"Brilliant men Are Often Strikingly Ineffectual"

— Pg.1, yep numero uno, so remember it.


Author Peter F. Drucker was a management legend and his writings, based on a 65 year management consulting career, are landmarks of professionals working in just about every sector imagineable: private and government, businesses and non-profits, and in some of the most important industries of the 20th century including automobiles, manufacturing, and even working with high ranking government officals.

Written in 1967 and updated as recently as 2006 – Drucker speaks extensively about rapid change and innovation in the United State’s increasingly global and service oriented economy – specifically highlighting and honing in on how two key subsets of the economy are impacted: individuals and organizations. The rapid change and innovation, brought on by advancements in science, technology and engineering are not focused on heavily within the scope of the book but are considerd. Specifically, they’re considered as the catalysts or drivers for structural change in our economy back then as well as today.

Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker” to describe the new type of individual worker our economy’s organizations began to demand as a result of the structural changes and advancements. Essentially, knowledge workers are individuals who gather and leverage information to analyze, communicate and make decisions on behalf of themselves or an organization. Knowledge workers, Drucker argues, were already becoming a majority of the workforce at the time and in the future, everone would be a knowledge worker. The first key narrative, highlighted by the quote above, is that you don’t require brilliance, off the charts intelligence or a slew of innate leadership qualities…

“Effectiveness can be learned.”

The second key narrative is that each and every one of us is a knowledge worker – either for ourselves, within an organization, or both – and despite not every one of us having an “executive” title, we all have executive responsibilities. Learning how to be more effective, Drucker argues, is our responsibility as individuals, organizations and society as a whole. Making better decisions, using time more wisely and being more aware of how our habits and tendencies impact others is essential for society, and therefore must be learned…

“Only Executive Effectiveness can enable this society to harmonize its two needs: the needs of the organization to obtain from the individual the contribution it needs, and the need of the individual to have organization serve as his tool for the accomplishment of his purposes. Effectiveness must be learned.”

Drucker accurately and wisely had the foresight to predict the importance of the role computers and machines would play in the economy – and that it would be our responsibility to learn how to be effective, in harmony, with these technological advancements.  In addition to these narratives, Drucker offers eight key practices of effective executives and then walks through the “how” to be effective in seven key chapters, both of which I’ll discuss below.

Why I Started Reading It + What I Hoped To Get Out Of It

Efficiency has always fascinated me. Finding ways to do something better has been a life-long mission. But it isn’t always easy and just because I’m interested doesn’t mean I’m good. I always believe that just like with anything else, there are ebbs and flows in life, where we consistently need to be refreshed and reminded of how we can be more effective.

One of those refreshers for me ended up being this book. But first, I heard about it from Tim Ferriss (go figure), a few podcasts, read about the deep work of knowlege workers in Deep Work by Cal Newport and heard or saw the knowledge worker concept which Drucker coined referenced extensively. Allegedly, the book was great for “anyone looking to maximize productivity and efficiency” – but I was a bit skeptical, and here’s why…

First off, I saw when it was published and knew Peter Drucker was old. I assumed this was your typical book on management in the context of corporate organizations. And typical in the sense that it was dry and boring, which many books like this can be. I’ve also been a long time fan of Michael Porter – the legendary Harvard Business School professor, author of Competitive Strategy & Competitive Advantage, and founder of the Institute for Strategy & Competitiveness.

Being a fan of Porter’s, I have started seeing the work of another wizard from Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen (Author of Innovator’s Dilemma and a few more) – and I have to say that some of their work competes with eachother. And competition, as Porter would agree, is a good and necessary thing. But with all of the rapid innovation and change of today it’s extremely hard to predict which business, entrepreneurship and management concepts are worth a damn today or will hold a candle in tomorrow.

I did so because within the first few pages you realize that the book is designed for anyone managing and making decisions for themselves or for other people.

Review + Rating + Who I'd Recommend It To

First of all, this book is one of the best books on management and decision making I’ve encountered. Probably the best. Despite it’s consultant-speak and management terminology that may bore some readers, the good news is, it’s short and concise. Drucker does an awesome job outlining case-based examples that simply make sense in lehman’s terms and to anyone.

Because the book is highly leverageable – meaning it’s specific, prescriptive and actionable (and I’d expect nothing less from a consultant of 65 years) – I’d recommend this book to absolutely anyone who wants to manage themselves and/or others more effectively especially when it comes to time management and decision making processes.

Key Lessons & Takeaways

Sure, this is a phenomenal read for executives, business professionals, managers and of course entrepreneurs. But some of the lessons are shockingly applicable to all of us when it comes to productivity, time management and decision making. I’m going to focus this section there, and the next section will have a more straight-lined synopsis of the chapters.


1) Effective vs. Efficient

Being truly effective combines both effectiveness and efficiency. This pursuit is challenging whether you’re truly a big wig executive, an entrepreneur, young professional, college student or work-from-home mom. Getting the expected results of your own efforts and/or the efforts of your organization is the end game, and yet it can only be done effectively by combining both.

Effectiveness is doing the right things.

Efficiency is doing things the right way.

Being Truly Effective Is Doing The Right Things, The Right Way.

2) Stop Multi-Tasking, Start Delegating

This is a huge problem today. We’re surrounded by an overload of stimulus from information that’s more readily available and increasingly distracting. Even within a workplace or organization, we’re constantly distracted by completing deliverables and actually executing on tasks, versus sitting in meetings, joining conference calls, each with competing priorities and levels of importance. So how the hell do we stop multi-tasking? Well, we’ll get to that in a bit.

“I have never encountered an executive who remains effective while tackling more than two tasks at a time.”

Knowing what has to be done is not enough. You have to be able to prioritize it to be effective. Asking yourself “What must be done now?” or “What is massively urgent right here and now?”, and then focusing on that answer only.

The other key here is delegating. Asking yourself, of the top priorities on your agenda or to-do-list, are there any that are best suited to be delegated to someone else.

“…he (Jack Welch) asked himself which of the two or three tasks at the top of the list he himself was best suited to undertake. Then he concentrated on that task and the others he delegated.”

3) Effectiveness Is Learned - Follow these 5 Essential Habits

Alluded to earlier, there is no strong positive correlation between brilliance or intelligence and effectiveness. It is a discipline that can be learned and must be learned.

“Brilliant men are often strikingly ineffectual.”

Intelligence, creativity, imagination and the valued resource of knowledge are all well and good. But they are nothing without effectiveness, which converts them into results.

At the time of writing, today and into perpetuity the value of knowledge…more specifically the authority of knowledge…will always be demanded, and will always take precedence of the authority of position or leadership.

“…The experience of the human race indicates strongly that the only person in abundant supply is the universal incompetent. We will therefore have to staff our organizations with people who at best excel in one of these abilities.”

In order to build and hone effectiveness, Drucker outlines five essential habits:

  1. Manage Your Time: Effective executives know where there time goes
  2. Focus on Results Outside of The Organizaton: Effective executives focus on outward contributions
  3. Focus on Opportunities, Not Problems: Effective executives build on strengths
  4. Effective executives focus on the few major areas where superior performance wil produce outstanding results.
  5. Effective executives make effective decisions.

4) "Know Thy Time" - Seriously, Analyze Your Time by Making a Log

In college and in looking for your first job you constantly hear about time management. It’s hilarious, because very few of us, even athletes, really had to effectively manage our time relative to real deadlines and commitments the way you do in the working world…and that is true whether your working for yourself, in an organization, or both.

The mistake most of us make is starting with looking at our work and analyzing what must be done. You know, drawing up a to do list? While that’s well-intentioned, the plans always land on paper (or digitally) and rarely turn into execution.

“Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed. The analysis of one’s time, moreover, is the one easily accessible and yet systematic way to analyze one’s work and to think through what really matters in it.”

In order to see results in your life, business, etc. you have to follow a three step process for analyzing your time:

RECORD YOUR TIME –  before you can manage your time, you actually have to know where it goes. Developing a log and closely tracking how every minute of the day is spent provides valuable information to be more productive in the future when managing time (step #2) and looking for opportunities to consolidate chunks of time together where real work can be done. How you record your time isn’t important. Just remember, the more granular level of tracking you can perform, the better you can systematically manage time, which is the next step…

“To be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive, therefore needs to be able to dispose of time in fairly large chunks.”

MANAGE YOUR TIME –  this is effectively, analyzing your log of how you spent (spend) your time, and looking for non-productive and time wasting activities. One of the biggest goals, alluded to in the quote above, is to block out large chunks of time. Learning, growing, making big decisions and doing anything that is really worth doing requires large blocks of time. How do you do this? Via a number of key questions…

  • Identify time-wasters by asking “What would happen if this were not done at all? and when the answer is nothing at all, bingo, you can get rid of those tasks, activities, meetings, etc.

Remember folks, busy is an option. Learning how to say that little two letter word is crucial…

“It’s amazing how many things busy people are doing that never will be missed…actually, all one has to do is learn to say ‘no’ if an activity contributes nothing to one’s own organization, to oneself, or the organization to which it is to be performed…”

  • Intelligently delegate by asking “Which of the activities on my time log could be done by somebody else just as well, if not better?”; this is especially true if and when you’re running a business or managing the execution of other people. If you’re the brains behind the operation or the one in charge, delegation is actually a misleading term. When you’re in a meeting, your not getting work done. Work and meetings cannot happen simultaneously. If you can send a junior member of the team to attend the meeting on your behalf, or teach them how to build reporting tools, then your not asking them to do your work…you’re having them take care of the work of the team so that you can focus on your own deeper work.

“Meetings are by definition a concession to deficient organization. For one either meets or one works. One cannot do both at the same time.”

  • Free up those around you and help make them more effective by asking, without being afraid of the truth, “What do I do that wasters others time without contributing to their effectiveness?”

CONSOLIDATE YOUR TIME – here is where the rewards pay off for anyone looking to find more time to focus on the people, projects and tasks that matter. Once you’ve recorded, analyzed and managed your time you need to look for what’s left over. How much “discretionary” time is available for the big tasks that will really make a difference if completed?

5) Focus On Contributions - To Your Self And Others

Drucker emphasizes “looking upwards from your own work and outwards towards your goals”. Occupy your thoughts with results intead of efforts. Focus on on asking “What can I contribute that will significantly improve my own results & performance or the performance of those I serve?

“The focus on contribution is the key to effectiveness: in a man’s own work – its content, its level, its standards, and its impacts; and in his relations with others – his superiors, his associates, subordinates…”

What I take away from this, most certainly, is to focus on a duty to your own results and the results of the people you serve. Taking pride in what you do for yourself and for others drives you to focus outwardly on how your contributions can transfer into results.

6) Making Strenghts Productive Through Optimism

Part of the outward responsibility an executive or knowledge worker has with respect to contribution, is to look for opportunities. Drucker emphasizes remaining optimisitc and not wasting time focusing on problems. Your strenghts, current and future, are your opportunities. Spend time focusing on making strenghts productive because strenghts are your opportunities and they are your results.

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems.”

7) First Things First - Focus + Concentration

 “There are always more important contributions to be made than there is time available to make them.”

That being said, the ability to focus – i.e. concentration – is your secret weapon. You need to be able to hone in and identify “what” the first thing is, and focus solely on that. Don’t be afraid to let go of old tasks that may have once been a priority and are no longer truly adding value, or anticipated to provide results.

 “In order manage many things successfully, you have to focus intensely on one thing at a time.”

So how do you analyze and determine, from a list of seemingly mission critical to-do’s, which is the “first thing”? Drucker outlines a few key rules for prioritization:

  • Pick the future over the past;
  • Focus on opportunities rather than on problems;
  • Choose your own direction – rather than follow the lead or jump on what everyone else is doing;
  • Aim high – for something that will make a difference if it’s achieved rather than something “safe” and easy to do.

8) Making Strenghts Productive Through Optimism

Part of the outward responsibility an executive or knowledge worker has with respect to contribution, is to look for opportunities. Drucker emphasizes remaining optimisitc and not wasting time focusing on problems. Your strenghts, current and future, are your opportunities. Spend time focusing on making strenghts productive because strenghts are your opportunities and they are your results.

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems.”

9) The Elements of Effective Decision Making

As knowledge workers, whether you’re an intern, young professional, seasoned executive, entrepreneur, college student or anyone making decisions – you know that decision making actually comprises the smallest percentage of your time. Most of the other tasks – gathering information, data interpretation, analysis, communication with clients, vendors or colleagues, etc. – are the majority of the tasks of a knowledge worker executes in order to support the most executive task of them all: making the actual decision. So what do you need to know about the elements of the decision process and effective decision making?

“In every area of effectiveness within an organization, one feeds the opportunities and starves the problems.”


  1. The clear realization that the problem was generic and could only be solved through a decision based on a rule/principle;
  2. Establishing Boundary Conditions i.e. defining the specifications which the answer to the problem had to satisfy;
  3. Fully thinking through what is “right” before entertaining compromises and adaptations needed to make the decision acceptable. In other words, identifying what is absolutely the right decision that is best for you or the organization considering no other dependencies, risks, etc.
  4. Building the necessary action items and plan into the decision itself, so that it can be carried out;
  5. The “feedback” which tests the validity and effectiveness of the decision against what actually takes place.


The following series of questions are the most important elements of making effective decisions:

  1. Understanding whether the situation or problem being analyzed is truly unique or somethign occurs regularly. “Is this a generic situation or an exception?”
  2.  Making clear specifications as to what the decision has to accomplish. Understanding the objectives the decision has to account for and the minimum goals it has to attain. “What are the conditions (“boundary conditions”) the decision has to satisfy?”
  3. Start with what is right, rather than what can be tolerated or acceptable, or even who is right if your in an organizational setting. This is because decisions usually have inevitable compromises after identifying what is right. “For there are two different kinds of compromise. One kind is expressed in the old proverb: ‘Half a loaf is better than no bread.’ The other kind is expressed in the story of the Judgment of Solomon, which was clearly based on the realization that ‘half a baby is worse than no baby at all.”
  4. Converting the decision into action is the fourth major element in the decision-process. In fact, no decision has been made unless carrying it out in specific steps has become someone’s work assignment and responsibility. Until then, there are only good intentions
  5. Feedback has to be built into the decision to provide a continuous testing, against actual events, of the expectations that underlie the decisions.

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