A Class With Drucker
by William A. Cohen, PhD
As children, we believe in magic. As adults, we start believing in magic knowledge. Although management science is not universally accepted, and many consider it an excess of theory, I’ve seen how the difference between a studied approach to management and the norm can make a world of difference. As a result, I read Drucker, but in leafing through the volumes of material by and about Peter Drucker, I found William “Wild Bill” Cohen’s summary highly useful.
This is not Drucker for Dummies. It is recollections of classes taken with Drucker as run through the filter of the lessons Drucker taught that could be applied in Cohen’s business career. Cohen very carefully unites the principle to Drucker’s example to anecdotes from his own experience and research, and it makes for a convincing illustration of Druckerian ideas. Even more, it distills the complexity of Drucker’s body of work into a few powerful insights for newcomers which will help them see its usefulness and want to read more.
A format of this nature is essential for this topic since it is frequently heretical to “common sense” as repeated to us by others. Starting with “What Everybody Knows is Frequently Wrong,” Cohen walks us through a Drucker approach to deconstructing management, and then with the chapter “You Must Know Your People to Lead Them,” he starts building for us a vision of what a Drucker-informed corporation would look like, and why it would succeed. This approach yanks the reader from a mindset informed by preconceptions, reframes the question of management, and then rebuilds knowledge in an informative way.
Throughout my time as both a consultant and an employee, I have been repeatedly shocked by how smart people in management positions can be so lost on the basics of management science. Management science is both learning how to lead people, and knowing how to make business-sensible decisions, and joining the two is not necessarily as much complex as it can be delicate. It’s easy to get lost in tangents. As an introduction to Drucker, A Class With Drucker also teaches us why management theory can be essential and gives us a footpath to get started.
For these reasons, I’d recommend A Class With Drucker to any people newly in leadership positions, or leaders frustrated with lack of success. It reads easily because it uses simple language in sentences of varied length, giving the text a smoothly flowing, conversational rhythm. Every point in the book is well documented with examples and explanation. Cohen’s voice is reassuring when he deals with provocative ideas. You can read it like a novel but learn it like a textbook.
What I would not do is try to use this book as a summary of Drucker. It’s an introduction to the Druckerian principles most vital to a manager, but not a survey of his work. Summarizing all of his 40-plus books and many articles is a different kind of task entirely. However, as a pleasant read to get your feet wet and make you curious for more, A Class With Drucker is first-rate.