The Region

Managing for the Future: The 1990s and Beyond

Book Review

Thomas E. Gainor | First Vice President

Published December 1, 1992  | December 1992 issue

By Peter F. Drucker
Truman Talley Books/Dutton
370 pages

Few, if any, authors in recent years have contributed as much creative thought as has Peter Drucker to the philosophy and practice of management. His provocative, readable style coupled with genuine inspiration about human and organizational behavior have placed his writings on managers' "must read" list for more than two decades.

Managing for the Future: The 1990s and Beyond, the most recent of Drucker's offerings, is a compendium of essays written over the past five years and previously published in a variety of periodicals. While they offer nothing revolutionary, the collective wisdom and insights they represent are well worth reading.

In particular, his essays on performance management, management accountability and innovative achievements in the non-profit sector offer thought-provoking ideas for those interested in honing their knowledge of management. In fact, the essay format blends itself well to a busy reader's schedule in that the segments stand independently and can be read piecemeal or together with equal value.

A dominant theme in many of the essays is the importance of transnational thinking by future corporate managers. In an economic environment that is increasingly dependent on specialized expertise, managing for the broader international market is likely to offer the best return. Even more critical, in Drucker's view, is the need for managers to think and plan for products that are beyond the next generation. The traditional approach toward product research and design calls for improving products or designing new ones based on existing or immediate future needs, then maintaining those designs through their market life.

Drucker asserts that the most successful managers in the 1990s and beyond will be those who develop and design successor products while they are bringing to market the current product. By so doing they may well limit the "cash cow" potential of a successful product, but they will enhance their longer-term market share by establishing their own products as likely successors to existing products. He cites the Japanese as successful practitioners of this approach.

Among other Drucker precepts are:

  • Productivity, innovation and market share, not short-term profit, must be our standards for judging success.
  • The world will be increasingly segmented into regional trading blocks whose comparative advantage will be determined in large part by relative commitments to innovation, employee education and competent management.
  • The number of manufacturing jobs will inevitably decline. The United States should focus its attention on enhancing the potential of its knowledge-based service industries, whose products, such as health care, will be valued across national or regional boundaries.

One of Drucker's more appealing attributes is his ability to lay out specific action steps for readers interested in capitalizing on the insights he offers. From managing international trade to managing and educating an increasingly technical labor force to "managing the boss," Drucker provides ideas that are sure to strike a responsive and potentially productive chord with those interested in sharpening their management focus.

Drucker's admonition, "adapt or die," can readily apply to corporate, government, nonprofit and Federal Reserve institutions. Persons responsible for leading those institutions will find in Managing for the Future a variety of ideas that will improve their chances to survive and prosper in the volatile environment of the 1990s.