The question is not whether you’ll change; you will. Research clearly shows that everyone’s personality traits shift over the years, often for the better. But who we end up becoming and how much we like that person are more in our control than we tend to think they are.
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Posted September 15, 2022 | Reviewed by Michelle Quirk
The walls of Peter and Doris Drucker’s living room in Claremont, California, were lined with bookcases reaching nearly to the ceiling. Although Drucker maintained a demanding schedule, he made time to read for a variety of reasons: pleasure, information and knowledge, and research underpinning the writing, teaching, and consulting that made him so successful.
This has implications for the positive effects reading can have for today’s readers and knowledge workers. There are more options for access to books than in Drucker’s lifetime, especially online through Kindle and its competitors, and library-related apps for borrowing e-books. Many of us belong to book groups meeting in person and/or online and are therefore exposed to reading material we might not otherwise seek out.
Drucker’s reading habits show why we should consider reading beyond our own disciplines, not only for pleasure but also for informing our work in surprising ways, and perhaps taking us in new and unexpected directions.
Drucker’s 1993 The Ecological Vision: Reflections on the American Condition, a compilation of essays and articles written over many years on a variety of subjects, can also be viewed as a showcase for his eclectic and refined reading habits. Consider the following from the 1979 essay “A View of Japan Through Japanese Art” as a glimpse into his restless mind:
The towering achievement of the high Middle Ages in the West was Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, perhaps the boldest conceptual and analytical feat in human history. The proudest achievement of Japan’s “Middle Ages,” the eleventh century, is the world’s first novel, Lady Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of Genji, filled with intimate descriptions of men and women in court life, of love and illness and death.
Drucker’s love of literature and aspirations toward writing fiction was demonstrated when he published two novels while he was in his 70s, The Last of All Possible Worlds (1982) and The Temptation to Do Good (1984). They were reissued together as a paperback in 2016 by the independent publisher Paul Dry Books and received a glowing review in The Wall Street Journal.
In 1996, Drucker and other thought leaders provided brief lists of reading recommendations for leaders in the publication of a business bookstore. Drucker’s list includes two novels: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Middlemarch by George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans).
After I interviewed him for a 1999 piece in USA TODAY marking his 90th birthday, the article contained the following section, inspired by a suggestion from my editor, Jacqueline Blais:
In literature, Drucker admires Jane Austen, whose early 19th century novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility just don’t make business-reading lists. What Austen novel, Drucker was asked recently, should a manager start with? This was his e-mail response: “Any Jane Austen novel will do, since every Jane Austen heroine is a better manager and executive than any American CEO.”
Drucker wrote in a 1999 article for The Atlantic about the influence of the railroad and the Industrial Revolution and noted that “a good account of this can be found in what is surely the best portrayal of the Industrial Revolution’s society in transition, George Eliot’s 1871 novel Middlemarch.” Similarly, consider a quote from his 1998 interview in Inc. with Harriet Rubin: “I’m not a professional historian, but I’ve learned nothing helps me as much in my work as a little bit of historical knowledge about a country, technology, or industry.”
Drucker’s 1996 bookstore list also included My Years With General Motors, by former GM Chairman and CEO Alfred P. Sloan Jr., first published in 1963. Drucker wrote a new, eight-page introduction, “Why My Years With General Motors Is Must Reading,” to a 1990 paperback edition published by Rubin’s Currency/Doubleday imprint. In paraphrasing what he called “the main lessons” in the book, Drucker writes, “Finally—and perhaps the most important lesson—the professional manager is a servant. Rank does not confer privilege. It does not give power. It imposes responsibility.”
When interviewing Drucker for a 2004 USA TODAY article as he was turning 95, one year before his death, I asked what he was rereading. He responded:
I always read a little in the Bible—mostly either the Psalms or the Epistles of St. Paul. Just now I have begun rereading the Epistles and find them very exciting and full of insights earlier readings didn’t reveal. Otherwise, I just read some Balzac (Pere Goriot) and, with great enjoyment, Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago (a powerful book). I also recently—a month or two ago—re-read Dickens’ Little Dorrit.
Sometimes our reading may provide the germ of an idea for a related subject, as it did for Drucker. Books can have delayed effects on our life, helping us put ideas to positive and practical uses months or years later. We don’t necessarily have to read the same books that he did or ones he recommended. If nothing else, there are 17 years’ worth of books published worldwide since his death. But we can learn from his careful and purposeful approach to a reading discipline guaranteed to provide endless enjoyment and inspiration.
References
Peter F. Drucker: The Ecological Vision: Reflections on the American Condition (Transaction Publishers, 1993)
Peter F. Drucker: The Last of All Possible Worlds and The Temptation to Do Good (Paul Dry Books, 2016)
Alfred P. Sloan Jr.: My Years with General Motors (Currency/Doubleday, 1990)
Bruce Rosenstein is Managing Editor of Leader to Leader and author of Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life.
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The question is not whether you’ll change; you will. Research clearly shows that everyone’s personality traits shift over the years, often for the better. But who we end up becoming and how much we like that person are more in our control than we tend to think they are.

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