Recently I commented on one of my favorite thinkers, Peter Drucker, who died late last year. More recently, I read a review essay by Adrian Wooldridge on Drucker’s thought as described in a new book on his life and was struck by the following fact: 7 of the 10 companies that have seen the biggest growth in share value over the past five years did not exist twenty years ago! What more significant evidence of Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” is there? And what more evidence of the wisdom of Drucker’s opinion that the challenges facing companies now are more dramatic than anything seen in his lifetime? These points served to remind me of his most critical advice, which is that these new realities demand that institutions completely rethink everything. And by everything, he meant just that, but primarily a fierce focus on core competencies. My anecdotal reflection on how well American institutions “get it” and have accomplished this over the past couple of decades is fairly positive, at least in the private sector.
The major failure in adopting this mindset has been with government at all levels, and especially those government institutions that deliver K-12 education. Note the following comments (unusually Drucker-like coming from an educator) by Joel Klein, New York City school chancellor, to a CEO summit on education: “Other than global security, I don’t think there’s a more important issue facing our nation—and I don’t think as a nation we’re remotely serious enough about the issue…there needs to be a profound shift……the whole educational system is run on the myth that we can figure out through a compliance-based model a way to manage ourselves to success…..if there was ever a set of dysfunctional incentives, it’s in public education…”. Drucker would be pleased, and we need more of this attitude, but I frankly don’t hear enough of our education or business leaders talking in these terms.