Lights, Camera, Drucker!

In Adventures of a BystanderPeter Drucker wrote, “The Hollywood life has never been for me.”

Perhaps that’s one reason why, although he spent decades living within easy driving distance of the major film studios of Los Angeles, Drucker wrote little about business practices within the entertainment industry.

But Drucker did recognize the power of Hollywood to shape our thinking and perception of the world, especially since, as he noted in Managing in Turbulent Times, “movie and radio have . . . penetrated and transformed lives far more drastically than the railroad transformed the lives of people in the 19th century.”

And so it is that Drucker’s good friend, the leadership expert Warren Bennis, wrote this week in Bloomberg Businessweek that the best of the silver screen can offer a valuable education.

“Over the past 50 years or so, I’ve studied leaders of all types, from military generals to CEOs and politicians,” Bennis explained. “And being based near Hollywood at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, I’ve taken a special interest in movies and television and what I could learn about leadership from observing directors.” Bennis cited The King’s Speech (2010) and The Candidate (1972) as particular favorites.

Drucker himself wrote, albeit dismissively, of popular conceptions of entrepreneurship being based, in part, on “the entrepreneur of . . . Hollywood movies, the person who suddenly has a ‘brilliant idea’ and rushes off to put it into effect.” And he wrote, more respectfully, of Charlie Chaplin and his movie Modern Times, which “gave artistic expression to the protest of human creativity and human dignity against that regimentation of traditional organization.”

Ben Turpin and Charlie Chaplin. Image source: John McNab

Of course, Drucker also felt it was important to remember that heroic life looks different from heroic cinema. As he wrote in Landmarks of Tomorrow, “everyone is an understudy to the leading role in the drama of human destiny” and the “great roles are not written in the iambic pentameter or the Alexandrine of the heroic theater.” They are, instead, “prosaic—played out in one’s daily life, in one’s work, in one’s citizenship, in one’s compassion or lack of it, in one’s courage to stick on an unpopular principle, and in one’s refusal to sanction man’s inhumanity to man in an age of cruelty and moral numbness.”

Which movies do you think offer the most valuable lessons—by either positive or negative example—about effective management?