Joe’s Journal: Peter Drucker Meets Wayne Gretsky

Effective executives know that they have to get many things done effectively. Therefore, they concentrate. And the first rule for the concentration of executive efforts is to slough off the past that has ceased to be productive. The first-class resources, especially those scarce resources of human strength, are immediately pulled out and put to work on the opportunities of tomorrow. If leaders are unable to slough off yesterday, to abandon yesterday, they simply will not be able to create tomorrow.

—Peter F. Drucker

The best defense in a period of rapid change such as the current environment is an offense of continuous improvement and innovation. This requires shedding products and processes that are no longer productive in order to free up financial resources and people to meet the future’s challenges.

Yet to “slough off yesterday,” as Peter Drucker advised, isn’t easy. It often demands that we replace or shrink products and technologies that were recently core to the business and to the corporation’s success. For instance, IBM’s agility and speed in identifying expanding markets in software and consulting services, while foreseeing shrinking margins in previously core mainframe hardware, has allowed it to continue as a technological leader for multiple generations. Kodak, on the other hand, clung too long to older technologies and did not create products to meet evolving customer demands. As a result, the company finds itself forced to sell off its patent portfolio and is struggling to make its way out of bankruptcy.

The increasingly rapid pace of technological change requires that managers see reality clearly and discern the direction of future trends just as they are, and not as they would hope them to be based on previous investments and managerial commitments. We need to systematically abandon the old and comfortable and, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, “skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

—Joe Maciariello