Russell Ackoff resources on systems thinking

Like Jerry Michalski I’ve long been a fan of Ackoff’s. Here are two posts of Jerry’s from October that provide access to some of Ackoff’s insight and wisdom about how to think about complex design problems. All of these items are worth your time.


I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’m a big fan of Russ Ackoff’s thinking. Frustrated because I couldn’t find a description of his methodologies for interactive planning and idealized redesign, I got permission to post a paper describing those processes (pdf format).

I began to write a summary, but it is so crisply written that I recommend you read it yourself. What I will say is that idealized redesign made me realize that if you never take the time to imagine what you really should be doing, as an individual or organization, you’ll never get there. It also brought home to me just how difficult a process redesign is, because we are so wedded to assumptions we don’t notice, historic business models and other, often dysfunctional baggage we take for granted.

The discipline Operations Research (OR) has been highly influential. Robert McNamara and his Best and Brightest used OR techniques to plan and justify the way the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations ran the Vietnam… er, situation. (Eventually McNamara resigned, troubled by LBJ’s decisions.)

In 1979, Russ Ackoff wrote a paper that was a milestone in management thinking, though it is little known. Published in the Journal of the Operational Research Society at the height of OR’s influence, The Future of Ooperational Research is Past (pdf) indicted the ways that OR had come to be used by its many practitioners. Ackoff followed that paper with a more hopeful one, titled Resurrecting the Future of Operational Research (also pdf).

Shortly after he published these papers, Ackoff started the discipline of Social Systems Science and founded the Busch Center at Wharton, funded largely by Anheuser-Busch, one of Russ’s major clients over time. Russ now heads Interact Design in Philadelphia.

Like the idealized redesign paper I just posted, I have permission to post these two papers here. It’s not every day you can see history change just a bit as you read an article.

12:25 PM

[Jerry Michalski’s Home on the Web]