Why I’m Leaving Forbes

Posted on Jun 18, 2013 | 11 Comments

Earlier today, I posted what was my last “Drucker Difference” column at Forbes.com. The piece was pulled down shortly thereafter. We are running it here on the Drucker Exchange in its entirety.

– Rick Wartzman 

Forbes

As much as any enterprise I can think of, the online operation at Forbes is a great example of what Peter Drucker called “the corporation of tomorrow.”

By tapping an immense web of outside contributors, the publisher has found a way to expose its readers to a wide variety of interesting voices and viewpoints. And in many cases, it has been able to pull in expertise on specific topics that its own staff doesn’t necessarily possess. For instance, I am arguably better positioned than a Forbes management writer to tie Drucker’s timeless wisdom to what’s happening in the world today because I run the Drucker Institute and, therefore, am hyper-focused on this one area.

“The corporation of tomorrow,” Drucker asserted in a 2003 lecture, “will be a place that finds the outside organization that does a specialist’s job the best because it does nothing else.”

The upshot, he said, is that a forward-looking business will increasingly have “contracts here and minority participations there and know-how agreements. It is a network. It is a confederation. And so you have to learn to work with people whose values are different and whose goals are different, and whom you can’t control.”

Unfortunately, that is not always so easy to do—as I myself recently discovered.

My relationship with Forbes began in April 2012 (when I brought “The Drucker Difference” over from Bloomberg Businessweek, where it had run for about five years). Under the terms we agreed to, I would contribute an original column every other week; in between those pieces, I’d post a selection from the Drucker Institute’s daily blog, the Drucker Exchange—a terrific way to extend these insights to Forbes’ broader audience. For all of this, I’d be paid a small sum.

For more than a year, everything went swimmingly—until, a couple of weeks ago, when I was hit with a nastygram from someone at Forbes, informing me that “it has come to our attention” that some of what I’d been filing had already appeared elsewhere (namely, on the Drucker Exchange). If I wanted to continue being paid, I was told, I could “only publish original material.”

I replied right away, saying that there had obviously been some kind of misunderstanding; this had been our deal from the beginning. “Thanks for clarifying,” came the response. “You have done nothing wrong.” Nevertheless, it was made clear that the agreement I had struck 14 months earlier had veered outside the bounds of what was permissible, and I now had two choices: stop posting articles from the Drucker Exchange—or “you could always be moved to unpaid status.”

Since then, I’ve been stewing. It isn’t about the money per se; having achieved only modest popularity on the Forbes site, the most I ever made in a month was $270.16, based in part on the number of views I received.

So why, then, do I feel so frustrated—angry even—about Forbes demanding that our arrangement be altered midstream? As I’ve reflected on this, five broader lessons have come to mind.

First, and most fundamentally, you have to stay true to your word or trust is easily lost. Workers—even outside guns for hire—“do not function if the environment is not predictable, not understandable, not known,” Drucker wrote.

Second, organizations must have policies and enforce them. But smart management must know when and where to bend (and honoring an existing accord, formed in good faith, should surely qualify for such treatment). “Exceptions,” Drucker observed in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, “can never be prevented.”

Third, to have a fulfilling work experience, all parts of the job have to be right—the task itself, certainly, but also the larger scene that one is part of. “If other aspects of working are unsatisfactory,” Drucker wrote, “they can spoil even the most achieving job—just as a poor sauce can spoil the taste even of the best meat.”

Fourth, today’s knowledge workers are highly mobile. “People have no hesitation to change jobs,” Drucker noted. They tend to work for a particular outfit “because they want to, not because they have to.”

Fifth and finally, we mobile knowledge workers are likely to bolt if we don’t feel as if we’re in a genuine partnership. (I, for one, am going to be taking “The Drucker Difference,” as well as regular selections from the Drucker Exchange, to Time.com in the next couple of weeks. I hope you’ll continue to read me there.)

“The secret of an alliance,” Drucker explained, “is that you start by asking your partner: ‘What are you trying to achieve? What is important to you?’ You don’t say, ‘This is what we want from you.’ Rather, you ask, ‘What do you want from us?’”

Forbes’ corporation of tomorrow is still developing, and I hope it will evolve to better value its confederation of contributors.

11 Comments

  1. Harold Goffeney
    June 18, 2013

    You are already established and have credibility. The people who read Drucker are most likely professional with proven track records. Keep us posted.

    Reply
  2. Brendan Calder
    June 18, 2013

    Well handled Rick.
    Cheers

    Reply
  3. Maggie Habib
    June 18, 2013

    Rick – a wonderful post. Excited for you and will follow you as you continue this journey. Just don’t stop writing!

    Reply
  4. Jeffrey Smyth
    June 21, 2013

    Rick, I was feeling sorry for you until I reached the end of your article. I’m looking forward to Peter Drucker’s assessment of Time!

    Take care, eh!

    Reply
  5. Ray
    June 21, 2013

    Their loss. Shortsightedness is all too frequent, and no thought was given to the damage to their brand.

    Reply
  6. Dave
    June 22, 2013

    The most striking thing about this to me is that they had had Drucker as a brand asset for $270 a month, at most.

    Ah, the short-sightedness of technocrats!

    Reply
  7. Rafael
    June 22, 2013

    Rick,
    As usual, you took this event as another opportunity to apply Drucker ideas and share five great lessons with us. Thank you for that, we will continue reading your column in Time.

    Reply
  8. Greg Zerovnik
    June 23, 2013

    Their loss, Rick. Frankly, I think it’s the eternal problem of ambitious underlings trying to “fix” things that aren’t broken so they can stand out and be noticed. Personally, I think Steve Forbes would not think of this as a good move on the magazine’s part, and I intend to tell him so.

    Reply
  9. Dale H Johnson
    June 26, 2013

    I stumbled on to this from LINKED-IN and found it strange that such silly actions would come from FORBES. I remember when they proudly labeled themselves CAPITALIST TOOL! I doubt that that would ever be something the TIME organization would proudly label themselves. Remember that bad news seldom travels upward as evidenced by the current flap over my current employeer the US Treasury – IRS – Since most of my experience has been in the Private Sector as a PhD Scientist directing product development in personal care and otc pharmaceuticals, I have seen stupidity cross the Private/Public border very easilly. I am reminded of an all too often forgotten statement by W. Somerset Maughn – “Only the mediocdre are always at their best!”

    I won a creativity award at a former employeer about 25 years ago by submitting it to a competition within the scientific community at a paper company that was founded and managed successfully by two engineers — not an MBA in a position to cause too much mischief. Leter they fell on hard times when the “business professionals” took over and the core values changed dramatically. I hope the Drucker Exchange gets at least $500 per months worth of exposure on TIME. I am a subscriber to TIME and will look forward to reading your contributions.

    Reply
  10. Maverick 18
    June 26, 2013

    I just round filed my Forbes subscription renewal.

    Reply
  11. Rick Wartzman
    June 26, 2013

    Thanks to all for your comments. I greatly appreciate the support. You can read the first installment of “The Drucker Difference” at Time.com next Wednesday.

    Reply

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