Peter Drucker: The Ultimate Wisdom Worker.

September 8, 2022

Peter Drucker: The Ultimate Wisdom Worker.

May 29, 2023

Peter Drucker had the foresight in the late 1950s, just before he turned 50, to declare the existence of “knowledge workers,” when there were relatively few who fit that description.

The importance of knowledge-based work may seem obvious now, but that was hardly the case then, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States, and baby boomers were not yet in high school. We were many years away from personal computers, the internet, smartphones, blogging, streaming, and social media. Cable television was relatively undeveloped, and most people had access to only three television networks.

Chip Conley has intuited that today we need a jolt of awareness that goes beyond knowledge workers (who may be an endangered species due to Artificial Intelligence/AI and other technological advances) to “wisdom workers.” He and I may not agree 100% about this transition. For instance, knowledge and information may seem plentiful, but there is uneven access, and we don’t always comprehend the information available to us.

However, Chip’s construct is a valuable way to differentiate people and professions in our unsettling modern era. One day in the future we may look back on his reasoning and find that it was obvious all along, much like Drucker’s naming of knowledge workers.

Let’s use Peter Drucker as an example of a sort of ‘ultimate wisdom worker.’ How did he get that way? Why do we still liberally quote him, invoke his name and his writing, and still read his books nearly 17 years after his death at 95? These five areas in particular sharpen his wisdom worker credentials:

Diversification of work: In my book Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker's Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life (2009), I described Drucker’s construct of living in more than one world as “the idea of having a multidimensional life that is not overly dependent on any one component.” He wrote more than 40 books, plus countless articles in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic Monthly and elsewhere. He taught management and other subjects, eventually at the Drucker School of Management, and consulted for companies such as Procter & Gamble and General Electric. He was also a pro bono consultant for nonprofits, such as the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Salvation Army.

Global worldview: In an interview conducted seven months to the day before he died, Drucker told me that an important consideration was to think and act globally. His books were published in more than 30 languages, and he regularly conducted worldwide lecture tours. His background was international: born in Austria, followed by college and work in Germany, work in England, and eventually a move to the United States when he was 28.

Conscious relevance: Through his study and work ethic, Drucker provided a template for how people can remain relevant throughout their lives. In 1999 he declared, “For the first time in human history, individuals can expect to outlive organizations. This creates a totally new challenge: What to do with the second half of one’s life?” And that same year: “There is one prerequisite for managing the second half of your life: You must begin long before you enter it.”

Ongoing body of work: We are transitioning from a world of self-identification through job titles to one more defined through an ongoing, ever-evolving body of innovative, creative, and idea-focused work. Drucker could not have written so many books and articles if he did not build on the accumulation of his own wisdom, combined with serious ongoing learning and a keen sense of observation.

Helping people thrive: Drucker consistently wrote and taught about subjects that helped individuals and organizations improve and become more effective. His writing about self-development and self-management made him a virtual personal coach to his readers. He was also an informal mentor to former students and consulting clients. A compelling example of the latter can be found in the 2014 book Drucker & Me, by the late Bob Buford. Drucker considered Buford to be a role model for how to lead a meaningful second half of life, and wrote Forewords for two of Buford’s books on the topic, Halftime and Stuck in Halftime.

Becoming a wisdom worker is a worthy aspiration. For those in the second half of life, the best time to start on this conscious, intentional journey is right now.

Bruce Rosenstein is Managing Editor of Leader to Leader, a publication of The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum and Wiley/Jossey-Bass. He is the author of Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way (McGraw-Hill and Brilliance Audio, 2013), and Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker's Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life (Berrett-Koehler, 2009). Learn more at www.brucerosenstein.com.

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