The unforgettable Peter Drucker

The management guru, who passed away yesterday, foretold the rise of Web 2.0 in an analogy to the fifteenth-century printing industry.

Reuters reports that Peter Drucker passed away yesterday morning aged 95. The management guru published his first book in 1939 and has been challenging conventional wisdom ever since. My favorite Drucker interview is in the August 1996 issue of Wired. It begins in typically robust style:

"Will you people at Wired please accept the fact that the computer industry, as an industry, hasn't made a dime? ...  Intel and Microsoft make money, but look at all the people who are losing money all the world over. It is doubtful that the industry has yet broken even."

What always impressed me with Drucker is that he ignored short-term fads and took the long view. In that Wired interview, he talks about the early days of the banking industry in fifteenth-century Europe. In an article published by Forbes in 1998, sadly no longer online, he ended by drawing a parallel between today's information technologists and the early printers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries:

"The IT people of the printing revolution were the early printers. Nonexistent — and indeed not even imaginable — in 1455, they flourished throughout Europe 25 years later and had become great stars ... Printers were courted by kings, princes, the pope and rich merchant cities, and were showered with money and honors ... But ... by 1580 or so, the printers, with their focus on technology, had become ordinary craftsmen ... Their place was soon taken by what we now call publishers (though the term wasn't coined until much later), people and firms whose focus was no longer on the 'T' in IT but on the 'I'."

This is the historical precedent for what we now see happening in IT with the emergence of on-demand services, in which the emphasis passes from those who sell software and the tools to run software (Microsoft, Oracle, IBM) to those who sell new views on data and information (Google,, and hundreds of other on-demand providers).  It's not the technology that matters, it's what you do with it that counts.


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