Lessons From a 40-year Old Business Book

Managing in Turbulent Times‘ by Peter Drucker was published in 1980, and makes for an interesting read, even today. We’re generally not great at learning from history – “Why bother looking back? We live in a fast moving, ever-changing world.” There’s definitely some truth to that – so how much can we really take from a book like this?

Quite a bit, as it turns out. There are some core themes that are just as relevant today as they were 40 years ago.

1 :: The title.
There have been ‘turbulent times’ in the past, we are in turbulent times now, and there will be more in the future. They are part of the deal. Understanding and accepting this is not about diminishing the impact [working through turbulent times is tough], but it can help us maintain perspective.

2 :: If you’re not massive, you need a narrow niche.
“Either strategy can succeed … what is not tenable is the strategy in between.” Most of us aren’t Amazon. Understand your strengths, and play to them. If we think our customer is ‘everyone’, then our customer is actually ‘no-one’. Be specific.

3 :: Give employees more responsibility.
“The employee on all levels … needs to be given genuine responsibility.” Trust your team – they are the most important part of your organisation. This includes being open with them about the challenges you may be facing.

4 :: Roughly 50% of predictions are wrong.*
Drucker makes some astonishingly accurate predictions – “a worldwide system of electronic communication”. But he also forecasts a global health care system. Hmm. Drucker is a true legend in the management space, but even he got things wrong. Take all predictions – both good and bad – with a hefty pinch of salt: chances are, most of them will not come to pass.
*This is a made up statistic.

We’ve heard all this before, of course – there’s nothing new here. While the language and terminology may change, the core concepts stay the same.

We do well to remember them – especially during turbulent times.


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