Drucker and Why I am Not a Positive Thinker

I intend in this article to discharge a debt of gratitude which I owe to a favorite author of mine, namely Peter Drucker, the world-famous dean of management gurus who died recently. Everyone, I guess, has his or her favorite authors. My late father’s favorite author was Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking. His enthusiasm for Norman Vincent Peale was infectious; nevertheless, I managed to stay immune. “Positive thinking” is alright as far as it goes, but I felt in my guts that its opposite, pessimism, was often and unfairly maligned; pessimism may after all be a virtue in many instances. One of Peale’s books is entitled You Can If You Think You Can. Really? Peter Drucker could not have disagreed more. Here’s what Drucker says:

“We all have a vast number of areas in which we have no talent or skill and little chance of becoming even mediocre. In those areas a person – and especially a knowledge worker – should not take on work, jobs and assignments. One should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.”

So the maxim “You can do it if you just put your mind to it” may not really be good advice after all. It doesn’t make sense to push yourself to become something you were never designed to be. If you force a turtle to run like a rat you only succeed in killing the turtle. And in this rat race called life it’s no wonder if the wayside’s littered with empty shells of dead turtles.

What I appreciate about Drucker is his uncommon common sense. He points out those things that were under your nose all along. “A person can perform only from strength,” he says. “One cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone on something one cannot do at all…. Concentrate on your strengths. Put yourself where your strengths can produce results.”

So I am not a positive thinker – at least insofar as those things which I am not made for are concerned. There are a million things I cannot do, things in relation to which I have no God-given talent. I can’t swim like Michael Phelps. I can’t box like Manny Pacquiao. It would be the height of folly to force myself to become a swimmer or a boxer. I do not relish the idea of either drowning or being mauled. And that’s a good thing because I not only get to live longer, I get to focus on doing the things I am supposed to do. Realizing that there are things I can’t do is actually liberating because it frees me to do the things which I am good at, the things which I was designed by my Creator to do. These things I can – this time – think and feel positively about.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared beforehand for us to do.” (St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, ch. 2, verse 10)

(The foregoing was published in my “Law and Management” column in the Negros Times. Click here.)

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