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Drucker and Einstein*

by William A. CohenFebruary 2016

Drucker taught us to think. His valuable insights and theories both published and in the classroom, did not come from the scientific method or mathematical calculation, but by the straightforward method of observation and using his brain and reasoning to logical conclusions. Like another genius of note, Albert Einstein, he did not arrive at his theories in a laboratory surrounded by microscopes, computers, and white-coated scientists, but in the laboratory of the mind. It is a fact that Einstein’s most productive period was in 1905, during which he produced four ground breaking theoretical papers, one of which eventually won him the Nobel Prize. None of the four were conceived and written in the sterile atmosphere of a laboratory, or even at a university, but while he was working at the Swiss Patent Office.

The Development of the Theory of Relativity
Einstein himself described the first step in the development of one of his most famous theories, the Theory of Relativity, as conceived while he imagined himself traveling along side of a beam of light. It is also distinctly possible that it was Einstein who provided Drucker with the example of developing his own methodology of reasoning and thinking which in turn resulted in his many theories of management. .Drucker observed companies in action. Collectively he described these companies as “his laboratory”. He used his analysis and development of what he observed in this laboratory to develop his theories in his mind.

Einstein Revealed the Common Process
Although Drucker only gave us clues as to the process, Einstein actually described it. In an article in the London Times written in 1919, Einstein wrote about what he called “Theories of Principle.” He stated that these theories  “. . . employed the analytical, not the synthetic method. Their starting-point and foundation are not hypothetical components, but empirically observed general properties of phenomena, principles from which mathematical formulae are deduced of such a kind that they apply to every case which presents itself.”

I do not know whether Drucker actually read Einstein’s article. Drucker was only ten years old at the time and did not then know English. However, Drucker did refer to Einstein, and it is possible that he read the article later. However the article motivated me to better investigate the difference between synthetic and analytical research. To simplify some rather complex definitions, synthetic research starts with the known and proceeds to the unknown. Thus one starts with a hypothesis or hypotheses and tests this hypothesis to prove or disprove it usually by examination of a sufficient number of examples and testing mathematically for significant difference.  Analytical research starts with the unknown and proceeds to the known. There is no hypothesis. One definition of analytical research is “a specific type of research that involves critical thinking skills and the evaluation of facts and information relative to the research being conducted.” The analytical process is how both Einstein and Drucker arrived at their theories.

But is not academic research itself not an analytical process? It is. However note that the theories developed by these two geniuses, Einstein and Drucker did not start with hypotheses and their resulting theories did not evolve from scientific method as it is commonly understood, a process in which many subjects are surveyed and analyzed through mathematical techniques and equations. They analytical approach was came from a relatively simplistic model:

     1. Observation, either real (or in Einstein’s case imagined) imagery
     2. Analysis of what was observed
     3. Conclusions
     4. Construction of Theory Based on These Conclusions

Unexpected Insights at an Academic Conference
I found insights into the value of Drucker’s methods about 15 years ago; I was invited to participate as a member of a special panel at an academic conference. The purpose of the panel was to discuss the influence of textbooks on management practice, or rather the lack thereof. During this discussion, and before an audience of marketing and management professors, one question was directed precisely at me. I was the only one of the five academic authors on the panel to have written both professional books for practicing managers and textbooks for students. The question directed to me was why it was that textbooks seemed many years behind the latest practices in management while professional or “trade” books seemed to be frequently right on the cutting edge.

I pondered this question for several seconds and then responded: “The writers of textbooks must bring together research from many sources to confirm the main points or theories they discuss in their textbook. In some cases there are also alternate theories to present regarding the various methods proposed for practice. To add the time needed for the textbook writer to do the research, must be added the time for the researcher to conduct the necessary experiments, to write each up in one or more articles and to find a suitable academic journal for publication. For a top research journal, this in itself can take many months before such a paper is accepted. Even after the textbook is published and used in the classroom, textbooks are used to instruct students and rarely read by practitioners. It make take several years before these students are in supervisory positions and able to practice what is taught in the classroom. On the other hand a professional book based on theory resulting from personal observations is analytical research and can much more quickly be applied to practice as the professional book goes right into the hands of the practitioner who can put it to immediate use.”

More Insight from the Conference
What happened at this conference motivated me to do some research on my own. While preparing a lecture for doctorial students at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University on the value of writing professional books for disseminating theory as Drucker did, rather than through publishing in  academic journals as is the method preferred by most scholars, and most academic institutions, I came across an unexpected fact. Many of the most widely publicized theories of management reached practitioners using Drucker’s method of publishing a book and getting the information directly to the user. These include not only Drucker’s Management by Objectives from The Practice of Management (Harper & Brothers, 1954) and other methods resulting from Drucker’s own theories, but also, Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs disseminated through his book Motivation and Personality (Harper & Brothers, 1954) and Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y disseminated through his book The Human Side of Enterprise. (McGraw-Hill, 1960). Sure, there were lots of articles published in research journals on all of these topics, but this was after professional books had already been published by the originators of these ideas and the theories had already been put into practice and were well known and in common discussion by business professionals. Research wrote to confirm or deny various aspects of the theories that the book authors proposed, or the authors themselves wrote to help defined their theories already published in books.

Drucker’s Resulting Methodology and Thinking
Drucker empirically observed general properties of phenomena or through his questions and their answers, had his clients do so. He did not start with synthetic mathematical formulae into which data was inserted to determine what was to be done, but used his powers of observation and reasoning in determining  theory and then further testing this theory as he saw it applied.

This is perhaps why, although Drucker claimed that he always began with his ignorance about any problem, and insisted on measurements and numbers when seeking to measure performance and progress, but he eschewed quantitative methods for developing theory and its application to strategy.  Less clear was what this process was, stating only when queried as to his methods, that he listened, and then added, that he listened “to himself”. This comment was made in a humorous and not an arrogant way. It is also probable that Drucker was speaking 100% accurately. He listened to his own logical reasoning in developing theory or in applying the resulting theory for action by his clients. That he followed an established process was clear but although unlike Einstein, he did not explicitly reveal it, it is highly likely that their methods were the very similar, if not identical.

This important tool, Drucker’s thinking processes, was a part of Drucker’s vast mental arsenal. It is especially important since he did not use models of mathematical analysis to arrive at his conclusions and recommendations. I cannot state the mathematical equations or his favorite methods of determining significant differences, because there were none. Still, if we understand the processes of his thinking was like Einstein’s, we may do the same in our problem solving and management decision making.

*Adapted from Peter Drucker’s Consulting Principles to be published by LID June, 2016.

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