The Bill Cohen blog – why Drucker was the Einstein of management


Drucker had a touch of Einstein about him, writes William A. Cohen

Peter Drucker was a rare genius. But despite being the ‘Father of Modern Management’, Drucker’s greatest legacy was in teaching 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, Drucker 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 them 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 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.”

The article motivated me to better understand the real 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”. This is how Einstein and Drucker arrived at their theories. The theories developed by these two geniuses did not start with hypotheses and their resulting theories evolved from a relatively simple 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

Ed Cooke, a Grand Master of Memory, and a graduate of Oxford University, wrote that there were two ways of doing brain research: “The first is the way that empirical psychology does it, which is that you look from the outside and take a load of measurements on a lot of different people. The other way follows from the logic that a system’s optimal performance can tell you something about its design.”

Cooke’s description of the latter method matches how Einstein and Drucker both shortened the analytical method by focusing on the powers of ordinary observation – and applying analytical reasoning in their methods of research, leading to practical results. It seems clear that both Drucker and Einstein followed this ‘other way’.