Joe’s Journal: Drucker’s Best Book Ever

“Whenever people ask me which of my books I consider the best, I smile and say, ‘The next.’ I do not, however, mean it as a joke. I mean it the way Verdi meant it when he talked of writing an opera at eighty in the pursuit of a perfection that had always eluded him.”

—Peter F. Drucker

Verdi wrote the opera Falstaff in 1893 when he was 80 years old. Verdi lived to be 88 years of age and continued to write; yet Falstaff was his last and probably greatest opera.

In Peter Drucker’s 80th year, 1989, he wrote the landmark Harvard Business Review article “What Business Can Learn From Nonprofits.”

I believe that by 1989, Drucker regretted not having spent more time on improving the management of social-sector organizations—a regret he then decisively and authoritatively tackled until his death in November 2005. In fact, I am quite sure that if he were alive today, Drucker would try to convince leaders of our society that our problems are not primarily economic but, rather, social and spiritual.

He saw hope for America not in the political process, but in the professionalization of management within the social sector. These organizations are producing positive results in problem areas that have been intractable for government: rehabilitation of drug addicts and alcoholics; aiding the unemployed and homeless; helping to shore up deficiencies in primary and secondary education; developing facilities and programs for inner-city youth; and reducing rates of recidivism among former prisoners.

Drucker did not believe he was called to solve these problems directly, but he looked to help those organizations that could provide answers. This is the purpose of his influential 1990 book Managing the Nonprofit Organization. In addition, it was around this time that Drucker intensified his work with many leaders in the social sector.

It is my view that his most important contributions were in mentoring others in management who, in turn, have helped to improve the functioning of American society. So, while we seem pre-occupied with the 2012 presidential campaign, there is a revolution going on in the social sector. It is here we should look to help turn the “rejects of our society into respectable and responsible citizens.”

Drucker practiced charity and knew the truth of the phrase “it is better to give than to receive.” Drucker’s best book may well be the one he wrote in the lives of others.

—Joe Maciariello