In two months, Engage // Innovate will join business leaders across the globe at the world’s leading management conference — the Global Peter Drucker Forum — to discuss a critical topic in today’s increasingly digital society: the human dimension in management.
The GPDF was founded on the management philosophy of Peter Drucker, often hailed as the father of management thinking. Despite the transformation in technology and society, Peter Drucker’s work still remains extremely relevant in guiding today’s management challenges.
Leading up to the conference, Engage // Innovate founder Christian Rangen had a chat with founder of the GDPF and our friend Richard Straub to discuss the theme of 2018, as well as the development of the Forum since it first began 10 years ago.
CHRISTIAN RANGEN: How do you see the GPDF being different from other management events and conferences?
RICHARD STRAUB: The strength of the Drucker Forum is that we look at management in its broadest sense. Management is an instrument that you can use – a set of methodologies. We take into account three fundamental questions, while most companies look at only two.
Many management conferences have plenty to say about the “what” and “how” of management, ie theories and concepts, and methods and tools respectively, but few of them concern themselves with the “why” questions.
That’s something that the Drucker Forum brings to the table – we are dealing with the bigger “why” questions to do with society and values: the larger purpose that business leaders should be thinking of.
I’ve been coming to the Drucker Forum for a few years now and I’m deeply impressed. It’s in my view the number one platform in the world. You’ve been able to attract really luminary speakers like Clayton Christensen, Gary Hamel, Bill Fischer, and Rita McGrath – but you also have The Economist, The Financial Times, Harvard Business Review and other notable business publications – what do you think is the reason all these leading academics, practitioners, and writers are attending the Drucker Forum?
I have to say that this has developed over time. Of course, we had a good platform with the name – the Drucker Forum – which gives us legitimacy by tasking us with representing Peter Drucker’s ideas. That is immediately attractive to the media.
However, we needed more than just Peter Drucker’s name. We needed to prove over time that we could deliver. We had Peter Drucker as a foundation but at each conference, we didn’t only bring up these questions – the how, what, and why – but we put them into practice.
If you look at the program for this year, you will see how the sessions go beyond the standard management perspective. The theme – the human dimension – goes beyond technology and big data to put the human being at the centre. And that was always Drucker’s concern.
What do you expect to be some of the big topics and discussions that will emerge both in advance and during the Forum?
A key driving factor in the changes that we’re seeing is technology and the speed at which it’s happening. I think this is one of the factors.
The issue is the tension between this seemingly irresistible technology tsunami and how it affects human beings who are much more than algorithms, equations and data.
When you listen to the discussions around us they often revolve around the idea that if you can analyze the data sufficiently well you can know everything, and that that will determine the future. However, people understand that what makes us special as human beings is something completely different – omething that you can never ever get close to just with pure data, analytics and AI. I think this is the big discussion of our time, and it directly impacts the way we perceive management and leadership.
In recent years, the Drucker Forum has always brought in diverse guests, speakers and journalists. Are there any special guests this year that you’re personally excited about?
It’s hard to name just a few. We’ve always attracted some very important thought leaders. But I think what’s remarkable this year the way our list of leading global CEOs has grown.
Just to name a few, we have the CEO of Unilever,Paul Polman, who’s deeply engaged in the discussions I’ve just mentioned; the CEO of Michelin,Jean-Dominique Senard, with whom I’ve been debating the face of business in society; Isabelle Kocher, the CEO of Engie, who’s one of the world’s leading thinkers in terms of what should the organization of tomorrow look like and what role it can play in society.
James P. Keane, the President and CEO of Steelcase, is very engaged in the question of how to operate the workplace for the human being. Xavier Huillard, the CEO of VINCI Group, is thinking about how to preserve humanity in his company and himself, despite all the constraints.
This year we have the strongest representation of big players from large organizations yet.
One of the challenges that we’re seeing is the shift in politics both in the US but also in Europe (Brexit) – the rise of far right wing parties. How do you see the political dimension coming into the Forum?
In this aspect we also stay faithful to Peter Drucker’s philosophy.
Peter Drucker was against all extremes, be it the right or the left. He was certainly one who showed the dangers that extremists bring with them. Intolerance has a tendency to lead to creeping authoritarianism. Drucker’s ideas were based on long-term values, not =short-term ones. He was not one who jumped on every new thing that came up – he based himself on fundamental values that have evolved over millenia.
We wouldn’t have direectlypolitical discussions at the Drucker Forum –that is not our mission. What we want to contribute to is understanding the role that business, business executives, and top thinkers play.
We want to create a world where we have people – many ,many active people – who are able think for themselvesy, not as part of any extreme movement, but who can view the world in a critical, constructive way.
What we can contribute is to put reason, a degree of rationality and humanism into the discussion. It is not our purpose to discuss Brexit, Trump, or Venezuela. Instead, we want to talk about creating the foundations of well-functioning society for the future.
Another thing that I’ve noticed, and this has been apparent in the work by Bill Fischer and some of the other guests that you had, is the rise of China. What are your thoughts on china in the context of the Forum?
Asia is really well represented at the Forum this year, through both China and Japan.
The CEO of Haier Group, Zhang Ruimin, will be with us in November. China is one of the rising powers, no question about it. They have made enormous efforts in the field of education. While they have been accused of imitating others for a long time, I think they’re now in the process of becoming innovators in their own right.
The Forum functions really well as a platform – a lot of discourse, writing, publication. When you look ahead, how do you see the Forum evolving in the coming years?
It is evolving to become more of a community. Not a huge community per se, as that can be challenging with thousands of people. Instead, we are looking at a community consisting of clusters dealing with certain subjects. We can already see that happening.
We have a significant focus around the theme of innovation, obviously, and there we have key players from around the world coming together and discussing specific topics, for example the Innovation Leadership Forum.
Then we have something similar happening around business education, leadership education, leadership research, due to the involvement of the EFMD and the international business schools. We see a discussion developing around what is needed in the future for leadership and management – the type of education, support, skills, competencies, and how we can create them in a more effective way than we currently do.
I see clusters around subjects where top thinkers, leaders in this subject, are converging to do things not only at the forum, but throughout the year. And we provide the platform to keep this network of clusters – this broader community – going.
That would be the vision for the future. The forum itself would be the crystallizing event where these discussions are brought forward and these thoughts expressed.
One thing that we’ve observed is the role of government, and how government can help shape innovation and economic development. What are your thoughts on the role of the government feeding into this narrative?
One of the focus areas will be the government and the private sector and the way they function together. One of the sessions this year is called “Beyond Market Failures: How the State Creates Value” – with Mariana Mazzucato, who is Director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, University College London, along with Martin Wolf, associate editor and chief economics commentator from the Financial Times, a member of parliament from Germany, Thomas Sattelberger, who has been an executive for 30 years, and Hermann Hauser, who’s a serial entrepreneur and Chair at the European Innovation Council.
Also important in the context of the government and the private sector, and something we don’t understand sufficiently, is how to manage beyond individual organizations.
We have learned a lot about organizations and have learned to deal with organizations expanding beyond their business model, but when we talk about ecosystems, innovation clusters – there are new challenges for leadership. I don’t believe they are sufficiently understood.
These challenges include the role of the state. Because to create this ecosystem and these clusters, you need the state to play a role, but how far do you want to go with this? Here, we get into a discussion with Mariana Mazzucato, where she argues for an entrepreneurial state, while others debate whether the state really has skin in the game as the entrepreneur has.
We are now entering the second decade of the Drucker Forum, and I see this as one of the big subjects for the future. Not only managing people in organizations but managing in ecosystems, clusters and beyond organizations. Finding ways to do this in a positive and collaborative way – a win-win approach – which becomes more and more important with the challenges we face in society.
I’ve been fascinated by some development we’ve seen recently. So you know the transformation of the energy industry, where utility and oil and gas companies are shifting to renewables. The role of ecosystems, where we are actually seeing right now the world’s largest solar project in the Middle East being funded by the Japanese Softbank working with governments in the Middle East. The governments are actually inviting foreign capital to accelerate the role of innovation in the shift to renewable energy. Ths role of the government in managing beyond the organization is big.
One of the principles of Drucker’s that we apply is to do with continuity and change – it’s not revolution. Drucker was not an advocate for revolution, which he saw as bringing chaos and problems rather than sustainable transition.
One of the biggest challenges in management is how to manage this balance between continuity and change. And that applies perfectly in the case of energy.
If you have a fanatical approach where you try to throw everything oveboard overnight, which some have tried to do with very bad results, it’s a management issue about not understanding how big systems work.
Energy is an example of a huge complex ecosystem. You cannot just go and say “now everything will be renewable” – it just doesn’t work like that.
You need a very intelligent, long-term strategy which takes account of the constraints. You need to apply caution and reason – enthusiasm and faith on their own are not enough. Management must be better than that. Big energy projects are a perfect illustration of the need to find a balance between continuity and change – and this is where Drucker’s idea is still valuable.
When we look at the energy landscape and technology landscape – there’s a cause to champion disruptive innovation business models, but you need an intelligent progress rather than disruptive progress.
You can’t mandate disruption. The idea that the role of the state will now be to mandate disruption – that’s not what the reality is. The big disruptions of the past weren’tt mandated by the tate –they just happened and it was only later that we discovered it was a disruption.
The misconception currently is that the tate decides and mandates what the next disruption is. The tate can create certain conditions in certain directions, but if it goes so far as to say this is the only future, the only scenario we see as a state, then I think we need to start talking seriously about the state’s role .
Drucker would say that there should be a mix – you should create the conditions, but then let the market, the customer, the ecosystem in to decide who the winners will be. You can’t determine it. Because then we are baked into planned economies, which to put it mildly are not the most successful entity we saw in the 20th century.