Why do you do what you do?
Peter Drucker, you'll often hear, was the man who invented 'management.' Strictly speaking, that's not at all true--if 'management' is the theory and practice of getting workers to be as productive as possible, then modern management can be, and has been, traced back to the era of American slavery. That theory and practice was further developed by a well-worn list of names in the earliest days of the robber barrons: Frederick Taylor and his "Scientific Management,", led into the softie human relations approach of the 1930s (which might be how they still run things at your office), and eventually came our friend the Druck.
There are a lot of reasons--especially, I think, for open-minded radicals--to like the Druck. There's his skepticism of centralized authority, his insistence that an organization should be driven by something more meaningful than profit, and his distaste for "the boss" as either an order-giving autocrat or a smiley-faced fascist therapy leader. Ultimately what I like about his thinking best, though, is his insistence that we should find fulfillment in the stuff we do; that if we don't find fulfillment in the way we spend our time--whether it's at a desk or organizing a rally--then we're ultimately missing the point.
In his well-regarded essay "The Theory of Business" Druck lays out the notion that most attempts at doing something cool and new eventually fail because they don't change their thinking as the environment around them changes. They may start out well thanks to a clever or novel approach to a problem, but the world keeps turning, and often an organization will find itself gasping for air as it becomes increasingly apparent that it's running based on an outdated picture of the world. If a project is to stay successful, he argues, it has to be running on a solidly founded but testable theory of business.
But who the hell cares? Why am I talking about this?
With all the competing demands for our attention in our working and organizing lives, it strikes me as profoundly valuable to evaluate our approach to our work and our time using the kind of thinking Drucker lays out. The stuff in this classic is also applicable to the choices you make every day moving through the world--as a worker, as an activist, as a leader, as a family member. If you want to make sure that your approach stays nimble, and that you don't wind up gasping for air, a modified version of Drucker's "4 specifications of a valid theory of business" might be worth working through. Here's my mildly bastardized human-scale take on the Druck's four specifications--in order to be consistently successful, you need:
1) Your understanding of your context, purpose, and skills to be honest and realistic. 2) Your context, purpose, and skills to be mutually reinforcing. 3) Your knowledge of your context, purpose, and skills to be crystal clear. 4) Constant willingness to re-evaluate your thinking on all of the above.
What do these things mean? I'll tackle them one by one, and tie them all together, in posts over the next few days. First up, tomorrow: understanding your context, purpose & skills.