There should be underlying unity to a collection of essays.
There should be a point of view, a central theme, an organ point around which the whole volume composes itself.
And there is, I believe, such fundamental unity to this volume of essays, even though they date from more than a dozen years ago and discuss a variety of topics.
One of the essays, “Work and Tools,” states: “Technology is not about tools, it deals with how Man works.”
This might be the device of this entire volume, if not, indeed, for my entire work over the years.
All the essays in this volume deal with one or the other aspect of what used to be called “the material civilization”: they all deal with man’s tools and his materials, with his institutions and organizations, and with the way he works and makes his living.
But throughout, work and materials, organizations and a living are seen as “extensions of man,” rather than as material artifacts and part of inanimate nature.
If I were to reflect on my own position over the years, I would say that, from the very beginning, I rejected the common nineteenth-century view which divided man’s society into “culture,” dealing with ideas and symbols, and “civilization,” dealing with artifacts and things.
“Civilization” to me has always been a part of man’s personality, and an area in which he expressed his basic ideals, his dreams, his aspirations, and his values.
Some of the essays in this volume are about technology and its history.
Some are about management and managers.
Some are about specific tools—the computer, for instance.
But all of them are about man at work; all are about man trying to make himself effective.
An essay collection, however, should also have diversity.
It should break an author’s thought and work the way a prism breaks light.
Indeed, the truly enjoyable essay collection is full of surprises as the same author, dealing with very much the same areas, is suddenly revealed in new guises and suddenly reveals new facets of his subject.
The essays collected in this volume deal with only one of the major areas that have been of concern to me—the area of the “material civilization.”
But there is a good deal of variety in them.
Five of the twelve essays in this volume deal with technology, its history and its impact on man and his culture.
They range in time, however, from a look at the “first technological revolution,” seven thousand years ago, when the irrigation cities created what we still call “modern civilization,” to an attempt to evaluate the position of technology in our present century.
They all assume that history cannot be written, let alone make sense, unless it takes technology into account and is aware of the development, of man’s tools and his use of them through the ages.
This, needless to say, is not a position historians traditionally have held; there are only signs so far that they are beginning to realize that technology has been with us from the earliest date and has always been an intimate and integral part of man’s experience, man’s society, and man’s history.
At the same time, these essays all assume that the technologist, to use his tools constructively, has to know a good deal of history and has to see himself and his discipline in relationship to man and society—and that has been an even less popular position among technologists than the emphasis on technology has been among historians.
Four essays in this volume—the first two, the essay, “The Once and Future Manager,” and the essay on “Business Objectives and Survival Needs”—look upon the manager as the agent of today’s society and upon management as a central social function.
They assume that managers handle tools, assume that managers know their tools thoroughly and are willing to acquire new ones as needed.
But, above all, they ask the question, “What results do we expect from the manager; what results does his enterprise, whether a business or, a government agency, need from him?
What results, above all, do our society and the human beings that compose it have a right to expect from a manager and from management?”
The concern is with management as it affects the quality of life—that management can provide the quantities of life is taken as proven.
The remaining three essays (“Long-Range Planning,” “The Manager and the Moron,” and “Can Management Ever Be a Science?”) deal with basic approaches and techniques.
They are focused on management within the enterprise rather than on management as a social function.
But they stress constantly the purpose of management, which is not to be efficient but to be productive, for the human being, for economy, for society.
An essay collection, finally, should convey the personality of the author better than a book can.
This is why I enjoy reading essays.
It should bring out a man’s style, a man’s wit, and the texture of a man’s mind.
Whether this essay collection does this, I leave to the reader to judge.
But I do hope that these twelve essays of mine, written for different purposes and at different times over the last twelve years, will also help to establish the bond between author and writer, which, in the last analysis, is why a writer writes and a reader reads.
The computers, despite all the excitement they have been generating, are not yet economically important.
It’s only now that IBM is shipping them out at a rate of a thousand a month that they’re even beginning to have an impact.
But we haven’t begun to use the potential of the computer.
So far we are using it only for clerical chores, which are unimportant by definition.
To be sure, the computer has created something that had never existed in the history of the world—namely, paying jobs for mathematicians.
But that is hardly a major economic contribution, no matter what the graduate dean thinks.
So the economic impact of the new technologies is still in the future.
If we subtracted every single one of them from the civilian economy, we would hardly notice it in the figures—perhaps a percentage point or two.
But this situation of linear movement is rapidly changing in every respect.
And the greatest change is one that an economist, looking only at the figures, wouldn’t even notice: In the past twenty years we have created a brand-new form of capital, a brand-new resource, namely, knowledge.
Up until 1900, any society in the world would have done just as well as it did without men of knowledge.
We may have needed lawyers to defend criminals and doctors to write death certificates, but the criminals would have done almost as well without the lawyers, and the patients without the doctors.
We needed teachers to teach other ornaments of society, but this, too, was largely decoration.
The world prided itself on men of knowledge, but it didn’t need them to keep the society running.
As late as the mid-forties, General Motors carefully concealed the fact that one of its three top men, Albert Bradley, had a Ph.D.
It was even concealed that he had gone to college, because, quite obviously, a respectable man went to work as a water boy at age fourteen.
A Ph.D. was an embarrassing thing to have around.
Nowadays, companies boast about the Ph.D.’s on their payrolls.
Knowledge has become our capital resource, a terribly expensive one.
A man who graduates from a good business school represents some $100,000 of social investment, not counting what his parents spent on him, and not counting the opportunity costs.
His grandparents and great-grandparents had to go to work at the age of twelve or thirteen with the hoe in the potato patch so that he could forgo those ten years of contribution to society.
And that’s a tremendous capital investment.
Besides spending all that money, we are also doing something very revolutionary.
We are applying knowledge to work.
Seven-odd thousand years ago, the first great human revolution took place when our ancestors first applied skill to work.
They did not use skill to substitute for brawn.
The most skilled work very often requires the greatest physical strength; no ditch-digger works harder than the surgeon performing a major operation.
Rather, our ancestors put skills on top of physical labor.
And now—a second revolution — we’ve put knowledge on top of both.
Not as a substitute for skill, but as a whole new dimension.
Skill alone won’t do it any more.
Now, this has two or three important implications for management.
First, we must learn to make knowledge productive.
As yet we don’t really know how.
The payroll cost of knowledge workers already amounts to more than half the labor costs of practically all businesses I know.
That represents a tremendous capital investment in human beings.
But so far neither productivity trends nor profit margins show much sign of responding to it.
Pretty clearly, although business is paying for knowledge workers, it isn’t getting much back.
And if you look at the way we manage knowledge workers, the reason is obvious: we don’t know how.
One of the few things we do know is that for any knowledge worker, even for the file clerk, there are two laws.
The first one is that knowledge evaporates unless it’s used and augmented.
Skill goes to sleep, it becomes rusty, but it can be restored and refurbished very quickly.
That’s not true of knowledge.
If knowledge isn’t challenged to grow, it disappears fast.
It’s infinitely more perishable than any other resource we have ever had.
The second law is that the only motivation for knowledge is achievement.
Anybody who has ever had a great success is motivated from then on.
It’s a taste one never loses.
So we do know a little about how to make knowledge productive.
The Obsolescence of Experience
Another implication flows from the creation of this new knowledge resource.
The new generation of managers, those now aged thirty-five or under, is the first generation that thinks in terms of putting knowledge to work before one has accumulated a decade or two of experience.
Mine was the last generation of managers who measured their value entirely by experience.
All of us, of necessity, managed by experience—not a good process, because experience cannot be tested or be taught.
Experience must be experienced; except by a very great artist, it cannot be conveyed.
This means that the new generation and my generation are going to be horribly frustrated working together.
They rightly expect us, their elders and betters, to practice some of the things that we preach.
We don’t dream of it.
We preach knowledge and system and order, since we never had them.
But we go by experience, the one thing we do have.
We feel frustrated and lost because, after devoting half our lifetimes to acquiring experience, we still don’t really understand what we’re trying to do.
The young are always in the right, because time is on their side.
And that means we have to change.
This brings us to the third implication, a very important one.
Any business that wants to stay ahead will have to put very young people into very big jobs—and fast.
Older men cannot do these jobs—not because they lack the necessary intelligence, but because they have the wrong conditioned reflexes.
The young ones stay in school so long they don’t have time to acquire the experience we used to consider indispensable for big jobs.
And the age structure of our population is such that in the next twenty years, like it or not, we are going to have to promote people we wouldn’t have thought old enough, a few years ago, to find their way to the water cooler.
Companies must learn to stop replacing the sixty-five-year-old man with the fifty-nine-year-old.
They must seek out their good thirty-five-year-olds.
For all its importance, however, the appearance of knowledge as a new capital resource is not the most vivid change in our environment, if only because it does not yet have a visible impact on the world’s economic figures.
Probably the most vivid change is in technology.
Many of the old technologies, of course, still have a lot of life in them.
I think it’s quite clear that the automobile, for instance, has yet to experience its greatest growth period.
In the developed countries, however, it’s in a defensive position.
I don’t think we need a great deal of imagination to foresee the day when the private car will be banned in the midtown areas or the day when the internal combustion engine will be limited to over-the-road use.
Or consider steel.
I think one can quite easily foretell technological changes that will cut the cost of steel by about 40 percent.
But whether that’s enough to recreate momentum for the steel industry is debatable.
I think that steel would probably need a greater cost advantage to make it again the universal material it used to be.
Since steel, like all multipurpose materials, isn’t ideal for any one use, it has to compete on price.
And, as you know, the steel industry has lost 20 percent of the markets it had before World War II.
It’s concrete here, plastic there, and so on.
Whether steel will lose the automotive body business to one of the new composition materials in the next ten years is a moot question.
Only a fool would bet on it at this point, but by the same token only a fool would bet against it.
If it does happen, it’s very doubtful whether even a 40 percent reduction in cost might be enough to keep steel from joining the long parade of yesterday’s engines of economic growth.
In agriculture, the great need is for an advance in productivity—but again, not in the developed countries.
By now, the agricultural population in the developed countries has shrunk to such a small percentage of the total that even tripling its productivity would make little difference in the over-all economic picture.
And so on.
I’m not saying that the industries based on old technologies can’t advance, but I am saying they’re unlikely to provide the impetus we need for continuing expansion.
From now on, I think, the expansion will have to be powered by new industries based on new technologies, something we have not seen to any extent since before World War I.
Enter the Knowledge Utility
One of the most potentially earth-shaking forces in our economy is the technology of information.
I don’t mean simply the computer.
The computer is to information what the electric power station is to electricity.
The power station makes many other things possible, but it’s not where the money is.
The money is in the gimmicks and gizmos, the appliances, the motors and facilities made possible and necessary by electricity, that didn’t exist before.
Information, like electricity, is energy.
Just as electrical energy is energy for mechanical tasks, information is energy for mental tasks.
The History of the World in Two Hours
The computer is the central power station, but there are also the electronic-transmission facilities—the satellites and related devices.
We have devices to translate the energy, to convert the information.
We have the display capacity of the television tube, the capability to translate arithmetic into geometry, to convert from binary numbers into curves.
We can go from computer core to memory display, and from either one into hard copy.
All the pieces of the information system are here.
Technically, there is no reason why Sears, Roebuck could not offer tomorrow, for the price of a television set, a plug-in appliance that would put us in direct contact with all the information needed for schoolwork from kindergarten through college.
Already the time-sharing principle has begun to take hold.
I don’t think it takes too much imagination to see that a typical large company is about as likely to have its own computer twenty years hence as it is to have its own steam-generating plant today.
It is reasonably predictable that computers will become a common carrier, a public utility, and that only organizations with quite extraordinary needs will have their own.
Steel mills today have their own generators because they need such an enormous amount of power.
Twenty years hence, an institution that’s the equivalent of a steel mill in terms of mental work—MIT, for example—might well have its own computer.
But I think most other universities, for most purposes, will simply plug into time-sharing systems.
It would be silly to try to predict in detail the effects of any development as big as this.
All one can foresee for certain is a great change in the situation.
One cannot predict what it will lead to, and where and when and how.
A change as tremendous as this doesn’t just satisfy existing wants, or replace things we are now doing.
It creates new wants and makes new things possible.
A New Age of Information
The impact of information, however, should be greater than that of electricity, for a very simple reason.
Before electricity, we had power; we had energy.
It was very expensive and rather scarce, but we had it.
Before now, however, we have not had information.
Information has been unbelievably expensive, almost totally unreliable, and always so late that it was of little if any value.
Most of us who had to work with information in the past, therefore, knew we had to invent our own.
One developed, if one had any sense, a reasonably good instinct for what invention was plausible and likely to fly, and what wasn’t.
But real information just wasn’t to be had.
Now, for the first time, it’s beginning to be available and the over-all impact on society is bound to be very great.
Without attempting to predict the precise nature and timing of this impact, I think we can safely make a few assumptions.
ASSUMPTION ONE: Within the next ten years, information will become very much cheaper.
An hour of computer time today costs several hundred dollars at a minimum; I have seen figures that put the cost at about a dollar an hour in 1973 or so.
Maybe it won’t come down that steeply, but come down it will.
ASSUMPTION TWO: The present imbalance between the capacity to compute and store information and the capacity to use it will be remedied.
We will spend more and more money on producing the things that make a computer usable—the software, the programs, the terminals, and so on.
The customers aren’t going to be content just to have the computer sitting there.
ASSUMPTION THREE: The kindergarten stage is over.
We’re past the time when everybody was terribly impressed by the computer’s ability to do two plus two in fractions of a nanosecond.
We’re also past the stage of trying to find work for the computer by putting all the unimportant things on it—using it as a very expensive clerk.
Actually, nobody has yet saved a penny that way, as far as I can tell.
Clerical work—unless it’s a tremendous job, such as addressing seven-million copies of Life magazine every week—is not really done very cheaply on the computer.
But then, kindergartens are never cheap.
Now we can begin to use the computer for the things it should be used for—information, control of manufacturing processes, control of inventory, shipments, and deliveries.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be using the computer for payrolls, but that’s beside the point.
If payrolls were all it could do, we wouldn’t be interested in it.
Managing the Moron
We are beginning to realize that the computer makes no decisions; it only carries out orders.
It’s a total moron, and therein lies its strength.
It forces us to think, to set the criteria.
The stupider the tool, the brighter the master has to be—and this is the dumbest tool we have ever had.
All it can do is say either zero or one, but it can do that awfully fast.
It doesn’t get tired and it doesn’t charge overtime.
It extends our capacity more than any tool we have had for a long time, because of all the really unskilled jobs it can do.
By taking over these jobs, it allows us—in fact, it compels us—to think through what we are doing.
But though it can’t make decisions, the computer will—if we use it intelligently—increase the availability of information.
And that will radically change the organization structure of business—of all institutions, in fact.
Up to now we have been organizing, not according to the logic of the work to be done, but according to the absence of information.
Whole organization levels have existed simply to provide standby transmission facilities for the breakdowns in information flow that one could always take for granted.
Now these redundancies are no longer needed.
We mustn’t allow organizational structure to be made more complicated by the computer.
If the computer doesn’t enable us to simplify our organizations, it’s being abused.
Along with vastly increasing the availability of information, the computer will reduce the sheer volume of data that managers have had to cope with.
At present the computer is the greatest possible obstacle to management information, because everybody has been using it to produce tons of paper.
Now, psychology tells us that the one sure way to shut off all perception is to flood the senses with stimuli.
That’s why the manager with reams of computer output on his desk is hopelessly uninformed.
That’s why it’s so important to exploit the computer’s ability to give us only the information we want—nothing else.
The question we must ask is not, “How many figures can I get?” but “What figures do I need?
In what form?
When and how?”
We must refuse to look at anything else.
We no longer have to take figures that mean nothing to us and read them the way a gypsy reads tea leaves.
Instead, we must decide on our information needs and how the computer can fill those needs.
To do that, we must understand our operating processes, and the principles behind the processes.
We must apply knowledge and analysis to them, and convert them to a clerk’s routine.
Even a work of genius, thought through and systematized, becomes a routine.
Once it has been created, a shipping clerk can do it—or a computer can do it.
So, once we have achieved real understanding of what we are doing, we can define our needs and program the computer to fill them.
Beyond the Numbers Barrier
We must realize, however, that we cannot put in the computer what we cannot quantify.
And we cannot quantify what we cannot define.
Many of the important things, the subjective things, are in this category.
To know something, to really understand something important, one must look at it from sixteen different angles.
It would be difficult to say …
People are perceptually slow, and there is no shortcut to understanding; it takes a great deal of time.
Managers today cannot take the time to understand, because they don’t have it.
They are too busy working on things they can quantify—things they could put in a computer.
This is why the manager should use the computer to control the routines of business, so that he himself can spend ten minutes a day controlling instead of five hours.
Then he can use the rest of his time to think about the important things he cannot really know — people and environment.
These are things he cannot define; he has to take the time to go and look.
The failure to go out and look is what accounts for most of our managerial mistakes today. (see Going outside)
Our greatest managerial failure rate comes in the step from middle to top management.
Most middle managers are doing essentially the same things they did on their entrance jobs: controlling operations and fighting fires.
In contrast, the top manager’s primary function is to think — a thoughtscape.
The criteria for success at the top level bear little resemblance to the criteria for promotion from middle management.
The new top manager, typically, has been promoted on the basis of his ability to adapt successfully.
But suddenly he’s so far away from the firing line that he doesn’t know what to adapt to—so he fails.
He may be an able man, but nothing in his work experience has prepared him to think.
He hasn’t the foggiest notion how one goes about making entrepreneurial or policy decisions.
That’s why the failure rate at the senior-management level is so high.
In my experience, two out of three men promoted to top management don’t make it; they stay middle management.
They aren’t necessarily fired.
Instead, they get put on the Executive Committee with a bigger office, a bigger title, a bigger salary—and a higher nuisance value because they have had no exposure to thinking.
This is a situation we are going to eliminate.
On the other hand, we are going to open up a new problem of development at the middle-management level.
It isn’t difficult for us to get people into middle management today.
But it is going to be, because we shall need thinking people in the middle, not just at the top.
The point at which we teach people to think will have to be moved further and further down the line.
We can already see this problem in the big commercial banks.
We will have to manage knowledge correctly in order to preserve it.
And this gets us into myriad questions of teaching and learning, of developing knowledge and techniques of thinking—not only in the developed nations, but in countries that are yet unaware of the distinction between management-by-experience and management-by-thinking, countries that are unaware of management itself.
But that is another subject.
Peter Drucker — political / social ecologist
Data, Information, Knowledge
The Emerging Knowledge Society