With book titles such as Managing for the Future and Managing in the Next Society, Peter Drucker was very much about looking ahead. Nonetheless, before 2013 fades too far into the rearview mirror, we thought we’d take a quick glance backward by highlighting five business moves from last year that were especially Drucker-like:
1. The clear-eyed and data-driven experimentation of Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity. Thrun, about whom we wrote earlier, was one of the original Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) pioneers so lauded in 2012. But he has announced, candidly, that few of his visions have turned out as he’d hoped. So he’s trying new stuff. “Few ideas work on the first try,” Thrun wrote on his blog. “Iteration is key to innovation.” Or, as Drucker might point out, with any new program, “successful application always demands adaptation, cutting, fitting, trying, balancing. It always demands testing against reality before there is final commitment.”
2. The continuing rise of BuzzFeed. Journalists may have reasons to lament turning everything in the news into lists, like “The 20 Most Unforgivable Twitter Spelling Mistakes of the Year” (or this list, for that matter). But the news site BuzzFeed, which uses such an approach, has hired investigative reporters and keeps on growing. As Wired explains, “The data-science team uses machine learning to predict which stories might spread; the design team keeps iterating the user interface through A/B testing and analytics.” BuzzFeed lives up to Drucker’s dictum (which we’ve discussed) that companies must go to customers systematically and find out what they consider to be of value.
3. The exhortation from Elon Musk to launch more non-Internet startups. In an interview earlier this year, Tesla Motors and SpaceX founder Elon Musk had a suggestion: “I recommend that people consider arenas outside of the Internet because there’s a lot of industries that could use that entrepreneurial talent and the skills that people have learned in creating those companies.” Indeed, Drucker similarly had admiration for innovations that tackled society’s biggest challenges: “Knowledge has to aim high to produce results. The goal has to be ambitious.”
4. The “uncarrier” policy of T-Mobile. T-Mobile wasn’t getting a lot of love from customers, so it decided to set itself off from competitors by analyzing the “pain points” for those using its services. Among them: hefty roaming charges, two-year contracts and hidden charges. T-Mobile then did away with all of those things and attracted a lot of new business. In essence, it had asked itself a very basic Drucker question: “What wants does the customer have that are not being adequately satisfied by the products or services offered him today?”
5. The innovative marketing of Beyoncé. Beyoncé put out a new album this year without any traditional industry promotion, and the release caused quite a sensation when discovered via social media. As Liv Buli of Forbes explained, Beyoncé also recorded a music video for each of the tracks off the album, turning it “simultaneously into a visual experience.” The result: Beyoncé broke iTunes records, selling more than 800,000 albums in the first three days. As Drucker wrote, “businessmen will have to learn to practice ‘marketing’ as an innovating force in itself.”
What do you think were the most Drucker-like business moves of 2013?