16 Key Insights From Harvard Business Review Press’ ‘Drucker Library’

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Peter Drucker's Most Important Insights

Some of Peter Drucker’s most important insights during his lengthy career were published in his articles and essays in publications such as Harvard Business Review, The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and Forbes. Many of these pieces were periodically collated into books under various themes.

Last year, Harvard Business Review Press reissued eight of these books (also as an eight-book boxed set), as ‘The Drucker Library.’ The publisher had a collection of the same name a decade ago, with most of the same books, which had originally been published elsewhere.

The major differences now are shorter, snappier titles for each book; updated cover designs, and a brief, mostly uniform introduction providing some context about the collection of essays in each.

Here are the new book titles, plus original titles and years of publication; and two key insights from each book, in the form of representative quotations:

New title: Peter F. Drucker on Business and Society
Original title/year of publication: Men, Ideas & Politics: Essays by Peter F. Drucker, 1971

Key insights:
1. “The center of gravity of the American work force has been shifting from manual worker—skilled or unskilled, on the farm or in workshop or factory–to the Knowledge Worker with a very high degree of formal schooling.”

2. “For the new generation takes for granted:

  • The “global village”: that is, the integration of the entire earth through communications into one locus of immediate experience;
  • “man in space”: that is, the reaching out beyond what were considered the human limits of existence;
  • Technology, both in respect to doing physical tasks and in respect to making economic problems amenable to systematic, organized and essentially technical solutions.”

New title: Peter F. Drucker on Economic Threats
Original title/year of publication: The Changing World of the Executive, 1982

Key insights:

3. “The phrase “people are our only resource” has been a management slogan for at least eighty years. But far too few executives really look at this resource.”

4. “Most businesses manage innovation by promise. The competent innovators manage by results.”

New title: Peter F. Drucker on Globalization
Original title/year of publication: The Frontiers of Management: Where Tomorrow’s Decisions Are Being Shaped Today, 1986

Key insights:

5. “{Thomas Watson Sr.} very early on established foreign branches of IBM: one in France, one in Japan and so on. IBM actually had little foreign business at the time, and Watson knew perfectly well that he could have handled whatever there was through exporting directly. But he also realized that the IBM he envisaged for the future, the IBM of what we now call data processing and information handling, would have to be a multinational company.”

6. “The third major change is the emergence of the symbol economy—capital movements, exchange rates and credit flow–as the flywheel of the world economy, in the place of the real economy: the flow of goods and services—and largely independent of the latter.”

New title: Peter F. Drucker on Management Essentials
Original title/year of publication: People and Performance: The Best of Peter Drucker on Management, 1977

Key insights:

7. “Business enterprises—and public-service institutions as well—are organs of society. They do not exist for their own sake, but to fulfill a specific social purpose and to satisfy a specific need of society, community, or individual. They are not ends in themselves, but means.”

8. “From now on, management will have to concern itself more and more with creating the new in addition to optimizing the already existing. Managers will have to become entrepreneurs, will have to learn to build and manage innovative organizations.”

New title: Peter F. Drucker on Nonprofits and the Public Sector
Original title/year of publication: Toward the Next Economics and other Essays, 1981

Key insights:

9. “We face an environmental crisis because for too long we have disregarded genuine costs. Now we must raise the costs, in a hurry, to where they should have been all along.”

10. “The resources of public service institutions are people, and the outputs are rarely “things.” Therefore, direction toward meaningful results is not inherent in the work or in the process itself. Misdirection, whether by the individual employee or by the administrator, is at the same time both easy and hard to detect.”

New title: Peter F. Drucker on Practical Leadership
Original title/year of publication: Managing for the Future: The 1990s and Beyond, 1993

Key insights:

11. “Just as modern money penetrated the whole world within less than a century and totally changed people’s lives and aspirations, we can safely assume that information now penetrates everywhere.”

12. “Learning, moreover, must be continuous. We have to recognize the unwelcome fact that the knowledge of those who are five years out of school is by definition obsolescent.”

New title: Peter F. Drucker on the Network Economy
Original title/year of publication: Managing in a Time of Great Change, 1995

Key insights:

13. “I think the growth industry in this country and the world will soon be continuing education of adults. Nothing else is growing as fast, whether you are talking physicians, or engineers or dentists. This is happening in part because things are changing so fast in every field of every business or occupation.”

14. “Few executives yet know how to ask, 'What information do I need to do my job? When do I need it? In what form? And from whom should I be getting it?'”

New title: Peter F. Drucker on Technology
Original title/year of publication: Technology, Management & Society: Essays by Peter F. Drucker, 1970

Key insights:

15. “But the test of innovation is its impact on the way people live. Very powerful innovations may, therefore, be brought about with relatively little in the way of new technological invention.”

16.“News, data, information and pictures have become even more mobile than people. They travel in “real time,” that is, they arrive at virtually the same time as they happen. They have, moreover, become universally accessible.”

This new collection is a convenient window into Drucker’s wide-ranging, prescient insights over a period of many years. It is a guide to how relevant and crucial his thinking remains for the knowledge workers of today and tomorrow.