The Essential Drucker

Peter Drucker has a certain reputation in the business of business philosophy, and The Essential Drucker (TED) doesn’t disappoint. These are the greatest hits from decades of writing: an eminently quotable collection of practical advice and abstract philosophy for the humans powering the knowledge economy.

The balance of the wisdom that Drucker dispenses is aimed at practical steps that managers–and in the knowledge economy, everyone is a manager–can employ to futher their work. Focus objectives, metrics, and energy on achieving results outside the organization. Forget heroic entrepreneurs and genius innovators; focus instead on the raw ingredients of success–clear objectives, focus, hard work and perseverance–that anyone can develop. Work smart. Lead at your own level, whatever it is. And always, always keep learning.

The increasingly abstract chapters towards the conclusion of the book offer some of its most scrumptious nibbles, as Drucker traces out an intriguing (if debatable) vision for education, social enterprise, and fulfillment within post-capitalist society. Like any survey, there are chapter of TED that won’t be for everyone. Managers hungry to improve their craft will devour the first half but may find less use for musings over their place beneath the sun. Theorists will delight in the latter but face a considerable slog to reach it.

And TED is not a new book. The earliest chapters date to 1996; the most recent to 2001. For all of its familiar–and notably prescient–ideas, both ideas and language feel dated at times. The explosion of technology and the lingering effects of the great recession leave the reader to wonder how its conclusions might have been adjusted to the new reality. Faith in entrepreneurship and the indomitable human spirit are well and good. Will they survive the explosion of information that’s defined the past 15 years? That’s a question for another book.