The Danger of Being Deskbound

Rick Wartzman
Rick Wartzman

In his latest online column for Time magazine, Drucker Institute Executive Director Rick Wartzman writes about Rick Raemisch, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, who spent a night in solitary confinement at one of his state penitentiaries so that he could get “a better sense” of what such an isolated existence “did to the prisoners who were housed there, sometimes for years.”

“Although Raemisch was dealing with a situation extreme in many respects,” Wartzman notes, “the basic lesson for any manager is unmistakable”: Nothing beats personal, direct observation, as Peter Drucker asserted in Management Challenges for the 21st Century.

“Market research, focus groups and the like are highly valued, and rightly so,” Drucker added. “But still, they always focus on the company’s products. They never focus on what the customer buys and is interested in. Only by being a customer oneself, a salesman oneself, a patient oneself can one get true information about the outside.”

Wartzman provides examples of how various leaders practiced this Drucker principle—Irish supermarket pioneer Feargal Quinn, former GM Chairman Alfred Sloan and musician Gustav Mahler.

Concludes Wartzman: “Quinn, Sloan and Mahler all got it—and Raemisch gets it: There is simply no substitute for stepping into your customer’s shoes, if not his shackles.”