We are all executives in a knowledge economy

Photo by Roberto Lopez on Unsplash

Peter Drucker is one of those intellectual heroes you end up with if you’re of a certain business/nerdish bent. What can you say about the guy generally thought of as one of the first management gurus who also observed that:

I have been saying for many years that we are using the word ‘guru’ only because ‘charlatan’ is too long to fit into a headline.

One of my favorite Drucker books is *The Effective Executive.* I did a fairly lengthy review a couple of years ago (Effective Executives Are Design Thinkers). His  argument is that executives must focus on being effective—on doing the right things—and not worry terribly much about whether they are efficient.

He would be bemused by today’s obsession with productivity and “getting things done.” He had no objection to doing things right; he simply thought it was a very distant second to doing the right thing.

Drucker is also credited with coining the term knowledge worker. Lately, I’ve been thinking that the term “worker” is misleading. A worker is someone who operates within the structure and guardrails laid down by those executives focusing on doing the right think. If we’re not careful, this absolves the worker from responsibility for choosing what constitutes “the right thing.”

How often have you heard someone claim that they are only a “worker bee?” Perhaps you’ve said it yourself at some point. This is an attempt to deny responsibility for effectiveness; to ask someone else to make the hard decisions about the right things to do.

What the knowledge economy does is to remove the distinctions between executive and worker. We are all both and own the problem of choosing the right things to do. Each of us needs to work out and continually update our list of right things to do; we are each responsible for becoming effective.

That’s much more demanding work than being efficient. Being efficient means optimizing within the context of a stable environment. Who wouldn’t like that?

The last few weeks have been a powerful reminder that we don’t operate in a stable environment. That has been true for some time. Now, it’s harder to pretend otherwise.

If we want stability, then we must create it from the choices we make.

This was Drucker’s insight about executives. Their first responsibility was to make conscious choices about what were the right things to do. What executives do is to create stability. And this responsibility now belongs to each of us.

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