Letter from Claremont: September-October 2012

Sep. 3, 2012

Dear Friend,

If ever there were a thinker whose insights would seem a natural to feature in multiple languages, it’s Peter Drucker.

After all, his books have been translated into more than 40 languages. All-volunteer organizations that draw on Drucker’s vast body of work as they seek to effect positive change in their local communities continue to operate across the world as part of our Drucker Society Network.

And so we were quite certain that when we began earlier this year to translate select posts from our blog, the Drucker Exchange, into six different tongues—Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish—we had a global hit on our hands. It was a no-brainer, really.

We eventually realized, however, that among Drucker’s most valuable lessons is this: “Don’t ever bet on a sure thing. It always misfires.”

Indeed, after a pilot round using volunteer translators, and then paying for professional translations over the next six months, we couldn’t escape the fact that we were attracting no more than a few hundred viewers to these foreign-language posts, a fraction of what we’d anticipated.

In short, we had failed. And so we called a halt to the program.

“It is as important to decide when to abandon an innovative effort as it is to know which one to start,” Drucker wrote. “In fact, it may be more important. Successful laboratory directors know when to abandon a line of research that does not yield the expected results. The less successful ones keep hoping against hope . . . or are fooled by the scientist’s repeated promise of a ‘breakthrough next year.’ And the unsuccessful ones cannot abandon a project and admit that what seemed like a good idea has turned into a waste of researchers, time and money.”

To be clear, this wasn’t a decision that felt good. We had announced the translation initiative with some fanfare. But to continue on would have been to deny hard data and squander precious resources to invest in something totally unwarranted: what Drucker called “managerial ego.”

We’ve shifted the resources originally earmarked for translation into other projects, including an all-new Drucker Now app for iPhone and Android. We’ll be looking at how well these new investments engage you, our readers, to help us decide whether they live on or they end up in the laboratory scrap heap in order to make way for tomorrow’s innovations.


Rick Wartzman and Zach First
Executive Director and Managing Director

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