The Seventh Lesson
Contributed by Subhashish

 

 

THE SEVENTH LESSON by Peter Drucker

 

Taught by Schumpeter

One more experience, and then I am through with the story of my
personal development. At Christmas 1949, when I had just begun to
teach management at New York University, my father, then 73 years old,
came to visit us from California. Right after New Year's, on January
3, 1950, he and I went to visit an old friend of his, the famous
economist Joseph Schumpeter. My father had already retired, but
Schumpeter, then 66 and world famous, was still teaching at Harvard
and was very active as the president of the American Economic
Association.

In 1902 my father was a very young civil servant in the Austrian
Ministry of Finance, but he also did some teaching in economics at the
university. Thus he had come to know Schumpeter, who was then, at age
19, the most brilliant of the young students. Two more-different
people are hard to imagine: Schumpeter was flamboyant, arrogant,
abrasive, and vain; my father was quiet, the soul of courtesy, and
modest to the point of being self-effacing. Still, the two became fast
friends and remained fast friends.

By 1949 Schumpeter had become a very different person. In his last
year of teaching at Harvard, he was at the peak of his fame. The two
old men had a wonderful time together, reminiscing about the old days.
Suddenly, my father asked with a chuckle, "Joseph, do you still talk
about what you want to be remembered for?" Schumpeter broke out in
loud laughter. For Schumpeter was notorious for having said, when he
was 30 or so and had published the first two of his great economics
books, that what he really wanted to be remembered for was having been
"Europe's greatest lover of beautiful women and Europe's greatest
horseman--and perhaps also the world's greatest economist." Schumpeter
said, "Yes, this question is still important to me, but I now answer
it differently. I want to be remembered as having been the teacher who
converted half a dozen brilliant students into first-rate economists."

He must have seen an amazed look on my father's face, because he
continued, "You know, Adolph, I have now reached the age where I know
that being remembered for books and theories is not enough. One does
not make a difference unless it is a difference in the lives of
people." One reason my father had gone to see Schumpeter was that it
was known that the economist was very sick and would not live long.
Schumpeter died five days after we visited him.

I have never forgotten that conversation. I learned from it three
things: First, one has to ask oneself what one wants to be remembered
for. Second, that should change. It should change both with one's own
maturity and with changes in the world. Finally, one thing worth being
remembered for is the difference one makes in the lives of people.
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