Keys to Economic Development: Managing Ignorance



Here’s a premise on which most businesspeople and educators probably can agree: the legendary Peter Drucker, Ph.D. – as a writer, teacher and consultant – was the ultimate as a business-role model.

Surprisingly, he surprisingly had some periodic critics in education.

He preferred Claremont Graduate University and reportedly turned down four professorship offers from Harvard.

At the age of 95 in a published interview in 2004, he was asked if he had any regrets about his work.

His response:

“There are many books I could have written that are better than the ones I actually wrote. My best book would have been “Managing Ignorance,” and I’m very sorry I didn’t write it.”

File:Drucker-portrait-bkt 1014.jpg

 Dr. Peter Drucker


He was a voracious reader, wonderful inspiration to millions, and he lived a long, rich life. As one of my heroes, I selfishly wish he lived longer – he passed away Nov. 11, 2005. His teachings have particular significance for me.

If given the opportunity for an interview, with great delectation I would have relished the visionary’s analysis on numerous fronts regarding the economy.

That includes these four developments:

No. 1: Decrease in educated Americans. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education has issued some disturbing news in a policy alert, which is entitled, “Income of U.S. Workforce Projected to Decline if Education Doesn’t Improve.” It calls on the 50 states to do a better job in education to prevent a projected decline in worker skills in order to brighten the future of America’s economy.

The public policy group contends the American workforce is undergoing major change; especially the core of workers, age 25 to 64. Until at least 2020, the study shows worker wages will continue to decrease. Simultaneously, the number of workers with high school and college diplomas will decline exponentially.

Why? The number of educated white workers will drop from 82 percent to 63 percent while the number of less educated minorities will increase from 18 percent to 37 percent.

No. 2: Decline in math and science. America’s expertise in science and technology is fast deteriorating, according to a study by the National Academy of Sciences. The report was written by a group of top corporate executives, educators and scientists and is entitled, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.”

In essence, the panel of experts sets four goals:

  • Improve math and science education in grades K-12.
  • A more cordial milieu for science for college and post graduate studies.
  • Increase federal funding for scientific research.
  • Encourage the growth of family-wage jobs in evolving industries with tax incentives and other fiscal tools.

It wasn’t surprising that the report identified two Asian countries, India and China, as among the nations that will surpass the U.S. in job creation and innovation.

No. 3: The quandary over China. The U.S. is appeasing China to excess, according to economist and professor of international business at the University of Maryland, Peter Morici.

“These policies impose huge trade deficits and unemployment on the United States, create enormous imbalances in the global economy, and contribute importantly to the Great Recession,” he wrote in a commentary Oct. 8, 2005.

He is on a quest to educate America about China’s approach, as evidenced years ago in a 2005 e-mail to me: “To secure its supply of oil, extend its influence and solidify internal security, the Chinese government is building a blue-water navy and spending massively to modernize its army.

More than a decade later, what’s changed? By even us advocates of free trade, it is hard to ignore the professor’s conclusions.

“That means targeted trade sanctions if China does not revalue its yuan and does not respect intellectual property, and if it exploits worker rights to achieve export advantages or otherwise breaks the norms and rules it acknowledged by joining the World Trade Organization, International Labor Organization and other international organizations,” he said.

“Arrogance is being proud of ignorance.”

-Dr. Peter Drucker

“It’s time to face up to the fact that China, rather than evolving into a democratic society with a market economy, could just as easily morph into a fascist menace with global reach,” he said. “Appeasement didn’t work for Britain dealing with Germany in the 1930s, and it is not working for America with China now.”

Could Dr. Drucker have related to Dr. Morici’s analogy? Who knows? But when the Nazis banned and burned one of his essays in the 1930s, Dr. Drucker fled to England. He argued against the appeasement of Germany by England.

No. 4: Creation of jobs. Three-fourths of all the planet’s new jobs will be generated by just 9.8 percent of new businesses, according to a research organization, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), in its assessment of entrepreneurship in 39 countries.

While women entrepreneurs are a major force in America, most of these anticipated startups are to be launched by well-educated men aged 25-34 years with high incomes in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Ostensibly, monetary trade issues and the pressures of an uneducated workforce will apparently vex a major economic engine – the world’s startup entrepreneurs.

So, how would Dr. Drucker analyze such developments?

For starters, consider:

In his book, “Managing for results,” he wrote: “Waste runs high in any business. Man, after all, is not very efficient. Special efforts to find waste are therefore always necessary.”

And while training the board of directors of an organization, I was reminded once again that his writings are a great resource. In answering a question about how I continually evaluate my efficiency, I told the audience that I never end my day’s work until I assess my activities. That is one of my daily efforts thanks, in part, to the management pioneer.

In “Management Challenges for the 21st Century,” Dr. Drucker suggested that it is important for a manager to know the answer the question, “Where do I belong?”

But to answer that career dilemma, he pointed out it is actually necessary for a person to know the answers to three questions:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. How do I perform?
  3. What are my values?

What a wonderful scholar. In my experience as a business practitioner and journalist, I know he was right.

Candidly, as a management consultant, I meet few managers and staff in the workplace who innately know to ask and answer such questions. But after they’re trained in how to accurately assess their strengths and weaknesses, they benefit from an average 30 percent increase in self esteem. As a result, organizations progress nicely as their managers and workers perform much better.

By the way, for many years in HR training classes, I’ve quoted this Dr. Drucker statement: “Arrogance is being proud of ignorance.”

In other words, continual study and evaluation will help a person to avert complacency.

If every businessperson practiced these principles, promoted education and focused on managing ignorance, the economic outlook would be brighter.

From the Coach’s Corner, more thoughts on learning and education:

“An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t.”

-Anatole France


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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.






Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.