For more than 50 years, Peter Drucker has been without equal as a management writer and observer on issues that affect corporations and organizations of all sizes. He is a man of uncommon wisdom and perspicacity. He does not mince words; he writes clearly, concisely, and gets to the core questions and issues immediately.

Pick up a book by almost any other management writer and you’ll probably be able to find that he or she has built on a concept that had its foundation somewhere in Drucker’s work. He is neither a showman, nor a guru. He is simply a smart, observant man who goes about his work with passion and common sense. And his passion is not for great, charismatic leaders, nor is it for technical flash, or brilliant strategy. Rather, his passion is for that very ordinary entity we call the "organization". He is fascinated with how people come together to, he hopes, achieve a common purpose. An organization can be extraordinarily effective, or a disaster. Most fall somewhere in between in Drucker’s opinion.

In his most recent book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, released last year, Drucker goes over somewhat familiar ground. But, ever the professor, he needs to repeat himself because he knows that business executives tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. This book is simple, direct, even blunt.

The single greatest challenge executives will face over the next few years, Drucker states, is to learn how to manage knowledge workers. Drucker observes that the vast majority of companies manage employees as though the company still controlled the "means of production." In knowledge organizations, however, it is each worker’s knowledge and intelligence that combine to form the means of production. The organization cannot control or own that. A worker can leave anytime, taking the means of production with him or her. This leads Drucker to conclude that we must learn to lead and manage people in a new way. Indeed, Drucker argues, we must look at companies in an entirely new way.

Companies will have to learn to look at employees as assets to be valued, rather than as costs to be expensed. The value in a knowledge company lies between the ears of each employee, more than it does in the machinery on the factory floor. Drucker, never one to resort to hyperbole to make his point, does not hesitate: "It is certain that the emergence of the knowledge worker and of the knowledge worker’s productivity as key questions [emphasis original] will, within a very few decades, bring about fundamental changes in the structure and nature of THE ECONOMIC SYSTEM." [in caps in original]

One’s first reaction to these thoughts might be that Drucker is encouraging managers to develop a new style of leadership. But the word "leadership" is one Drucker has avoided throughout his career. He sees the job of top management as just that: a job. He speaks with no small amount of contempt for the personality cult in today’s business environment. Drucker has always focused on the organization, not the person at the top. That person has a job to do each day to ensure the organization’s long-term success. And for Drucker, meeting analysts’ expectations for quarterly earnings, or increasing shareholder value is not the test of effective management. Rather, he stresses that "succession has always been the ultimate test of any top management and the ultimate test of any institution". Most top executives and boards of directors would likely receive failing grades from this unyielding professor.

The model for effective management is right in front of us, Drucker says. We have only to look at successful nonprofit organizations to learn how to manage people. We have to manage people as though they were "volunteers." Volunteers get satisfaction from what they do because they are challenged and enriched by the work, not by the paycheck. They need a challenge, they need to know the organization’s mission and believe in it. They also need continuous training and they need to see results. It should come as no surprise that Drucker’s focus over the past decade has been on nonprofit organizations and that much of his time and energy has been focused on The Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management.

This nonagenarian is not one to look wistfully on the ways things used to be. He argues with the vigor of an undergraduate for "Organized Abandonment." Adapting Schumpeter’s theory of the need for constant creative destruction, Drucker argues that organizations must put every product, every service, every process, every market, every distribution channel, even every customer and end use on trial for its life regularly and systematically. Organizations must be committed to change, and organizational abandonment, a systemic and systematic effort to abandon old methods and ideas, is the only way organizations will survive beyond their current lifespan of 30 years. Interestingly, among the panel presentations at the recent meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos was one entitled Leading in an Era of Creative Destruction. Apparently there are those who are listening.

Business executives race to find the latest, flashiest guru, the one doing presentations wearing a headset and with a pyromaniac’s love for flash. Meanwhile, Drucker, the sage, tells us what we need to know. More people ought not only to listen, but to act on his advice. Little better is available at any price.