In his book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, Peter Drucker analyzed and discussed the new paradigms of management.
Although much of the discussion revolves around the perspective of the organization, these are my takeaways on how we can apply his teaching on our journey of being a knowledge worker.
Drucker discussed the challenges of managing information in an enterprise. To run an organization that focuses on wealth creation, Drucker outlined four sets of diagnostic information the executive will need: Foundation Information, Productivity Information, Competence Information, and Resource Allocation Information.
But, these four kinds of information, as Drucker asserted, are internally focused and can only inform or direct tactics. For strategy and, ultimately, results, we need organized information about the environment in which we operate.
We must design strategy based on information about markets, customers and prospects, technology within the industry or outside, and worldwide finance and economy. All these kinds of information are about the outside world and may not be easily collected. Without the critical information about the environment, it can lead to something Drucker described as:
“A serious cause of business failure is the common assumption that conditions must be what we think they are or at least what we think they should be.”
Another word, executives need a system which includes information that makes executives question the above assumption. The system must lead us to ask the right questions and not just feed the information we expect.
For the knowledge workers, and especially for executives, information is our key resource. We use the information to create connections with other knowledge workers, with other organizations, and expanding our “networks.” Essentially, knowledge workers use information to enable themselves to do the work.
So how can knowledge workers decide what information they would need? Drucker suggested we ask ourselves two important questions.
#1 “What information do I owe to the person with whom I work and on whom I depend? In that form? And in what time frame?”
#2 “What information do I need myself? From whom? In what form? And in what time frame?”
The question of “what I owe” must come first because the answer will establish communications. Until we can establish that communication between us and our connections, there will be no information flow back to us.
The only person who can help us answer the question of “what I owe” is our network and the connections within the network. By asking this question, we must collaborate with our network in arriving at the answer. At the same time, we must think through question #2 and be ready to answer when the other person in our network ask question #1 from their perspective.
By purposely asking and honestly answering both questions, we can create a virtuous cycle where the answers from one question can feed into and even strengthen the other question. Furthermore, working through these two questions are not a one-time event. We must be asking and answering them iteratively as necessary because the world around us is always changing.
The changes around us mean we must always be challenging our assumptions about our information needs and cultivating our network through sharing of information.