Drucker on Computer

In his book, The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker analyzed the ways that management practices and principles affect the performance of organizations, individuals, and society. The book covers the basic principles of management and gives professionals the tools to perform the tasks that the environment of tomorrow will require of them.

These are my take-aways from reading the book.

In the chapter “Effectiveness Must Be Learned,” Drucker discussed the knowledge worker in a modern organization and why they need to be effective. Computer is an essential tool used by the knowledge workers.

The computer, in Drucker’s eyes, is a “mechanical moron” and can handle only quantifiable data. However, the computer does handle such data with speed, accuracy, and precision. If programmed, it can grind out a large volume of quantified information that is unobtainable manually.

For many people, the quantifiable data we can feed into our computers exist, by and large, only what goes on inside an organization. For effective decision-making, the relevant outside events are rarely available in quantifiable form until it is much too late to do anything about them.

Another challenge is that the important and relevant outside events are often qualitative and not easily or not capable of being quantified. To be able to quantify, we need to have the “facts” and a conceptual framework for quantifying those “facts.” To treat an event as a fact, it needs to be an event that somebody has defined, has classified, and, above all, has endowed with relevance.

The truly important events on the outside are not the trends. They are changes in the trends. These changes determine ultimately success or failure of an organization and its efforts. Such changes, however, must be perceived first. Another word, it is not possible to define, count, or even classify something until we can surround the perceived changes with some conceptual framework. The classifications of those changes in trends will produce the quantifiable data, but the figures no longer correspond to the behavior we had observed in the trend prior to the change.

The computer is a logic machine. Its strength is that it can process the quantifiable data using a pre-defined algorithm. Its limitation is that the important events on the outside cannot be perceived in the kind of quantifiable form that a computer could possibly handle. Human beings, however, while not particularly logical is perceptive. Our perceptiveness can be our strength when working with unseen trends or changes outside.

The danger is that knowledge workers will become contemptuous of information and stimuli that cannot be reduced to computer logic. When that happens, we may become blind to everything that is perception (i.e., event) rather than fact (i.e., after the event). The tremendous amount of computer information may thus shut out our access to reality.

The computer can only make a condition visible that it knows had existed before. As knowledge workers, we need to put forth conscious efforts to perceive the outside world, so we do not allow the inside activities blind us to the true reality.