A recent Mckinsey publication carries an article written by Peter F Drucker in 1967.
Titled ‘The manager and the moron,’ it famously, and permanently, branded computers as total morons. Drucker was a management visionary, and this article is also notable for his emphasis on how we are forced to become better managers in the process of putting computers to work for ourselves: “Once we have achieved real understanding of what we are doing, we can define our needs and program the computer to fill them.”
But for once, let us sidestep the brainless ‘grunt work only’ computers and intellectually challenged managers described in Drucker’s article; instead, let us pick out the little nuggets of futuristic insight tucked away in it.
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Drucker’s Vision: The technology of information and knowledge
- “Technically there is no reason why Sears, Roebuck could not offer tomorrow, for the price of a television set, a plug-in appliance that would put us in direct contact with all the information needed for schoolwork from kindergarten through college.”
In one stroke, in 1967, Drucker foresaw the internet, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and a laptop computer.
- “Twenty years hence, an institution that’s the equivalent of a steel mill in terms of mental work—MIT, for example—might well have its own computer. But I think most other universities, for most purposes, will simply plug into time-sharing systems.”
Was Drucker envisioning cloud computing?
- “Within the next ten years, information will become very much cheaper.”
Google search is free, chip prices have crashed while their capabilities have zoomed, and hand-helds now do what a desktop did not so many years ago.
- We will spend more and more money on producing the things that make a computer usable—the software, the programs, the terminals, and so on.
More and more money is right! Ebay-PayPal ($1.5B), Microsoft-Minecraft ($2.5B), Microsoft-Nokia ($7.2B), Microsoft-Skype ($8.5B), Google-Motorola ($12.5B), Facebook-WhatsApp ($19B) are just a few examples.
- The computer is to information what the electric power station is to electricity. The power station makes many other things possible, but it’s not where the money is. The money is in the gimmicks and gizmos, the appliances, the motors and facilities made possible and necessary by electricity, that didn’t exist before.
- The appearance of knowledge as a new capital resource is not the most vivid change in our environment, if only because it does not yet have a visible impact on the world’s economic figures. Probably the most vivid change is in technology.
But could the all-knowing Drucker even imagine these market caps? Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) $195B, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) $388B, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) $610B, Alibaba (BABA?) $200B?
- Any business that wants to stay ahead will have to put very young people into very big jobs—and fast.
(I am taking a few liberties here – Drucker probably meant this in a wider context, but technology is where this is taking hold so starkly) CEOS 40 years or less : Mark Zuckerberg (29 years), Larry Page (40 years), Marissa Mayer (38 years), Daniel Schwartz (33 years), Jeremy Stoppelman (36 years).
What does it take to be able to envision the future so clearly? To see a future trend, and then to write about it so confidently? What future would Drucker see for technology were he to be alive today?
Peter F Drucker was a renowned management consultant and author. Born in Austria in 1909, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1943. He innovated the concept of ‘management by objectives,’ and was a contributor to the Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Economist. Between 1939 and 2008 he wrote 39 books. He died November 2005 at 95 years of age.