sum up his views in a letter, one page or 50 pages, sometimes full of statistics, sometimes with none. He spends no more than three days in a year with any one client.
As rush hour clamors down on 53rd Street, he rewraps the bandage on the knee he hurt while rock-climbing in the Rocky Mountains, and bangs around from subject to subject: Japanese calligraphy, a crap-shooting obstetrician ("He could only roll the dice well when he was drunk"), Jane Austen (whom he'd like to be reborn as), American Versus English mountain-climbing styles in the 1940s ("The Americans were engineers, the English were frustrated Lake Poets.").
One can imagine the impact he had on 1930s America with his German academic credentials. . .
"Nonsense, it was a night school, and a doctorate was the degree you took if you couldn't pass the exams to be a practicing lawyer."
But surely, just the romance of his Viennese accent. . . .
"No. I showed up here with an English accent, not a Viennese accent," he says in his Viennese accent. "After several years I lost the English accent, and, well, perhaps the Viennese accent was underneath."
Well, in any case, it must have been interesting to arrive in a country with such an intellectual inferiority complex. . . .
"No. America has a cultural inferiority complex, not an intellectual one."
But the point, dammit, is that Drucker must have had considerable cachet, even charisma. . . .
"Fiddlesticks. No. No." And, for a moment, he is speechless, having slain his questioner with the jawbone of contradicton.
"I was under 30, I did not fit the prevailing left-wing climate. When I predicted the Hitler-Stain peace pact in my first book, 'The End of Economic Man,' the left wing hated me."
But this, of course, has to be contradicted, which he does nicely with a backhanded boast, a touch of wry England here perhaps, when he says that 80 percent of Americans "didn't take kindly to me. But I didn't need 100 percent."
And from there he goes on to describe himself as a man famous for "having turned down four offers from Harvard, more offers than anyone else has ever turned down from Harvard. Because I am not really an academic, you see." As if Harvard were not sufficient judge of that. And despite the fact that he has taught at Bennington, Sarah Lawrence, NYU, the University of Oregon, and now Claremont College in California.
In any case, it is argued with a last gasp, he is an argumentative man, and as the French keep complaining, Americans don't know how to argues, don't like to argue. . . .
"No. You're never ridden with a New York taxi driver."
It is now suggested, at a low shout, that Drucker has not only contradicted the premises of every question in short-term memory, but he has also stated, contrary to popular wisdom:
That Japanese workers are more insecure about their jobs than Americans; that the main purpose of American corporations is to employ people; that in 1979, having sexual intercourse on the sidewalk in front of the Hilton hotel is permissible, and that promiscuity is a morality of its own; that if you look at the important figures, American oil consumption is down; that OPEC is our best friend; that America is militarily stronger than ever, while Russia grows weaker. . . .
"Yes," Drucker says. "You want me to do this, to contradict you. I'm an old journalist, don't forget, I know how this works."
Which leads to the one question Drucker asks all his clients, when they fly in to California to ask what they're doing wrong with their corporations.
"What do you wnat to do?"
C. Northcote Parkinson, author of the various Parkinson's Laws, cites the legend of Drucker being hired as consultant to a company which made glass bottles. "At his first meeting with the board he asked the simple question, "Well, gentlemen, what is your business?' Suprised at his ignorance, the chairman replied, 'Our business is the manufacture of glass bottles for soft drinks or beer.' To this Drucker replied. 'No, I don't agree. You are in the packing business.' A great light dawned. It was as if he had kicked away the legs of the boardroom table."
Parkinson sums up: "He has a real contribution to make but he does it quickly if he can do it at all."
The bystander: Drucker sprawls diagonally in an armchair, blue eyes meandering fiercely behind his glasses, giving away nothing. That isn't his job. Consultants have been defined, at worst, as people who borrow you watch to tell you what time it is, then walk away with the watch. At best, they're part of a 20th-century phenomenon-people who tell us who we are, like journalists or psychotherapists. Once, professional bystanders were priests, until the parade started going down another street; or artists, until they decided that their job was to tell us not who we were, but who they were .
"There is an esthetic point to be made," he says. "People who see, who perceive, rather than analyze or philosophize-they alwasy come out with something esthetic. Kierkegaard said that esthetics are the highest branch of morality, he understood that point. I try to perceive. When I was a little boy, people would come to visit my parents, and later I'd say "They had a terrible fight before they came.' And my parents would say, "This is outrageous, you have no evidence'. And I'd say: 'Can't you see ?"
Always an Insider
Most Americans tend to distrust Germanic intuitors, seeing them as dangerous remontics at best. But Drucker isolated himself early as a bystander, when he was 14, carrying the flag in a Socialist parade, a great honor until something . . . intuitive . . . happened and he gave the flag away and ran home elated to discover "that I don't belong."
He has always been an insider, however, in the American establishment, as the creator (he debates this) of the notion of management by objectives, among many now-standard business practices.
Management by objectives, over-simplified, makes an executive's first priority the objective he wants to achieve, rather than his day-to-day duties. It's a concept so simple as to seem ridiculously self-evident, but it has worked a small, quiet revolution in American business practice. So obvious: "Can't your see ?
On the other hand, he's had his share of failures. In 1929, he likes to point out, he predicted that the New York stock market was headed no where but up. He also predicted an American labor shortage in the mid-70s. So he claims, before making predictions, that he never makes them, he only looks at things-like the fact that while Russia is run by western Russians, more than half its population now is Asiatic, with that proportion increasing.
Therefore, if the white Russians, as he calls them, want to hold on to power, they must be mulling the advantages of taking over the Persian Gulf oil fields. Suddenly, Drucker sees a "very dangerous period" in the next five years, and of course, there will be no more U.S.S.R. as we know it by the year 2000; it will break up into Tartars and Kurds and so on. And all of this is flavored by his wonderful can't-you-see baritone, joyous with the startling ease with which he says things, an ease he describes best when talking about mountain climbing.
"Before the Americans started climbing, it was considered shameful to rappel down a slope-that was the easy way out. But the Americans said: Why not? Of course!"
Intelligence, he seems to say, is efficiency, and efficiency is simplicity is esthetics which is the highest branch of morality. The trick is to see .
"There are some wonderful things to see in the best museum in Washington. Do you know which museum I am talking about! The Freer, of course. Have you seen the Japanese calligraphy there? But you haven't paid attention to it? How can you not look at it? I stand in front of that calligraphy . . . you see, a good calligrapher sees the whole inscription before he lifts the brush. I stand there and look at the calligraphy by Koetsu, he was a 16th-century Japanese, and the power of it is so incredible!"
So Drucker, on top of his other accomplishments, reads Japanese?
"No," he says. "But there aren't 10 Japanese who can read that calligraphy either. You see, the better it is, the less legible. It's more an esthetic experience than an intellectual one."
And this leads him to a Zen parable which leads him to an anecdote about poetry and Hungarian salami, which leads to a novel by Trollope and the fact that 13 is his lucky number . . . Can't you see? CAPTION: Picture, Peter Drucker, by Donal F. Holway for The Washington Post