The Clean Sheet

Photo: Niklas Friedwall
Photo: Niklas Friedwall

Peter Drucker taught us, again and again, to focus on “tomorrow’s breadwinners” and cease pouring resources into today’s breadwinners, much less yesterday’s.

In an age when business requires faster adaptation than ever, many now take this principle for granted. But it still can be tricky to put into practice, which is why executives continue to talk about the best way to actually get from yesterday to tomorrow.

“In any transformation I’ve seen, the winner is always the one who takes out a clean sheet of paper and says, ‘This is how you would do it if you didn’t have the drag of your traditional business,’” Perry Evans, CEO of Closely, a digital marketing firm, said in an interview published in Sunday’s New York Times.

As we’ve noted, Drucker loved this particular approach, urging that everything any organization does be periodically put on trial for its life.

This exercise will not only help you determine what to stop doing; it will also help you figure out what to double down on. In fact, “the starting point is to identify the activities that are productive, that should be strengthened, promoted and expanded,” Drucker counseled in Managing in a Time of Great Change.

One more tip for a successful transformation: Involve a variety of junior people within the enterprise, and not just the leaders, in thinking about it. In an interview that appears in Managing in the Next Society, Drucker spoke of one company that he particularly admired.

“Every three months, a group of people from the organization—younger people, junior people, but never the same people—sits down and looks at one segment of the company’s products, or services, or process or policies with a question: If we didn’t do this already, would we go into it the way we are now?” Drucker explained. “Every four or five years, that company has systematically abandoned or at least modified every single one of it products and processes, and especially its services. That’s the secret of its growth and its profitability.”

What do you think is the secret to successful business transformation?