Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Steven G. Brant Headshot

Why Obama Must Follow Drucker's (Not McChrystal's) Advice

Posted: Updated:

David Sirota has written a great essay called "Who are "the deciders"?"

In it, he lays out both the basic Republican "Obama had better do what General McChrystal tells him to do" mantra and the basic How the Government Actually Works rules of the Constitution.

Personally, I side with the Constitution, which says the president is Commander in Chief (civilian control over the military having been one of the Founding Fathers' great ideas). I harbor no Seven Days in May type fantasies in which the military "resolves the Obama problem" by staging a coup.

Thank you Newsmax magazine for, I hope, spiking sales of the DVD of this classic 1964 film, directed by John Frankenheimer from a screenplay by Rod Serling. Perhaps if more Americans were familiar with the civics lessons of this 45-year-old masterpiece, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Alright. So, I don't want President Obama to follow General McChrystal's advice. Listen to him, sure. But treat his advice as if it's the most relevant advice available? No!

That's what I don't want President Obama to do. And now, here's what I do want President Obama to do.

I want him to follow Peter Drucker's advice, not General McChrystal's.

(Peter Drucker? Who's Peter Drucker?)

If you don't know who Peter Drucker is, allow me to explain.

First, he's dead. Died in 2005. Was 96 years old at the time.

(WTF? You want President Obama to take the advice of a dead man? How's he supposed to do that?)

Yes, I do. And here's how and why.

Peter Drucker basically invented the science of modern management theory. And both his personal work and that theory have survived his death.

("Modern management theory"? What's that? And why does it matter?)

Well, basic management theory is the organized study of how human beings accomplish what they say they want to accomplish. And modern management theory is the latest and best result of that research.

In a matter of speaking, human beings have been using various types of management theory since the cave man days. Back then, some cave man figured out that using a club was better than using his fists to defend his watering hole from another group of cave men. (Thank you, Stanley Kubrick, for that imagery.) This was an early form of management theory, because at its core was innovation, planning, and adopting new habits. But it was largely the activity of one person, which was then shared with others.

Modern management theory is something Peter Drucker and his fellow researchers began to formulate in the years after WWII (when there was a lot of interest in studying how humans organized themselves most effectively, since we had just fought the biggest "who's going to control the watering hole" event in history). Drucker's book, The Practice of Management (1954) is credited with launching the formal profession of management as it's known today.

Here's the bottom line of why I'm bringing all this up:

We have a huge problem here in America. A great many of us think that you make something happen by... just making it happen. Literally by force of will (or, for some, prayer). Because we don't know any better, this leads to a situation in which our society -- especially the civic side -- uses the only model of organized effort we've ever experienced: the Autocracy that exists in most families.

We are raised under Father (or Mother) knows best circumstances. And if we serve in the military, that experience of "top down leadership" dynamic is reinforced... big time! And relying on this form of thinking, this form of planning, in which we "do as we're told," is sending our nation perilously close to going off a cliff (economically, environmentally, and sociologically).

But modern management theory is different. Unlike top down management, it creates an environment that fosters innovative thinking. An environment in which asking questions is actually encouraged, as well as its sister behavior: challenging conventional thinking!

This modern management-type process is what we need to make sure we do the right thing in Afghanistan.

"We, the people" and our elected representatives must support President Obama in making a decision that's wise, not fast. One that's based on asking questions -- lots of them -- not just listening to General McChrystal. General McChrystal's perspective is -- by the nature of his job -- limited and less comprehensive than that of the civilian leadership in the Obama administration.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that General McChrystal shouldn't be saying he needs more troops now.

What I am saying -- from the perspective of modern management theory -- is that General McChrystal's request is akin to the request coming from the head of the production department of a large company, a company that is functioning in an environment that is changing in ways that go beyond how the market for the product that McChrystal's department produces is changing.

And what President Obama is doing -- as the CEO of the overall business -- is taking the request from his head of production and factoring that into the wider perspective that comes from he and his other advisors seeing that the customers for the product McChrystal produces are actually changing themselves and, perhaps, need a different product now than the one McChrystal currently produces!

It is from this larger -- and, yes, ultimately wiser -- perspective that President Obama will make his decision.

My intuition tells me that President Obama knows more about the big picture thinking side of modern management theory than General McChrystal knows. (Were General McChrystal to be a student of modern management theory, he might actually be able to see beyond the needs of the "department" he runs.) For this reason, I trust Barack Obama to be the Commander in Chief. And I do not harbor any "military resolving the Obama problem" fantasies like the people at Newsmax do.

If we, as a nation, take a step back and see what's going on from a planning perspective -- from a "thinking" perspective -- this could be a huge, teachable moment for "we, the people."

We could finally learn, as a nation, that there is a science to developing truly effective plans for doing what we say we want to do. There's much more to making something happen than just "trying hard" or "praying hard."

We could learn that there's a very effective alternative to thinking the only choice is to use the lessons we learned from growing up in autocratic family environments.

That other choice is to study the work of Peter Drucker, W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff, and Peter Senge, to read books like Idealized Design and Blue Ocean Strategy, out of the recognition that their methods have been responsible for most of the positive innovative developments in our society.

Were a significant portion of America to discover this side of the "how we organize and plan what to do" world, a second American quality revolution might be launched, one that would go far beyond the one we had in the 1980's (see "If Japan Can Why Can't We?" and the Baldrige National Quality Program at NIST.gov started by President Reagan)

I'll leave you with a brief quote from Peter Drucker:

"The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become."

And one additional place where you can go to learn more about all this: The journal Systems Research and Behavioral Science.

And, finally, a 30 minute keynote about all this given by Dr. Russell Ackoff in 2004. Believe me, if you will take the time to watch this keynote, it may change your life.

Register To Vote