Let’s talk about effectiveness. But first, let’s talk about Peter Drucker.

Peter Drucker died in 2005, a man who authored 39 books over his 95-year life. He’s been called the founder of modern management, and his name will inevitably come up anytime talk of business or management arises.

I stumbled my way into knowing a little about Peter Drucker because of the Tim Ferriss podcast. While Tim and his guests discuss a huge range of topics—and the variety of guests is one of the podcast’s biggest strengths—business is one of the most common topics. (Businesses are some of the most powerful entities on the planet, after all.) Whenever business is discussed, Drucker’s name almost inevitably gets dropped.

The second book I read from Drucker’s anthology was The Effective Executive, which is what we’ll be discussing in this article.

Now before you potentially become disinterested because of the word “executive”—which might bring up images of CEOs, suits, and big evil corporations—I should note that Drucker defines an executive a different way than you might think. He says:

Who is an executive? Every knowledge worker in modern organization is an “executive” if, by virtue of their position or knowledge, they are responsible for a contribution that materially affects the capacity of the organization to perform and to obtain results…Such a person must make decisions; they cannot just carry out orders.

(One quick note. Whenever I quote text from the book, I will copy it verbatim except for changing the default male pronouns “he / him / his” into default gender neutral pronouns “they / them / theirs” and the accompanying verb tenses. So for example, where Drucker writes “he is responsible”, I’ll alter it to “they are responsible”.)

By Drucker’s definition, every knowledge worker who has to make decisions which affect organizational performance is an executive. The last time I checked, that means almost every single person in the animal rights movement is an executive, at least in some capacity.

And, what do we care about as activists?

We care about having an impact for animals. Simply put: we care about effectiveness.

I was drawn to this book for that exact reason, and although it was originally published some 50 years ago (half a century! my word), the advice in the book doesn’t disappoint.

I want to be effective, and I want you to be effective, and I want every single person in this movement to be effective.

So let’s dive in.

The Main Idea

Even if you were to only read the first page of the Introduction of the book, you would learn something.

After working with countless individuals in a huge variety of fields over a 65-year consulting career, Peter Drucker says that effective executives do not need charisma, they don’t need to be extroverted, and they don’t need to be anything in particular when it comes to most personality traits. (This is a similar finding to the Level 5 Leadership that Jim Collins talks about, if you recall.)

But before we throw up our hands and say “I guess it’s all totally random then!”, he says there are similarities in what made all of these individuals effective.

What made them all effective is that they followed the same eight practices:

– They asked, “What needs to be done?”

– They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”

– They developed action plans.

– They took responsibility for decisions.

– They took responsibility for communicating.

– They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.

– They ran productive meetings.

– They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”

The first two practices gave them the knowledge they needed. The next four helped them convert this knowledge into effective action. The last two ensured that the whole organization felt responsible and accountable.

Boom. Even with that much, I personally have enough material to work on for years.

But there’s more good material in the book to cover, so we won’t stop there. We’ll talk about the Introduction first, and then dive into the book chapters:

  1. Chapter One: Effectiveness Can Be Learned
  2. Chapter Two: Know Thy Time
  3. Chapter Three: What Can I Contribute?
  4. Chapter Four: Making Strength Productive
  5. Chapter Five: First Things First
  6. Chapter Six: The Elements of Decision-making
  7. Chapter Seven: Effective Decisions

Along the whole way, I’ll be tying in lessons that can apply specifically to the movement for animals.

The book itself relies heavily on anecdotes that illustrate the points that Drucker is making. In this summary, though, I’ll stick mostly to the points themselves and leave it to you to read the book if you want to see all of the examples he lists from history and his consulting career.

Introduction

There’s a lot of great information packed into the Introduction. Here are the eight practices of effective executives that I already listed in The Main Idea section above, but I’ll now break them out by category:

Get the Knowledge You Need

  • They asked, “What needs to be done?”
  • They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”

Convert This Knowledge Into Effective Action

  • They developed action plans.
  • They took responsibility for decisions.
  • They took responsibility for communicating.
  • They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.

Ensure the Organization Feels Responsible and Accountable

  • They ran productive meetings.
  • They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”

Each of these points is covered in more detail later in the book. For now, let’s talk about some of the main points that Drucker discusses in the Introduction. (There are quite a lot, actually—the Introduction doesn’t quite read like a normal book introduction.)

Decision Making

A lot of this book is about decision-making. The introduction has a nice, concise list of what constitutes “making a decision”.

A decision has not been made until people know:

– the name of the person accountable for carrying it out;

– the deadline;

– the names of the people who will be affected by the decision and therefore have to know about, understand, and approve it—or at least not be strongly opposed to it—and;

– the names of the people who have to be informed of the decision, even if they are not directly affected by it.

Communication

Organizations are first and foremost tied together by the information that gets shared between people: information about roles, about strategy, about facts and resources needed to do a job, etc.

Communication needs to flow from staff to their managers, and from managers to leadership, but it also needs to flow the opposite direction: from leadership and managers to all staff. (Not to mention the communication that needs to happen between peers.)

How should you approach this information problem? Drucker says: “Identify the information you need; ask for it; and keep pushing until you get it.”

In an organization, this might mean asking your teammate or manager for information. In the movement at large, maybe it means reaching out to other individuals to ask them about their approaches to campaigns, or outreach, or fundraising, or other forms of activism.

Opportunities

Whenever you’re holding meetings and creating reports, list opportunities first and problems second. Unless they’re truly existential crises, problems should only be discussed after opportunities have been thoroughly explored. Growth happens when you invest in opportunities, not when you fight fires.

Similarly, put your best people on developing out the biggest opportunities, not on fixing problems. Drucker points out how in Japan corporate culture (at the time of his writing the book), each year companies would create a list of their biggest opportunities, a list of their best people, and then they would match up people to opportunities. This was, in fact, one of the most important roles of HR.

Productive Meetings

Meetings consume a huge amount of people’s time, both inside of organizations and outside of them (in community groups, for example). If meetings are going to happen and occupy so many of our waking hours, we should make them productive.

First, decide what kind of meeting it will be and stick to it:

  • A meeting to prepare a statement, an announcement, or a press release.
  • A meeting to make an announcement—for example, an organizational change.
  • A meeting in which one member reports.
  • A meeting in which several or all members report.
  • A meeting to inform the convening executive.

All of these meetings require different forms of preparation, and should expect different results and action items. Once you’ve accomplished the original purpose of the meeting, don’t move on to a new topic—close out the meeting, and schedule additional meetings for other topics if required. Stay focused on the topic at hand.

Think and Say “We”

It’s good advice to leave the “vertical pronoun” at the door—don’t think or say “I”. Instead, think and say “We”. This is a good reminder for us in the movement to avoid putting individuals on pedestals. Truly great things are built by groups of people.

On a final note related to communication and interpersonal skills, Drucker says: “Listen first, speak last.” This is crucial when dealing with large teams, or teams composed of people with very different personalities and communication styles, or when you’re involved in projects that span multiple teams.

Listening first is also important when interacting with others in the movement who you may not necessarily understand or agree with. Maybe you don’t understand what institutional meat reduction work is or why it’s important, or you’re not sure how likely it is that fundamental rights advocacy will be successful. Maybe it’s hard for you to actually believe someone when they say that they think humans need to eat animals to be healthy, or you vehemently disagree if someone says they’re focused on reducing animal suffering but not eliminating animal farming, and your first reaction is to judge the person or think that they’re being insincere.

Remember: Listen first.

Chapter One: Effectiveness Can Be Learned

In case anyone might confuse “effectiveness” with “brilliance”, Peter Drucker wants to clear that up almost immediately:

Brilliant people are often strikingly ineffectual; they fail to realize that the brilliant insight is not by itself achievement. They never have learned that insights become effectiveness only through hard systematic work.

The good news is that this kind of effectiveness can and must be learned, by all of us.

First of all, who is an executive? I already put the definition in The Main Idea section, but it’s important enough to restate so that we know who exactly we’re talking about.

Every knowledge worker in modern organization is an “executive” if, by virtue of their position or knowledge, they are responsible for a contribution that materially affects the capacity of the organization to perform and to obtain results…Such a person must make decisions; they cannot just carry out orders.

Practically speaking, this means almost all of us who are in the movement for animals.

An executive may manage people, or they may not—whether or not you manage someone is irrelevant when it comes to being an executive.

What is “effectiveness”, then? Simply put: results.

Effectiveness isn’t defined by output, or by creativity, or by efficiency, or by scientific rigor, although all of these things could help contribute to effectiveness. But at the end of the day, what matters is the actual results that you get.

Organizations often mistake effort and resources for results. For example, an organization will put more people on an opportunity, thinking that will mean more productivity. That could be true; but it could just as easily not be true. The only measure we can go by is the actual results being produced; results are all that matter.

Pressures Towards Non-Results

Drucker says there are four primary realities and pressures that push executives to not achieve results:

One—The executive’s time tends to belong to everybody else.

In other words, the executive cannot shut out the rest of the organization in order to “focus on work”. People are constantly making demands on their energy and time.

Two—Executives are forced to keep on “operating” unless they take positive action to change the reality in which they live and work.

In other words, executives often keep working on the things that simply show up in the stream of events, no matter what they are or how quickly they come. Instead, they should be asking the question “What is important here?” and only giving time and attention to the important things in their current position, the things that they’re responsible for contributing.

Three—The executive is within an organization.

In other words, the work and output of the executive is often used by others in the organization in order to generate results. The executive isn’t usually a lone island generating results on their own; rather, they are part of a team.

Four—The executive is within an organization.

In other words, the executive’s perspective often gets tangled up in internal matters. Information from the outside world is distorted, undervalued, or ignored, which leads to false perspectives about what is important. Crucially, the executive must remember that results happen outside the organization.

In animal rights, this is especially true. The impact we want to have involves animals who are kept “out of sight, out of mind”, trapped in warehouses and cages far away from where we can see them. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to think that the events and happenings of the animal rights movement are valuable in and of themselves—they aren’t. They’re valuable because of how they potentially impact animals.

Don’t forget that “being active” isn’t the same as “getting results”. Our goal is not to simply put in the time and do the work. Our goal is to help animals. This can be easy to lose sight of from within the movement, especially in the parts of the movement that are far removed from the animals themselves.

Learning Effectiveness

The reason that organizational effectiveness is so important is because no one person is capable of being amazing at everything.

We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, our areas of deep knowledge and our areas of very little knowledge. We must employ our strengths in the best manners possible, and help others be effective in their strengths, in such a manner that our collective results are to create an impact. (This is explored more in Chapter 4 about Making Strength Productive.)

So how do we learn effectiveness?

Drucker says that effectiveness is a habit, or rather a collection of habits and practices.

These practices are learned by, well, practicing—over, and over, and over again.

Drucker says:

There are essentially five such practices—five such habits of the mind that have to be acquired to be an effective executive:

1. Effective executives know where their time goes.

2. Effective executives focus on outward contribution.

3. Effective executives build on strengths.

4. Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.

5. Effective executives, finally, make effective decisions.

The rest of the book covers these practices in more detail.

Chapter Two: Know Thy Time

When you think about getting things done, what do you imagine?

If you’re like most people, you might think about a todo list or task list. You might think about the projects that need to be done.

Drucker says forget all of that—you should really be starting with an analysis of where your time goes. After all, what is life except an endless progression of time that gets used in one way or another?

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”


Annie Dillard

Money can be earned, saved, spent. People can be hired, fired, or can volunteer. Basically all resources have some degree of flexibility in how much is available, how it can be saved and spent, etc.

But not time.

Time is an ever-flowing thing, sweeping us along second by second. You can’t change it; you can never get more of it; and you can never get any of it back.

Therefore time is what we should turn our attention to first and foremost.

There are three steps to this process:

  1. Find out where your time goes.
  2. Eliminate or delegate everything that’s unproductive.
  3. Create large blocks of time in your schedule for productive work.

Step 1: Record Your Time

You may think you know where exactly your time goes, but there are probably at least a few things that you would get wildly wrong.

How long do you spend in meetings each week? How much time do you spend answering emails, or on chat platforms like Slack? How much time do you spend exercising?

How much time do you spend working on the single most important thing that you could be doing?

If you’re like most people, even if you think you know the answers to these, you’re probably wrong.

The first step is to simply track where your time goes. You can use any method you like to track your time, but a key point is that is must be tracked as it happens and not from memory later on.

Take at least a week or two to do this. Drucker says you can have your secretary do this if you like. (Ha! Secretary. He did write this in the 1960s…)

You can use Excel or Google Sheets, or pen and paper is fine too. Or you can break out a fancy time tracker app like Toggl if that helps you. (I use Toggl to track my time, albeit not as consistently as I would like.)

The point isn’t how you do it. The point is to track where your time actually goes.

Drucker says that the most effective executives he’s witnessed will do this process on an ongoing basis, and they will review the results every month or so. This helps them identify patterns in how they’re spending their time that are invisible to them on a day-to-day basis. They can then make adjustments in their schedules for the next month.

Once you know where your time is going, you can be more purposeful about how you’re spending it.

Step 2: Manage Your Time

After tracking where you time actually goes, now it’s time to decide what can be pruned or delegated.

First, you want to find and eliminate anything that doesn’t actually need to be done. For each activity in your activity log, ask yourself: “What would happen if this were not done at all?” If the answer is “Well, nothing” or, “Not much”, then stop doing it.

Tada! You just got some time back.

Second, for each activity in your activity log, ask: “Could this be done just as well or better by someone else?” If the answer is “yes”, then see if someone else can do this activity.

It’s really a question of comparative advantage—How is your time best spent, compared to the time of other people? If you’re a world-class writer and a terrible graphic designer, it simply doesn’t make sense for you to spend time designing images and logos if you could pass those off to a graphic designer on staff.

Third and finally, look at each activity and ask yourself: “Is this an example of me wasting the time of other people?”

Sometimes you’re the culprit of wasting time. We all are. You might be able to identify something as a waste of time right away, but often you need to ask other people. Drucker suggests asking your colleagues: “What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?” Seeking this kind of honest, candid feedback is an incredibly important part of being effective.

Drucker also discusses four kinds of time-wasters, which I’ll just mention here briefly.

Types of Time-Wasters

  1. Lack of system or foresight. An example is a recurring “crisis”: a tight deadline or stressful project that happens every year. This should be anticipated and planned for.
  2. Too many staff. As you add more people to a team or project, the managerial overhead increases. There are points at which adding more people is a bad thing.
  3. Poor organization, which can easily be identified by an excess of meetings. Meetings exist because information and decision-making are stored in the different heads of different individuals. With good knowledge sharing practices and a cohesive, well-communicated strategy, people require fewer meetings to understand their role in the organization.
  4. Malfunction in information. People need the right information at the right time. If they don’t have this, time is wasted.

Step 3: Consolidate Your Time

After removing the unnecessary activities, using the idea of comparative advantage to push certain activities to other people, and eliminating or solving time-wasters, you’re now ready to consolidate your time into the largest possible chunks.

Why does having large chunks of time matter?

It matters because human brains simply require a certain amount of time to process information and become fully absorbed in the work at hand. It’s not possible—or at the very least wildly inefficient—to try to accomplish something complex and important in 5-minute chunks.

One hour of uninterrupted and focused time working is vastly superior to six separate periods of ten minutes spread throughout the day.

As Drucker explains:

The effective executive therefore knows that they have to consolidate their discretionary time. They know that they need large chunks of time and that small driblets are no time at all. Even one quarter of a working day, if consolidated in large time units, is usually enough to get the important things done. But even three quarters of the working day are useless if they are only available as fifteen minutes here or half an hour there.

Here are some ideas for consolidating your time:

  • Work from home a couple days a week.
  • Schedule all of your meetings for certain days of the week, or for certain periods of the day.
  • Keep your mornings blocked off for focused work—no meetings, no interruptions.

Above all, don’t let meetings and interruptions encroach on your consolidated work time. If you find that this time is starting to be divided up and interrupted, it’s time to review your activity log again and see what changes need to be made.

Chapter Three: What Can I Contribute?

Drucker sums up this chapter in this question:

What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?

Don’t worry about efforts. Focus on results.

Also, don’t worry about your title. If you achieve results, you are an effective executive. If you don’t achieve results, having the title of “CEO” won’t make you any more effective.

As you’re thinking about results, remember that results only happen on the outside. It doesn’t necessarily matter if you like the things you’re producing, and it doesn’t necessarily matter if you feel good about whatever you’ve been working on—to be effective, you must look at whether your efforts have had results in the domain that you care about.

For us, the question is: Are our efforts actually helping animals?

Are we actually moving the needle closer to the end of animal farming, the end of animal exploitation?

(One quick note! Your health and well-being are of course important. But we have to remember that when it comes to diagnosing the effectiveness of the work itself, we must look at the results. These things aren’t necessarily at odds—it’s probably the case that you do your most effective work when you’re healthy and have high levels of well-being.)

Areas of Contribution

There are three areas that an organization needs to excel in, and thus three main areas where you can contribute:

  1. Direct results.
  2. Building values.
  3. Building and developing people for tomorrow.

Drucker says that an absence of any one of these could spell the decay and death of the organization. Your contribution to each of these three buckets depends on your specific role; some roles might contribute to all three, but more likely you’ll be focused on contributing to one or two of them more.

Demands of Changing Situations

One particularly challenging aspect of contributing to an organization over a long period of time is that your role will probably change, perhaps many times.

Each time you find yourself in a new role or a new situation, your contribution is going to need to change. This means you’ll also need to reassess which organizational buckets you’re contributing to. (The three main categories are listed in the previous section, remember.)

The Role of Specialists

We shouldn’t necessarily try to be generalists. In fact, in a very significant sense, it’s not possible to be a true generalist these days.

All knowledge workers these days are specialists in some sense—they know many things that others simply don’t have the time to learn, and they don’t know a great many things about other fields. Thus, knowledge workers need to take full responsibility for communicating with others in a clear and understandable way, and must not take pride in boasting their knowledge above others or making others feel confused or overwhelmed. Knowledge workers also need to understand that they contribute in certain specific ways, and that they need the contributions of others in many other ways.

Remember, effective executives work within organizations, which means that your work is usually only going to lead to results because of how it interacts with the work of others. If you do a poor job of communicating your contributions to others, then your efforts won’t lead to results.

Effective Human Relations

Drucker says there are four basic requirements of effective relations:

  1. Communications. Sharing information, and asking for information and expectations from others.
  2. Teamwork. Asking who needs your contribution in order for results to occur.
  3. Self-development. Building your own knowledge and skills so that you can contribute however is needed.
  4. Development of others. Helping others rise to the occasion of the challenge based on what your collective contribution needs to be.

In a larger ecosystem like the animal rights movement, we need to imagine how these principles translate even when we’re not in the same organization as the people who we work with. “Teamwork” might mean creating a coalition of individuals from different organizations. “Development of others” might mean holding webinars and training sessions for anyone in the movement who wants to join.

Chapter Four: Making Strength Productive

Each of us has many weaknesses, and a few strengths. To be maximally effective, we should all build on our strengths to the extent possible.

The question should be, “What are this person’s strengths and how do I put them to good use?” rather than, “What are this person’s weaknesses and how do I avoid them?”

Getting People in the Right Jobs

Favoritism and close personal relationships can actually be an impediment to answering this question objectively. If you really like someone, or if you have a close relationship with them, you may be tempted to put them in a role simply because that’s what you want or what they want.

Instead, you must do everything in your power to ask the question of what a person’s strengths are, and employ those strengths to the best use of the organization.

But organizations usually have jobs that simply need to be done, and those may or may not match the strengths of people at the organization. How are we to proceed, then?

First, know that you may have gotten a job description wrong. If everyone who you put in a particular position seems to fail, then maybe you’ve designed an impossible (or at least bad) job.

Second, make jobs challenging and big, so that people can grow into them and feel pushed to achieve great things. If you put someone into a small, limiting job, they will quickly lose any passion they may have started with.

Third, conduct effective reviews of your people. These reviews should focus on finding strengths, rather than finding weaknesses. Ask what the person has accomplished in the past, and what the person needs to continue developing in order to fully grow into their strength.

Fourth, know that to employ strengths you will have to put up with weaknesses. The one caveat is that you shouldn’t put a destructive person who lacks character and integrity into a position of power where their influence could corrode the whole organization.

Additionally, to keep people with strengths around, you have to remove those who don’t provide results—first by moving them to different positions to see if their job wasn’t a good fit for them, and if this doesn’t work then by removing them from the organization. It’s unfair to those who contribute a great deal to have to put up with those who don’t, and it will in fact cause your best people to leave.

Chapter Five: First Things First

Do first things first; do things one at a time; and do second things not at all.

Quit things that aren’t worth your time, even if you’ve already invested a lot of time and energy into them. (Google “sunk cost fallacy” if you want to learn more about this particular topic.)

Those are really the primary lessons of this chapter, and more words aren’t necessary.

(Do remember, though, to keep in mind the lesson about consolidating your time into large chunks—focused time is of utmost importance.)

Chapter Six: The Elements of Decision-making

Making decisions is one of the most important tasks of the executive.

Effective executives concentrate on the small set of important decisions that need to be made, and they don’t see “decision-making speed” as an asset. They want to make correct decisions in the most important matters, even if it’s slower and requires more work.

To become an effective decision-maker, you have to learn to separate general cases from specific instances:

General cases should be solved once, and solved thoroughly.

Often, there is already a solution that someone else has discovered, and all you need to do is recognize the situation as being a generic problem and then seek out the solution. Each time this particular case comes up again, it should utilize the same solution unless the situation has changed. You shouldn’t waste time making the same decision over and over again, or treating situations as special when they’re really generic (and potentially already solved).

Always ask yourself: “Is this truly a unique situation, or am I dealing with a general problem that others have faced before?” If it’s a general problem, use rules and principles to solve it.

If you’ve identified a decision as truly unique—which is rarer than we might think—then you need to assess the situation pragmatically according to the specific details.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that a decision isn’t truly a decision unless it is carried out as work. This means informing people of the decision, communicating who is responsible for which parts of the required work, and making other organizational changes as necessary to reflect the decision.

Elements of the Decision Process

There are five elements of the decision-making process:

  1. Understand if the decision is related to a general problem and requires abiding by a rule or principle;
  2. Identify the “boundary conditions” that a solution needs to satisfy, meaning the requirements the decision has to stay within;
  3. Think about the true solution before attempting to factor in the compromises that may be necessary to actually make the decision;
  4. Make sure that the decision is going to turn into action; and,
  5. Test yourself by gathering data and getting feedback about how effective the decision actually was.

Let’s talk a little more about what goes into effective decisions.

Chapter Seven: Effective Decisions

Drucker kicks off this chapter with a great assessment of what exactly a decision is:

A decision is a judgment…Most books on decision-making tell the reader: ‘First find the facts.’ But executives who make effective decisions know that one does not start with facts. One starts with opinions. These are, of course, nothing but untested hypotheses…The understanding that underlies the right decision grows out of the clash and conflict of divergent opinions and out of the serious consideration of competing alternatives.

So we must turn opinions into evidence, evidence into decisions, and decisions into action.

Testing Your Opinions

Facts don’t come first. Opinions—untested hypotheses—come first.

What follows after that is actually the basic structure of the scientific method: you ask yourself what information would strengthen or weaken your hypothesis; you gather the relevant data; you then see what the information suggests about your original hypothesis; you revise your hypothesis; then you repeat.

One of the most crucial aspects of the decision-making process is deciding what kinds of data you’re going to be looking for, and from where.

As a very clear and specific example of this, consider the animal advocacy method of leafleting. If you’re trying to make decisions based on the effectiveness of leafleting, you might think to look at how much people change their diet after they receive a leaflet. In fact, this is mostly what the movement has done thus far.

But what happens if you ask the questions: “How likely is it that a person who receives a leaflet will become active for animals? What kind of impact might they have?” This is a completely different measurement that will have completely different implications for the decision being made.

Choosing what exactly you’re measuring and looking for isn’t trivial. It has very big practical implications.

Drucker’s advice: To make an appropriate decision, you have to have alternatives. You must identify alternatives to what you’re measuring before choosing one.

Fostering Disagreement

In order to make an effective decision, you need to understand as many aspects of the decision as possible. This doesn’t come through quick consensus—understanding must come through opposing and conflicting points of view.

Drucker says:

The first rule in decision-making is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement.

If there isn’t disagreement, then you’re probably missing some crucial information: a risk; a downside; a critical perspective; something you haven’t thought of.

Decisions are never black and white; they are always trade-offs between competing interests and resources and constraints. You have to understand what all of the trade-offs are before you can make the judgment call required for an effective decision.

Drucker points out three reasons why disagreement is important:

  1. First—As the decision-maker, everyone wants something from you and may plead their case in a certain way in order to obtain the outcome they desire. They may omit undesired information, or inflate positive results. The only way around this is to seek disagreement about the issue and to try to uncover the evidence.
    • Example: A person who runs a sanctuary and a person who builds web apps are going to have very different opinions and information about what’s effective.
  2. Second—You need alternatives to choose from, and disagreement provides those alternatives. If everyone is in agreement about a single solution, then there aren’t any serious alternatives, and you’re probably missing information.
    • Example: If everyone agrees that “yeah, we should pool our money to put up a billboard with vegan messaging”, maybe you haven’t really thought through what other high-impact activities you could do with that money.
  3. ThirdDisagreements stimulate your imagination to think of creative, unique, holistic solutions that combine ideas and possibilities in novel ways.
    • Example: If one person thinks we should focus our time on getting a celebrity to post about animal rights, and another person really thinks we should launch a ballot initiative banning meat in a small city, maybe we can combine those and work with a celebrity to be the spokesperson for the ballot initiative.

Of course, disagreement can also bring heated emotions and clouded thinking. This is why the reasoning and evidence behind the disagreements are so important. You must adopt the view of the other people and truly try to see the value in the alternative viewpoints being put forward. (Helping another person construct the best version of their argument is called “steelmanning” and is the opposite of “strawmanning”.)

Make the Decision…Or Don’t

Finally, ask the question: “Is a decision really necessary?”

Another way of asking this is “What happens if we do nothing?” This is always a possibility, and for many of the less important decisions might be the default best decision.

But if you’ve decided that the benefits outweigh the costs, and you’ve done the work of finding alternatives and getting all of the information you need to make the decision, then now is the time to act. Many people will give up once they discover that the decision that needs to be made is difficult, or will be unpopular, or will require a long time to implement. But once you’ve made a decision, don’t be tempted by further delay or inaction—not unless there is truly additional information that will likely influence your decision.

Gather the evidence; find the alternatives; make the decision; and act.

Conclusion: Effectiveness Must Be Learned

Woo! This book packs a ton of information into a relatively short space. The whole book can be skimmed in an afternoon or read in a day or two, but the information contained inside of it could take a full career to truly get a grasp of.

There are a lot of lists and guidelines. Let’s review the most important ones:

The Eight Practices of Effective Executives

  • They asked, “What needs to be done?”
  • They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
  • They developed action plans.
  • They took responsibility for decisions.
  • They took responsibility for communicating.
  • They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
  • They ran productive meetings.
  • They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”

The Five Practices to Become an Effective Executive

  1. Effective executives know where their time goes.
  2. Effective executives focus on outward contribution.
  3. Effective executives build on strengths.
  4. Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.
  5. Effective executives, finally, make effective decisions.

My advice is to identify one of these aspects that you could work on, and get started. Keep this framework in mind, and return to it often to see where you can improve your own effectiveness.

And if each person in the movement for animals grows their effectiveness 10%, or even 1%, the compounded positive effects for animals will be immense.


Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.


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