BOOK REVIEW / Bold, broad insights: 'Post-Capitalist Society' - Peter F Drucker: Butterworth-Heinemann, 16.95 pounds

Old men can afford to be bold. They can air their views on society, whereas a younger person feels constrained to explain.

Peter Drucker, who is in his eighties, has written his boldest book to date. It is also one of his shortest: 200 pages of large, widely spaced type. Yet the range is breathtaking: the end of the nation state; the emergent society; the unique character of organisations and his long-term theme, the importance of knowledge work.

Throughout his long writing career Drucker has moved from guides to management to much broader themes and books such as The Future of Industrial Man and The Landmarks of Tomorrow. The title of his latest suggests its range. Yet its scope is even broader. Part one deals with Society, part two with Polity - the old term for political society and system - and part three with Knowledge.

We cannot, he argues, predict the future, but we can describe the basic shifts that have already happened. The new society will be non-socialist because people no longer believe in salvation by society. It will be decentralised, in part because it will be a society of organisations.

In developing his main theme - that the primary resource of the post-capitalist society will be knowledge, not capital - Drucker argues that the manufacturing productivity revolution is over. Now it is the productivity of non-manual workers that matters. The various classes of the old capitalist society are being replaced by just two: knowledge workers and service workers.

A 'manager' has changed from a boss to someone who is responsible for the application and performance of knowledge. But the paradox, Drucker claims, is that 'knowledge workers cannot in effect be supervised'. Their value lies in knowing more than anybody else around.

The job of management, therefore, is to make everyone a contributor. For service workers this can most easily be done by outsourcing. Then the productivity of the service workers becomes the central concern of the organisation providing the service. However, the social challenge of sustaining the dignity of the service workers still remains.

The reader carried along by the sweep of the assertions may not stop to ask: how many organisations are examples of the new management? Numerous old-style managers still exist. There are still supervisors and the supervised; the former still appraise the latter, even if in some of the more progressive organisations reverse appraisal also takes place.

Nevertheless, he makes more interesting observations about organisations in one chapter than most books entirely devoted to the subject. He points out that in all developed countries society has become a society of organisations. Society, community, family may have leaders, but organisations alone are managed - although they may have leaders too. Joining an organisation is always a decision. Organisations therefore are in constant competition for their essential resource: 'qualified, knowledgeable, dedicated people'.

Polity is treated more briefly, but gives rise to even more ideas. 'From nation state to Megastate' includes a brief history of the nation state from the Roman empire to this century and argues that the nation state has mutated into the Megastate, which was best described by Kafka. 'Transnationalism, regionalism, tribalism', the next chapter, sums up counter changes. The last two chapters describe what he sees as desirable developments.

The main achievements have come from community organisations. Hence the chapter 'Citizenship through the social sector', which concludes: 'Historically community was fate. In the post-capitalistist society and polity community has to become commitment.'

Drucker's big dipper of generalisations is exhilarating but could evoke squeals of dismay, too. There will be many who object to this former management guru's ambitious intellectual imperialism. Others will dislike his post- capitalist, anti-statist tendencies. Still more may ask just where the hard supporting evidence can be found.

Those who allow themselves to be too irritated by the sweeping assertions will miss the pleasure of the different ideas that Drucker tosses out.

There is his account of three different types of team: the baseball team, which is ideal for repetitive tasks and for work with well-known rules; the soccer team (similar to the orchestra), which is like the hospital team coping with a cardiac arrest, and, third, the double tennis team (or the jazz combo), the team of four or five senior executives in the president's office of an American company. In the first two teams players have fixed positions, in the third they have a preferred position. The third team, which uses the strength of each member and mitigates their weaknesses, is the best.

It is in enjoying insights like these that you regret that there are not more bold old men - and women too - who are not afraid of trespassing outside their own domain.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?