10 Quick Lessons from Great Business Thinker

BusinessWeek calls him “the man who invented management..He advised the heads of GM, Sears, General Electric, IBM, Intel, and the American Red Cross. And in 2002, President Bush—who was a follower of his teachings—gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The man is Peter Drucker.
And to see why Bush and so many executives look to Drucker’s work for guidance, here are 10 of the best lessons from the man himself… lessons that may very well change the way you think about business, forever.

1. “Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems. ”

Problem-based thinking: How can we divide this cake fairly?
Opportunity-based thinking: How can we bake more cakes?
If you focus on problems, at best you maintain the status quo. If you focus on opportunities, you achieve results above and beyond what already exists.
Ask yourself: Are you spending most of your time putting out fires and focusing on problems—or are you focusing on exploring new opportunities?

2. “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency that which should not be done at all.”

Managing your time is less about doing things right, and more about doing the right things. Before you try to optimize your schedule, look at it first to see what you can cut-out all-together.
What are you doing on a daily basis that you can eliminate? Delegate? If you stopped doing it right now, would your life change much?

3. “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

Every management system you put in place should make the jobs of your employeeseasier to do, not harder. If you have to keep pushing people to do things your way—maybe it’s the wrong way.
Ask yourself: What procedures do you have in place that rarely get done? Should you reconsider if they are even necessary?

4. “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself”

Conventional wisdom tells us marketing is about letting people know about our products and services (“brand awareness”). Drucker reminds us that marketing is actually the process of getting to know your customers—their fears, frustrations, aspirations—so your product or service fits their needs so well they want to buy it without you having to beg for the sale.
Be honest: Are you getting to know your potential customers before creating the product – or are you creating a product and then hoping people will buy?

5. “Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes."

Unless you are constantly building on and improving your knowledge in a certain field, you are losing it. If you thought you could learn about marketing in business school and then never revisit that knowledge, you might as well have not learned it in the first place.
In what areas have you stopped constantly building on your knowledge? What can you do to re-start it today?

6. “Business has only two functions — marketing and innovation.”

Innovation makes products; marketing sells products. Other than those two departments, everything else in your business is a cost – which means you should cut back spending time on them as much as possible. If not, you’re investing in areas that aren’t producing much return.
What business departments are you focusing your energy on that are not driving the top line? Can you pull back at all?

7. “Entrepreneurship is ‘risky’ mainly because so few of the so-called entrepreneurs know what they are doing.”

So many people just want to “start a business”—they take out a loan, open up a bakery, and then it’s out of business a year later. Then they chalk it up to bad luck or a bad economy.
But how about this? What if you spent more time sharpening your axe before trying to cut down the tree? What if you spent a month devouring The Lean Startup by Eric Reisand Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz? You can take some of the risk out of the equation (not all) with one word: reading.
Are you spending as much time reading as you should? Mark Cuban says he reads three hours a day—how do you compare?

8. “If the executive lets the flow of events determine what he does, what he works on, and what he takes seriously, he will fritter himself away 'operating.'”

The most successful people don’t just show up to work and answer phones calls and put out fires. They are focused on their battle plan every day. They don’t let people just barge into their office and dump their problems on them. A successful day starts off with deciding you’re going to play on the offensive, not defensive.
Are you in control of your schedule? Or are other people’s problems running how you spend your time?

9. “The three most charismatic leaders in this century inflicted more suffering on the human race than almost any trio in history: Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. What matters is not the leader's charisma. What matters is the leader's mission."

There is no “best kind" of leader. There are social ones like Richard Branson and quiet ones like Tony Hsieh. Both have taken their organizations to unimaginable success.
What makes someone a leader is not how enthusiastic they are at the podium. What makes someone a leader is what their vision is—and how well they lead others toward it.
How clear is your mission? Are you giving it as much attention as it deserves?

10. “It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.”

It’s easier to go from good to great than from bad to good. So focus on growing your talents into strengths instead of trying to be a ‘well-rounded’ person.
A person who is good at a lot of things is replaceable. A person who excels in something is indispensable.
In what areas are you already good at? What can you do to turn those things into your super-powers?
PS: Like this article? Then connect with Willem Tait on LinkedIn at
Credit: Author (Crown/Random House) and Venture Associate (Alsop Louie Partners)