This may be Drucker’s most enduring mis-quotation—it’s catchy and it echoes his caution to managers about culture’s durability. But Drucker never unconditionally asserted that culture would defeat any and every attempt to change it. He did, however, view culture as vital to sustaining organizational and societal values.
The Wall Street Journal (1991), “Don’t Change Corporate Culture—Use It!”
Joseph Maciariello, the Drucker Institute’s founding Academic and Research director, wrote in 2011: “Rather than expending energy on trying to predict the future, Drucker is well known for his advice that we ought to try to create what comes next and we ought to advance the future through innovation and change.” But the evidence suggests this particular phrasing is probably best credited to computer scientist Alan Kay, who said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
Like his other famous mis-quotations, this one has likely endured because it is well aligned with other things Drucker did say—including that during times of turbulence it is important to slough off yesterday and manage for tomorrow. In Drucker’s view this means managing growth and distinguishing between “healthy growth, putting on fat or a cancer.”
Drucker is so widely associated with uses of the word “effective” in management literature that it’s easy to see this sentence and assume he must have written it. Though he did not write it, Drucker frequently affirmed that effective leadership cannot be based on charisma, pointedly observing its centrality for toxic leaders such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao.
This mis-quotation is especially misleading because, while it touches on the importance Drucker attributed to measurement, it eliminates the crucial role he saw for management in making any tool—including measurement—effective.
This has become the Moby Dick of Drucker mis-quotations, an unstoppable force that seems to be everywhere and yet always hidden just out of view. A decade ago there appeared to be a valid attribution of this line to Drucker from an in-person event at which he appeared on stage with Warren Bennis. But when reached for comment, Bennis could only offer that, “it sounds like something he might say…or I might say. Maybe we both said it!” Until there’s hard evidence, this remains a mis-quotation.
Jim Collins has famously wondered whether Peter Drucker would have been even more influential if he’d written less. This popular mis-quotation may offer a clue, since it is nearly identical to what Drucker did say, only in fewer words.
Harvard Business Review (1997), “The Future That Has Already Happened.”
The disdainful tone here would be a rarity for Drucker, whose writing mirrored his management principles in its focus on strength and opportunity over weakness and problem.
The American Management Association Management Review (1995), “Drucker Speaks His Mind.”