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Some Notes on Drucker's Knowledge-Worker Productivity(1999/06)

Peter F. Drucker is obsessed with his notion of knowledge-worker and knowledge society. His theme of economics is productivity first concept. In this note, I like to remind the readers the thinking of 'the quality of productivity' and a rethinking of the 'technological rationality' based on the revealing from M. Heidegger's ' The question concerning technology'. I'll point out W. E. Deming's quality chain reaction concept is a good starting point for this discourse.

Drucker is an well known management history expert. But I don't think he realizes the subject of knowledge and work/society is also the theme of 19 century economist like William Thompson, please refer to his An Inquiry into the Principles of The Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive To Human Happiness (1869, London; 1997, Beijing. Chapter 4, for example.)In addition to this, behind the arguments as follows, I will propose an alternative philosophy beyond Drucker's technological rationality approach.*

In the following brief notes, I'll base all my comments on his recent article Knowledge-Worker Productivity: The Biggest Challenge *. If we study some parts of his article( listed in the Attachment), we can see that he intends to synthesize our current understanding of the Work and Organization. Unfortunately, he gives us some insights but the article are with some simplified mental models of knowledge, knowledge worker vs. manual workers, productivity vs. quality , misunderstanding of "Total Quality Management" and Statistical Theory.

Drucker's understanding of quality is very old-fashioned (half-century ago) applications in manufacturing. He doesn't know the management thinking of W. E. Deming and J. M. Juran.

Drucker thinks that the Taylor(Scientific Management) triumphed over Marx(socialism) is misleading. In fact, Taylor's major works were studied by Lenin and with good understanding.(Lenin even knew that the workers should be placed as the main roles of the modern shops. This insight was fulfilled by some Human Relationship Movement and Japanese manufactures after WWII partially.) The troubles of the ideology of Marxism need to be understood from the view points of F. A. Hayek's The Fatal Conceit (1992 , also the first book of The collected Works of F. A. Hayek) In short, the main troubles of various Socialism(including Marxism) are without the organizations( based on our understanding of the transformation experiences of former socialism countries, they need many new formal and informal organizations to speak out the demand and supply( or voice of customers and voice of processes) and as the basis for social innovations) and market mechanisms of Extended Order.

Most arguments of Drucker's article can be reframed with Deming's System of Profound Knowledge. In fact, Drucker tries to redefine or upgrade the productivity with quality output can be approached from Deming's Quality Chain. This means that we can define the quality to include the concept of effectiveness and productivity and even to include the management of the unknown and unknowable. Drucker approach is like High Output Management by A. Grove and most economists'.

Deming's view on continual improvement and innovation for quality and productivity and his transformations needed for organizations and leadership can be learned from Out of The Crisis and The New Economics. It is much broader in scope and deeper in the fundamental aspects( System of Profound Knowledge).We can put in summary as follows. We need large scale of change in the political, social(including educational) and industrial systems and management style, and profound transformations in thinking, behaviors and organizations; we need to create bigger pie for work and job in manufacturing, service or knowledge sectors; The customers and suppliers are also very important stakeholders for value-creating; people and organization/systems are key for innovation.

*This article is a part of Drucker's system on Knowledge Society and Management. In order to get a fair and overall picture of Drucker's thinking, the readers are recommended to read his latest two collections of articles: Managing for the Future( with four categories on Economics, People, Management and The Organization) and Managing in A Time of Great Change( with four categories: Management, The Information-based Organization, The economy and The society( including an important article: A Century of Social Transformation).Although Drucker gives us some fair picture of Knowledge Work and Knowledge Society, but I don't agree with him the way he treat Taylor as an ideology and many simplified views on history, productivity and knowledge.

Peter F. Drucker(1999) Knowledge-Worker Productivity: The Biggest Challenge California Management Review, Vol.41,No.2 Winter,pp.79-94

Some parts of Drucker's article are listed without original emphasis for DEN reader's reference as follows. The writing and thinking styles of Drucker and Deming may be understood better from Fox and Hodge .

To proclaim that one's method "reject" Taylor or "replace" him is almost standard 'public relations"…In fact, Taylor was the first person to apply knowledge to work.( What makes them more productive is knowledge, that is the way the simple, unskilled motions are put together, organized, and executed).

The best example, however, is W. Edwards Deming's" Total Quality Management." What Deming did---and what makes Total Quality Management effective---is to analyze and organize the job exactly the way Taylor did. However, he also added Quality Control (around 1940) that was based on a statistical theory that only developed ten years after Taylor's death. Finally, in the 1970s, Deming substituted closed-circuit television and computer simulation for Taylor's stopwatch and motion photos.(??HCC) Deming's Quality Control Analysts are the splitting image of Taylor's Efficiency Engineers and function the same way.

Whatever his limitations and shortcomings-- and he had many-- no other American, not even Henry Ford has had anything like Taylor's impact…In the end, Taylor has triumphed over Marx*.


*Note 1:Prof. Wujin Yu did an overall review and criticism of various technological rationality thinking school and its various proposed modifications such as value and transaction rationality. My thinking of Deming's production system and joy in work, creating more jobs and his win, win system concepts are more social relationship oriented ones and close to Marx's view of work. I don't think Taylor has triumphed over real thinking of Marx( not Marxism).

Note2: Drucker's six major factors determine knowledge-worker productivity are:

. Knowledge-worker productivity demands that we ask the question:" what is the task?"

.Knowledge-workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy

.Continuing innovation has to be par of the work, the task and the responsibility of K-W.

.Knowledge Worker requires continuous learning and teaching.

.Productivity of the Knowledge Worker is not--at least not primarily-- a matter of quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.

.Finally, Knowledge Worker productivity requires that the Knowledge Worker is both seen and treated as an "asset" rather than a "cost". It requires that Knowledge Worker want to work for the organization in preference to all other opportunity.

In most Knowledge Worker, quality is not a minimum and a restraint.(Drucker thinks this is exact TQM and Statistical Theory applied to manual work.) Quality is the essence of the output…

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