Peter Drucker and the Art of War

Rick Wartzman
Rick Wartzman

In his latest column for Forbes online, Drucker Institute Executive Director Rick Wartzman writes about “reinventing strategy for the world we live in today.”

The springboard for Wartzman’s piece is a recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, by Dana O’Donovan and Noah Rimland Flower of the Monitor Institute, which traces the history of strategic thinking to its origins in the military.

“O’Donovan and Flower make the case that, by the 1950s, the military’s strategic framework had been adopted, pretty much wholesale, by corporate executives,” Wartzman writes. “Across the business landscape, they observe, ‘strategic planners focused on predicting the future based on historic trend lines; invested heavily in gathering all available data; and produced a small number of directives issued from the top, for the rest of the organization to execute.’”

The problem, Wartzman notes, is that “these practices are largely antiquated today. . . . In a world that is changing ever more rapidly and unpredictably, O’Donovan and Flower say, we must turn toward what they term ‘adaptive strategy.’ It is total Drucker.”

Indeed, Wartzman shows how Peter Drucker’s teachings—dating to as early as the 1950s—is perfectly aligned with “adaptive strategy.” Under this new approach, prediction gives way to experimentation; mere data collection is supplanted by pattern recognition; and execution from the top down is replaced by the delegation of authority and decision-making pushed to the front lines.

In their article, O’Donovan and Flower note that military thinkers have “long since moved beyond the traditional approach” and have established much more fluid, flexible organizations. “Their counterparts in the corporate and the social sectors, many of whom are still mired in the strategic mindset of old, need to catch up,” Wartzman writes. “If they do, they’ll also be catching up with Drucker.”