When I think of extending the Drucker legacy, I think of the methodology of the Social Ecologist - attempting to see the future trends that are already apparent, and to think through their impact on institutions and people that make up The Functioning Society. This includes identifying new institutions that are about to have a major impact on society and its functioning, such as the mega church, the last major institution that Peter identified.
Peter said on numerous occasions, and (repeated to me on June 6, 2005 for inclusion in a forthcoming article), The most significant sociological phenomena of the second half of the 20th century has been the development of the large pastoral church. While I cannot confirm the number he cites in his 1999 Management Challenges in the 21st Century, p. 29, because it includes all churches, a current research study (February 3, 2006) by Hartford Seminary titled Megachurches Today 2005 reports that the number of Protestant churches in the United States with weekly attendance over 2,000 is 1,210, nearly double the number that existed 5 years ago.
While there are many reasons for this trend, it is certainly indicative of some kind of revival in America that is bound to have social, political and economic consequences. These churches are in Drucker's view the conserving institutions that permit continuity in our society in the midst of very rapid change. The Functioning Society requires both continuity and change for its well-being.
The observation about the mega church is indicative of how his methodology works - he observed Bill Hybels in Illinois organize Willow Creek around the spiritual needs of knowledge workers, whose numbers were also increasingly rapidly. When he understood the forces behind the development of these early mega churches he simply made the projection of their importance. He saw it well before it became a widely recognized phenomenon.
This is exactly the method he used to identify the organization as a major social institution worthy of study. He was fortunate to have an opportunity to study General Motors in the early 1940s and out came The Concept of the Corporation in 1946. The implications for society of the corporation, which he was the first to study systematically, have been enormous.
The major phenomenon that Peter identified and worked on throughout his career in the United States was the emergence of knowledge work and of the knowledge worker. What he saw after World War II as a result of the passage of the GI Bill of Rights he projected into the future and he was correct. He saw the requirement for organizations and nations to train knowledge workers and then to work very hard at improving their productivity. This is the key to competitive advantage in a company and in a nation. Some organizations and nations are achieving major breakthroughs in productivity of service and knowledge workers and they provide examples for all three sectors of society.
Peter's predominant interest in society and in the society of institutions led him to management. Management, especially business management, was a byproduct of his broader interest in his notion of The Functioning Society. This explains Peter's major interest over the past 20 years in the leadership and management of social sector institutions. He saw the need for community that was being met by these institutions and lost in private sector organizations. He also saw the need to revitalize government in part by outsourcing social programs to social and private-sector institutions.
It's interesting to see management consultants turn their attention to the needs of government. We could be way ahead of graduate management education if we developed strong transdisciplinary studies in Drucker on Management in Government. Peter was ahead of his time when in 1993 he called out the threats to the functioning society posed by terrorism and by environmental concerns. These two developments require effective cooperation and management among nations. It is interesting now to observe significant expenditures by major corporations on green technologies, as well as on security for their employees and other assets.
When I think of the Drucker Legacy and of advancing it, I believe a very important aspect is to distill Peter's methodology and to train students and executives to apply the methodology to the challenges they face or will soon face. This will involve the liberal arts, primarily history, technology, economics, political science, psychology and sociology. And it will surely involve seeing the human being as a resource to be developed and not as a cost to be expensed. In the end, the functioning society is all about people, their status and function.
These are some of the more developed thoughts that I have and I am going to stop here for now. Others are contributing valuable insights. In the end we will have a prism for the legacy, a body of thought that can be viewed from a number of angles. (Incidentally, that probably explains in all the obituaries why observers point out different aspects of Peter's work - each sees a different angle.)
With this said, he believed he was working as a social ecologist and that his subject was The Functioning Society. Lastly, the important thing for the legacy is not to regurgitate what he has said but to apply, extend and invent using his methods.