October 04, 2015

Failing With Single-Point Solutions: Systems Thinking For National Security

by Daniel McCauley

Journal Article | September 29, 2015

I have a problem with the Sunday morning political talk shows that our nation’s leaders use as a testing ground for solutions to the challenges, issues, and problems besetting the US on a regular basis. My problem is not that I watch the shows, but when I do indulge I have a hard time understanding the simple, linear, reductionist explanations of experts that offer predictable and comfortable responses to complex issues. Terrorism, nation-state bankruptcies, stock market crashes, humanitarian disasters, invasions through proxies, nuclear and technology proliferation, and transnational criminal organizations are just a few of the more recent headlines that all experts agree are undermining US national security. But few of these experts identify—let alone explain—the interrelationship of many of these issues or the multitude of contributing factors inherent within each of these challenges. The pundits of opposing political parties, aka experts, seek to define a static end-product easily judged as right or wrong, good or bad that doesn’t exist.

What has become clear are the uncertainties of a changing, continually globalizing world. Each subsequent change highlights the growing mismatches between the capabilities and capacities of traditional nation-states and the complexities inherent within non-traditional, global challenges. These complexities pose theoretical and real-world puzzles that demand thoughtful holistic policies by national security experts. Unfortunately, single-point solutions developed by government experts have failed to account for dynamic and volatile global conditions highly resistant to predetermined resolution. In fact, there is compelling evidence that suggests the very policies proffered as solutions act as catalysts to spawn the unanticipated consequences and shocks currently manifesting in the global environment. In fact, Dr. Jay Forrester, Professor Emeritus at the Sloan School of Business at MIT, assessed that up to 98% of all policy interventions fail in whole or part because of a lack of understanding of the systems in play. These failures highlight the limitations of our mental models and our overly simplistic approaches to problem solving.

To continue reading, please click on: Failing With Single-Point Solutions: Systems Thinking For National Security

Posted by ACASA on October 4, 2015 at 05:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 05, 2015

An Interview with Russell L. Ackoff

By Glenn Detrick –

Academy of Management Learning and Education
Volume 1, Issue 1 September 2002

Russell L. Ackoff is one of the pioneers in management education. With an undergraduate degree in architecture and a PhD in philosophy, Ackoff is one of the founders of operations research and systems thinking, linking science and business. Influential in management thinking for the entire second half of the 20th century, Ackoff has published 22 books and over 200 articles in journals and books, on a myriad of topics. His illustrious academic career has played out primarily at Case Institute of Technology and The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Such is the breadth and reach of his intellectual contribution that the Ackoff Center for Advanced Systems Approaches at the University of Pennsylvania was established as part of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Ackoff has consulted with more than 350 corporations and 75 governmental agencies in the United States and abroad. All have benefited greatly from his “out of the box” thinking and point of view.

Ackoff provides a particularly useful perspective for this the first issue of the Academy of Management Learning and Education. As you will see from what follows, Ackoff challenges much of current thinking about teaching and learning in terms of what is effective and what isn’t when the ultimate objective is to improve the learning process.

To continue reading, please click on: An Interview with Russell L. Ackoff

Posted by ACASA on September 5, 2015 at 01:02 PM in blog post | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 31, 2015

Building on the Work of Ackoff, Deming, and Fromm

Strategic Intelligence: Conceptual Tools for Leading Change

Michael Maccoby

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199682386

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2015

Building on the contributions of Ackoff, Deming, and Fromm, we can describe great organizations. Great organizations are works of performing art. Learning organizations survive and maintain profitability by adapting to change. They are learning organizations with the purpose of improving their customers’ quality of life and/or improving their capability. They develop people at work, their competence, and character. They work to continually improve their social and environmental impact. If successful, great organizations will attract the most talented young people and become the model for education to shape the social character.

Building on the Work of Ackoff, Deming, and Fromm

Posted by ACASA on August 31, 2015 at 12:25 PM in Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 30, 2015

Learn Change Leadership From Two Great Teachers

By Michael Maccoby

Research Technology Management; Vol. 53, No. 2 March-April 2010 pp. 68-69.

If you need to change your organization, to make it more efficient and effective, I advise you to first get acquainted with the thinking of W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) and Russell Ackoff (1919-2009). I had the very good fortune to learn directly from both of these theorists who have contributed so much to our most advanced understanding of change leadership.

During 1990-93, Deming invited me to meet with him regularly to discuss leadership and change. Ackoff and I worked together for more than 20 years at workshops and on change projects.

After World War II, Deming’s teachings helped Japanese industry produce high-quality products and drive waste out of the system. In the 1980s, Ford improved quality by using his methods which evolved into the Six Sigma approach that has made America products globally competitive.

Although both thinkers came from technical backgrounds—Deming from statistics, Ackoff from architecture and operations research—both combined technical and psychological factors in their systems thinking. Both emphasized the importance of the human side. Although you can apply Deming's philosophy to any managerial challenge, his teachings about quality improvement, with emphasis on reducing variation, are mainly useful for designing processes for manufacturing products so they fit specifications, less so to organizing technical service and knowledge work.

To continue reading, please click on: Learn Change Leadership From Two Great Teachers

Posted by ACASA on July 30, 2015 at 03:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 30, 2015

The 59th Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences

ISSS2015 Call for Papers: EXTENDED!

Abstracts to be included in the #ISSS2015 Conference Program need to be submitted by 2 July at the latest. 

Full papers can be uploaded onto the online Journal after the Conference once feedback has been received. 

Posted by ACASA on June 30, 2015 at 11:00 PM in Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 05, 2015

International Society for the Systems Sciences

Governing the Anthropocene: the greatest challenge for systems thinking in practice?

The 59th Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences will be held in Berlin, Germany, August 2 - 7, 2015.

Announcement - PhD Course

Systems Thinking and Practice in PhD Research: Cybersystemic Possibilities for Governing the Anthropocene

30 July – 7 August 2015, Germany

Save the dates! ISSS2015 Berlin, Germany : August 2 - 7, 2015


Posted by ACASA on May 5, 2015 at 10:41 PM in Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 25, 2015

Ackoff's rules of system interdependency, Part I

BY Gordon Housworth -- From ICG Blog

"Anyone familiar with my systems side knows that I treasure Russ Ackoff, whose three rules of system interdependency are never far from hand when approaching any system, human, natural, or mechanical. Any analysis of our own or of an opponent's system calls for them as they immediate flag disconnects and suboptimization. I summarize Ackoff’s rules of interdependency as:

  • Rule One: If you optimize a system, you will sub-optimize one or more components
  • Rule Two: If you optimize the components of a system, you will sub-optimize the system
  • Rule Three: The components of a system form subgroups that obey Rules One and Two

They show why a system can be so maddeningly complex, especially when its parts are examined in isolation to others and to their environment. It is Rule Three that so often brings an expression similar to that of the Sheriff Brody in the film, Jaws, when he turns from the shark to say, "We need a bigger boat." Indeed we do.

Ackoff corrects our commonly held view that a system is the sum of its parts. Instead a system is the product of the interactions of those parts: "…the essential properties that define any system are properties of the whole which none of the parts have." Ackoff likes to cite the automobile's essential property is to transport us from place to place, a property that no single part of the car can perform, i.e., once a system is dismantled, it loses its essential characteristic even if we retain its parts.

Ackoff zeroed in on the need for understanding (of a system or anything else) in "Mechanisms, organisms and social systems":

"One can survive without understanding, but not thrive. Without understanding one cannot control causes; only treat effect, suppress symptoms. With understanding one can design and create the future ... people in an age of accelerating change, increasing uncertainty, and growing complexity often respond by acquiring more information and knowledge, but not understanding."

To Read the Post, Click on the following URL: Applying Ackoff's rules of system interdependency, Part I

Posted by ACASA on March 25, 2015 at 01:58 PM in blog post | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 25, 2015

To Combat Terrorism, a Systems Approach is Vital

From July, 2002

Russell L. Ackoff is an emeritus professor at Wharton and a leading proponent of systems theory. He recently attended a meeting where economists and other experts were weighing the chances of terrorist attacks crippling the U.S. economic system. That discussion surprised Ackoff. “Why should terrorists attack the U.S. economic system?” he wondered. “They don’t have to; CEOs are already doing a fine job of that.”

To read the article, please click on the following URL:  To Combat Terrorism, a Systems Approach is Vital

Posted by ACASA on February 25, 2015 at 12:43 PM in White Paper | Permalink | Comments (1)

January 15, 2015

Rethinking Executive Education: A Program for Responding to Sudden Disruptions Caused by Dynamic Complexity

John Pourdehnad PhD, University of Pennsylvania
Larry M. Starr PhD, Philadelphia University

Lately, many social systems (i.e., countries, organizations and projects) are experiencing adverse situations that are characterized as “dynamic complexity.” These situations usually co-produce disruptions in the day-to-day operations as a result of which many social systems become partially extinct. We posit this is because these situations are not clearly recognized by those who are empowered to deal with them.

In this paper we propose a new and updated approach to executive education that takes into account the prevalence of dynamic complexity caused by massive changes in the nature of the internal and external environments of a system. We argue that the educational requirements necessary to prepare leaders who have the cognitive capacity to steer through the “perfect storm,” are very different from leading in simple and stable contexts. We suggest that this proficiency emerges from the interaction of relevant skills, accessed experience, knowledge and understanding of the situation, practical wisdom and sound judgment, and relevant personality attributes. We present a model with a multi-layered approach to executive education which addresses how the ability to rapidly assimilate, sort through, and comprehend vast amounts of data/information in order to make the right decisions depends on approaches to learning, knowledge of critical concepts, particularly systems thinking as a mindset/filter, and knowledge of enabling IT.

To read this paper, click on the following link:


Posted by ACASA on January 15, 2015 at 04:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 15, 2014

Russ Ackoff on An Idealized Design for a University

By Skip Walter

In 1986, while managing Digital Equipment Corporation’s ALL-IN-1 $1B per year office automation development efforts, a colleague sent me a copy of Russ Ackoff’s Creating the Corporate Future (1981).  To paraphrase Russ’s famous introductory lectures on how he came across the process he turned into his Idealized Design methodology through his work with Bell Labs (the story is an introduction to his book Idealized Design:  How to Dissolve Tomorrow’s Crisis …Today), I really wished she had not sent me the book as I spent most of the next year interacting with Russ and his team at the Wharton School instead of doing what I was supposed to do at DEC.

After reading the book and a previous book The SCATT Report:  Designing a National Scientific and Technical Communication System (1976), I immediately called Russ and asked if I could visit him to learn more about his methods and his way of systems thinking.  I shared with him many of the challenges we were facing at Digital Equipment with our rapid growth and with the dramatic impact that the PC revolution and the networking revolution were having on our business.  He graciously agreed to meet and the next day I went to Philadelphia to meet him at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

To Read the Post, Click on the following URL: Russ Ackoff on An Idealized Design for a University

Posted by ACASA on December 15, 2014 at 11:49 PM in blog post | Permalink | Comments (0)