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How Drucker taught me to focus

by Shao Ming Lo

Leader To Leader, No.56, Spring 2010

A grain of salt is needed — bobembry

Ten years ago I founded the Peter F. Drucker Academy (PFDA) in China with the help of Dr. Drucker.

During one of my visits with him, and after we discussed the Academy’s development plans, he said, “You look very tired.

I find that you are always completing several things at the same time, and you tend to be personally involved in each one of them.

If you continue like that, you would most likely do quite well in each task but not excellently in anyone of them.

The other outcome is that you will burn yourself out.”

Drucker then asked me what I think is the most important task for the academy in the next two months.

I listed four or five different tasks but he shook his head and said, “You didn’t answer my question.

In each stage there is only one most important task.”


This was the first time someone pointed out to me my problem of not being able to focus when I develop my business.

Drucker’s words caught my attention but I did not really understand them at the time, at least not until years later when I systematically studied his books.

 

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I am an entrepreneur who started from nothing.

I founded the Bright China Group, which used to own several business units engaged in different businesses.

Through our exploration and contemplation of our mission, objectives, and key activities, we have now greatly narrowed down that diverse set of business units.

The group’s core business is now defined in these terms: “To use Drucker’s knowledge to help China’s enterprises and public service organizations develop management and managers.” (see chapter 24 in Management, Revised Edition)


The business unit that supports this core business is the Peter F. Drucker Academy.

The role of all other businesses under the Bright China Group, including our other for-profit businesses, is to support and complement this core business.

Within the PFDA, we have also undergone this refinement and adjustment.

We have used Harvard’s online programs, and we have also conducted Entrepreneurship training programs throughout China.

These might be worth continuing if we want to increase our revenue and make ourselves better known, but they also distract us from achieving our mission—so we have discontinued them.

After this continuous process of consolidation the efficiency in the use of our resources has markedly improved, and we now have more resources to invest in mission oriented innovative projects.


In his famous article “The Theory of the Business,” Drucker posed his most classic question, “What is our business, what should be our business?”

Change this question from addressing a business to an individual, and it becomes “What is my job?

What should my job be?”

In fact, this amounts to asking organizations or individuals what their mission is.

This is where we derive the specific objectives we have to achieve in different areas, and the kind of key activities we have to engage in to achieve them.

Three Insights

Once we identify our key activities we should commit our resources to them in order to produce outstanding results.

This is strategic thinking and the essence of the strategic planning process.

Strategy is in fact the art of focusing.

This may sound simple, but it is easier said than done.

For me, although I have spent ten years exploring and thinking about this, I only have the following preliminary experiences and insights to report.

Pursue Excellence

My first insight is, if you have a choice of doing several things that are very meaningful to you (for example, several business units under a holding company, or several different products or services in a business unit) you should pick one of them that suits you best, and the only test of suitability is performance—others may not be able to do it, or can do it with difficulty, but you can use the same or less effort and still perform better than others.

In other words, you can choose to pursue excellence rather than mediocrity by picking your tasks.You can then set a performance standard that is higher than what is commonly accepted, and this task will become the most motivating one to you, as well as the one that can give you the greatest results.

The Challenge of Acting

My second insight is that regardless of planned abandonment or innovation, management’s biggest challenge is not knowing what to do, but acting.

This is what Drucker referred to as “the moral courage of decision making.”

An organization or individual is always under pressure and exposed to temptation from internal and external sources.

Our habits, desire for novelty, pride, and power make us vulnerable to these pressures and temptations.

To do the right thing is always painful and lonely.

No matter how hard you try to communicate, even if you are good at it, you may be seen as the opposite of what used to be a well-regarded and respected boss.

In times like these, in order to persevere, you can only believe that “God can see.”

Those who are not religious can substitute the phrase “time will prove everything” to motivate themselves.

Making One Out of Many

My third insight is that we should try to design several different tasks to make them one.

When I was young I had the ability to memorize up to a hundred different numbers.

People thought I had a great memory but what I did was merely memorize several key numbers, figure out their relationship, and then calculate the rest of the numbers in my mind.

I have used this ability to figure out the relationship between different tasks in my business.

No matter how hard you focus your efforts there are always too many tasks, requiring more resources than any organization can commit to, and requiring more time than an individual has available.

These tasks are always essential and you cannot simply pick one and abandon the others.

Rather, you should think what the objectives of each task are, think of all these targeted achievements as a whole, and see if you can redesign one of the tasks so that in achieving it, you also achieve the objectives of other tasks at the same time.


For example, in the Bright China Group, the management committee meets once every six months for two days.

In the past, we have had to make a lot of specific decisions in these meetings.

As the chairperson I have to spend a considerable amount of time in order to understand these matters and their background and to prepare an agenda that covers all the businesses.

On the other hand, between meetings members of the management committee have to maintain close communications with one another to update their strategic thinking, report on the current situation in their area of responsibility, and share their insights and what they have learned.

This exchange of information requires time from each member, but since they are all very busy this important communication function is often neglected.


When we reconsidered the function of these meetings and the objective of these communications, as well as the relationship between the meetings and communications, we decided to change the way these meetings were conducted.

We stopped using meeting time to make specific decisions but rather used it to fully communicate between members, focusing on strategic development and related matters.

With improved communications, each specific decision is now made by the executive who is responsible for that area of business.

This allows us to strengthen the function of our meeting, which is to clarify our strategic direction and enable the decision for each specific matter to be more consistent with the overall strategic direction.

Moreover, it also reduces the time required to prepare for the meeting and its agenda.

All I have to do is to organize my notes on strategic thinking, which I jot down from time to time.

With that, I already have a good outline to guide the discussions at meetings.

Here is another example of taking different tasks and making them one.

For a long time within the Bright China Group our investment business seemed to be mostly unrelated to the Peter F. Drucker Academy.

In our investment business, we have faith in Warren Buffett’s principles, and have used his evaluation standards and procedures to choose our investment targets.

As we have gradually deepened our understanding of Drucker’s management principles and of Buffett’s investment principles we found that they have much in common.


A good enterprise’s strength is rooted in its management.

Its long-term economic characteristics, superior financial performance, and secure debt structure are all the results of good management.

Management’s integrity and rationality are characteristics that both Drucker and Buffett have emphasized.

With that in mind, we have consciously applied PFDA’s competence in our investment business, and at the same time used the relationships from our investment business to develop the PFDA.


As an example, we once wanted to increase our equity holding in a high-quality enterprise that we had invested in.

Before doing so, Bright China’s investment people visited it and found that its senior management were indecisive and troubled by their need to diversify.

As an external investor, we reviewed their entire business from the basics and came up with our recommendations on their strategic positioning.


They found our input extremely valuable, and they further agreed to reference the contents of Drucker’s “Business X-ray” when they receive a copy of Drucker’s book “Managing for Results” from us.

They will start by looking at their existing categories of products and proceed to systematic strategic thinking.

Further, they have agreed to become one of the first corporate participants in PFDA’s latest innovative experiment—to build a lifelong learning system in their enterprise and pay for PFDA’s services.

Thus our investment team has not only completed their own work, but they have also helped PFDA’s marketing and sales promotion.


There are in fact many opportunities to redesign different tasks and make them function as one.

They should also be extended to combine the fulfillment of one’s responsibilities with one’s personal development.

As Drucker pointed out, Descartes’ modernism—an approach to thinking that has dominated Western thought for more than 300 years and that views the whole as the “sum of its parts”—is already invalid in explaining today’s reality.

In its place is what Drucker called the post-modern paradigm and worldview, which advocates holism—it is only by understanding the entirety that we can understand the individual parts. See “Analysis to Perception, the New World View” in The New Realities

In other words, it emphasizes attention to the inherent relationship between different parts of the whole.

Only through this understanding can we make our complicated and difficult work more vivid and interesting, meaningful and not monotonous.

In doing so, our workload will lighten, our performance will be enhanced, and our personal development will be accelerated.

 

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bbx How to guarantee non-performance

bbx A user's guide to MBO

bbx The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization

It seems to me that his real focus is the effort to try to learn management — bobembry

 

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Peter Drucker: Conceptual Resources

The Über Mentor

A political / social ecologist
a different way of seeing and thinking about
the big picture
— lead to his top-of-the-food-chain reputation

drucker business week

about Management (a shock to the system)

 

“I am not a ‘theoretician’; through my consulting practice I am in daily touch with the concrete opportunities and problems of a fairly large number of institutions, foremost among them businesses but also hospitals, government agencies and public-service institutions such as museums and universities.

And I am working with such institutions on several continents: North America, including Canada and Mexico; Latin America; Europe; Japan and South East Asia.” — PFD

 

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List of his books

 

Large combined outline of Drucker’s books — useful for topic searching.

 

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High tech is living in the nineteenth century,
the pre-management world.
They believe that people pay for technology.
They have a romance with technology.
But people don't pay for technology:
they pay for what they get out of technology.” —
The Frontiers of Management

Keywords: tlnkwfocus

 

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic”. — Peter Drucker


The shift from manual workers who do as they are being told — either by the task or by the boss — to knowledge workers who have to manage themselves ↓ profoundly challenges social structure

Managing Oneself is a REVOLUTION in human affairs.” … “It also requires an almost 180-degree change in the knowledge workers’ thoughts and actions from what most of us—even of the younger generation—still take for granted as the way to think and the way to act.” …

… “Managing Oneself is based on the very opposite realities: Workers are likely to outlive organizations (and therefore, employers can’t be depended on for designing your life), and the knowledge worker has mobility.” ← in a context

 

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These pages are attention directing tools for navigating a world moving toward unimagined futures.

It’s up to you to figure out what to harvest and calendarize
working something out in time (1915, 1940, 1970 … 2040 … the outer limit of your concern)nobody is going to do it for you.

It may be a step forward to actively reject something (rather than just passively ignoring) and then figure out a coping plan for what you’ve rejected.

Your future is between your ears and our future is between our collective ears — it can’t be otherwise. A site exploration starting point

 

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