Peter Drucker wrote a charming little book in 1967, The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting Things Done. I have now read it numerous times and each revisit rewards me.
Just this morning I was speaking with a manager about efforts to refocus a business on new services and the difficulty of dragging along the old, tried-and-true services that still have a customer base and generate revenues. Drucker had quite a bit to say about this problem of the past. In the chapter titled, First Things First, he wrote, “Systematic sloughing off of the old is the one and only way to force the new.” And, “Yesterday’s successes ….. always linger on long beyond the productive life.”
Drucker wrote in the same chapter, “It is more productive to convert an opportunity into results than to solve the problem — which only restores the equilibrium of yesterday.” This seems like quite a provocation to most managers. After all, managers and management are all about problem solving. Or so we seem all to think. But, from Drucker’s perspective, problems are always about the past. This is very clear from his notion that solving problems only reestablishes the status of the past, some sort of guarantee that we can reproduce the results of the past. Whereas, opportunities are about the future. The future is where customers in the real world are, not in the past. Drucker sees the world as continually evolving and requiring new solutions to new problems, always defined by customers.
So, then, back to where I started. One of the hardest things for any manager to do is to look away from the products and services of the past. These may very well still be producing revenues and profits, though analysis and planning are telling them that future customers and revenues must come from elsewhere.