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Innovation and entrepreneurship: practice and principles.

Peter F. Drucker. Harper & Row, $19.95. Cold type, word processors, chainstore marketing and the like are beginning to make publishing resemble farming--burdened by overproduction. As we currently have too much wheat, we have too many books, at least two many books just like other books. The latest effort from Peter F. Drucker, a management professor who has been writing on economics for 45 years and who contributes an insightful column to The Wall Street Journal, will disappoint his fans. Not that Innovation and Entrepreneurship is a bad book; it's just that it's been written already, several times. Drucker's "Seven Sources for Innovative Opportunity" and four "Entrepreneurial Strategies" will seem hauntingly familiar to readers of the genre. If this book were upland cotton, it would go straight into storage.

Drucker plows some well-tilled earth, then buries the reader under more rules, regulations, and aphorisms than any human being could possibly act on. One brief chapter on the principles of innovation consists of five "do's"--"A successful innovation aims at leaderships"--three "don'ts"--"Don't try to innovate for the future! Innovate for the present!"--and three "conditions"--"Two. To succeed, innovators must build on their strengths." (Italics from the original; in business how-to manuals it seems to more obvious the statement, the louder the drumroll.) Though originally a journalist, Drucker does not buttress his arguments with reporting, interviews, or specific case studies. Instead, all manner of historical characters are called on to back up assertions, among them Roger Bacon, William Jennings Bryan, Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Dickens, Ben FRanklin, Warren G. Harding, Lillian Hellman, Nicolo Machiavelli, Mao Ze Dong, Gregor Mendel, Napoleon Bonaparte, Bertrand Russell, Madame de Sevigne, Jules Verne, and Alfred North Whitehead. Then, in an afterword, Drucker has the nerve to put down other volumes on entrepreneurship for being "anecdotal."

The book's conclusion declares that America is on the verge of a monumental "revolutionary" shift from a managerial society to an Entrepreneurial Society. Precious little indication is given of what an Entrepreneurial Society might be, although Drucker hints that government will wither away even as some unspecified vast new federal program is created to care for "redundant workers" laid off by the smokestack industries. (Not to worry, though, for he assures that "the numbers [of unemployed factory workers] are not large.") Holding back the entrepreneurial millenium is the fact that "politics is still based on the age-old assumption that whatever government does is grounded in the nature of human society and therefore 'forever'. As a result there is no political mechanism so far to slough off the old, the outworn, the no-longer-productive in government." What country is he referring to? Antipathy to government programs has dominated mainstream American politics at least since 1980 and probably stretching back a decade--Jimmy Carter, let's not forget, deregulated oil, gas, airlines, and interstate trucking.

Nobody can have new ideas all the time, and Drucker, who is 76 years old, shouldn't have jeopardized the stature of his earlier works by dashing off Innovation and Enterpreneurship. Meanwhile, what does it say that praise of the entrepreneurial spirit has taken over the business-book business and the even corporate CEOs now routinely condemn hierarchies and call for risk-taking excellence? Confusing speeches about innovation with the genuine article is like saying that "patriotism" has swept the country because more people think that somebody else ought to go fight in Nicaragua. Roger Smith of GM talks grandly and often about meeting the Japanese head-on with Saturn but has yet to turn a spade of earth for the factory; production may not start until 1989. But GM has sunk billions into merging with Hughes Aircraft and E.D.S., government contractors who operate strictly off the dole, steering as far clear of the free market as possible. Public praise for the small entrepreneur is a positive sign. Converting those sentiments to practice is the next challenge.
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Author:Easterbrook, Gregg
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1985
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