October 27, 2016
Russell Ackoff (1919-2009) was Professor Emeritus of Management Science at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. This was despite remaining ambivalent about educational institutions in general and business schools in particular, once saying that:
"Business schools are high security prisons of the mind."
Ackoff quoted in Stern, 2009
The management pioneer Peter Drucker once wrote to Ackoff saying that his early work:
"saved me – as it saved countless others – from descending into mindless ‘model building’ – the disease that all but destroyed so many of the business schools."
September 29, 2016
An Idealized Design for the Legislative Branch of Government
By: Terry Bouricius and David Schecter. Systems Thinking World Journal, Volume 2. Issue 1. January 22, 2013
Russell Ackoff developed a profoundly useful concept for systems thinking – Idealized Design (Ackoff, 1974, Ackoff, Magdison & Addison, 2006). An Idealized Design is developed based on what the designers really want, rather than working incrementally from current reality. There are two constraints imposed on idealized designs,and one important requirement. First, the design must be technologically feasible—no science fiction. This constraint does not preclude innovation, but it does restrict innovations to what we currently know we can develop. An idealized design might not be implementable for economic, social, or political reasons, but it must be technologically feasible to operate if it were implemented. The second constraint is that the design, if implemented, must be capable of surviving in the current environment. This does not mean that the design must be capable of being implemented now. Finally, there is the important requirement that the process must be capable of being improved over time. It should be ready, willing, and able to change itself or be changed (Ackoff, 1974).
In this paper, we propose an idealized design for the legislative function of government. The design could theoretically be adapted for use in any country with a democratic form of government, and could be implemented in ways that range in scope from a small incremental change to a fundamental reform, at any level of government.
The design is based on three concepts adapted from ancient Athenian democracy, as described in Mogens Herman Hansen’s authoritative history, The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes (Hansen, 1999),and Paul Woodruff’s First Democracy: the Challenge of an Ancient Idea (Woodruff, 2005). First, instead of concentrating lawmaking responsibilities in one or two all-purpose legislative houses, these responsibilities are divided among six types of more specialized bodies, with limited powers. Second, the members of these bodies aren’t elected – they are selected by lot. Third, the bodies that make the final decisions are temporary, like juries.
August 09, 2016
Vincent Barabba delivers the Deming Lecture on August 2, 2016
“Profound Knowledge from a Knowledge Use Perspective”
Joint Statistical Meeting
Vincent P. Barabba
My first contact with the “Thinking” of Dr. Deming occurred when I was at the Census Bureau. As I’m sure most of you are aware the taking of the Census is an incredibly complex activity; from the making of the maps, developing the mailing lists, creating the Census form, the collection itself, and the publication of results. The Bureau had traditionally built a back-up system in anticipation that in each step of the process something could go wrong. As the person who would likely be held accountable if something did go wrong, I had generally supported this position. Then one day in a discussion on the subject one of our senior members commented that if Deming was still with us, he would describe the Bureau’s approach of ensuring quality by developing elaborate back-up systems with his very compelling metaphor, “You burn the toast and I’ll scrape it.” In essence you end up with a piece of toast that everybody accepts, but you really have acknowledged that a problem is likely and you have built a process to make it tolerable – exactly what Deming had argued against.
Dr. Deming and I had a more personal, and for me more memorable, brief meeting during the taking of the 1980 Census. I gave a presentation on our progress and he came up and very nicely said, “You are doing a good job, keep it up.” The last time we met was at General Motors in the nineties when he was advising us on improving the quality of our products and services.
However, it wasn’t until I gained a better understanding of his concept of Profound Knowledge by reading his works, combined with what I learned during consulting engagements and evolving friendships with Russ Ackoff and Peter Drucker that I came to more fully understand and appreciate the value of his thinking. What I appreciated most was the fact that he railed against decision makers and those providing them information, who blindly asserted opinion as fact, out of convenience or ignorance. Instead, he challenged all involved to test their opinions, theories, hypotheses, hunches and beliefs against reality to truly understand what is going on and learn what is necessary to improve the situation.
here is the link to the video of the Deming Lecture…it is the 3rd one down on the list of presentations:
June 14, 2016
The Legacy of Systems Thinking
A Great Tribute to Jamshid Gharajedaghi
Jamshid's students are starting a scholarship in his name at Villanova University and they put together a video to celebrate him. They showed it at the conference last week, where they surprised him and announced the scholarship.
April 29, 2016
We’re Trying To Do “The Wrong Thing Right” in Schools
By Will Richardson
Co-publisher of ModernLearners.com.
"A couple of weeks ago, thanks to some serendipitous surfing online, I came across this 10-minute snip of an interview with Ackoff, a pioneer in the field of systems thinking who was a professor at the Wharton School prior to his death in 2009. I was staggered a bit after watching it because he was able to articulate something I have been feeling for a while now but had been unable to find the words for:
“Peter Drucker said ‘There’s a difference between doing things right and doing the right thing.’ Doing the right thing is wisdom, and effectiveness. Doing things right is efficiency. The curious thing is the righter you do the wrong thing the wronger you become. If you’re doing the wrong thing and you make a mistake and correct it you become wronger. So it’s better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. Almost every major social problem that confronts us today is a consequence of trying to do the wrong things righter.”
To continue reading, please click on: We’re Trying To Do “The Wrong Thing Right” in Schools
March 31, 2016
Democratic Corporation: A Radical Prescription for Recreating Corporate America and Rediscovering Success
We all know that American business needs fixing, and there is no shortage of prescriptions: imitate the Japanese, or follow the example of successful firms, or practice right-sizing. But these approaches do not work very well, says Russell Ackoff, because they only attack the problem piecemeal—and it is the entire system of American business that is flawed. In this revolutionary book by a widely respected business thinker and pioneer in the fields of operations research and systems thinking, Ackoff underscores the urgent need to overhaul the kinds of systems found in America, from our business schools to our boardrooms. And he shows how firms can break out of the mold—and leapfrog the competition in today’s volatile economy.
February 22, 2016
Cornell Policy Review: Special Edition: Systems Thinking
Posted February 18, 2016 by Cornell Policy Review
Systems are ubiquitous. From our devices and networks to our social constructs, we are surrounded by complexity and its accompanying difficulties. For students of policy, these intricacies are familiar, and often accompany what Cornell professors Derek and Laura Cabrera have termed “wicked problems.”
The articles in this edition are written by thirteen Fellows of the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA). For seven weeks, they probed the wicked problems most important to them. From tiger management in India to social services in Texas, the following deconstructions of complexity are as diverse as they are profound. With guidance from Dr. and Dr. Cabrera, CIPA Fellows have been exposed to an intellectual process all policy students and practitioners should envy.
The edition is prefaced with an introduction to systems thinking by Dr. and Dr. Cabrera, and is followed by four of their student’s articles and TED-style talks. Over the next month, we will publish nine more CIPA Fellow articles in film and text.
The Cornell Policy Review is proud to present this special edition on systems thinking.The Cornell Policy Review is proud to present this special edition on systems thinking. We hope you will consider applying the process to your own wicked problems in public policy and beyond.
-E.R. Schultz, Editor in Chief
January 05, 2016
6 PhD Scholarships in the Centre for Systems Studies, Hull University Business School!
The Centre for Systems Studies, based in the Business School at the University of Hull (UK), has a strong international reputation for its cutting edge work on the theory, methodology and practice of systems thinking. We have six scholarships for our Systems Science PhD program to offer to successful candidates wanting to start a PhD in September 2016, and the deadline for applications is 29 February 2016. Please distribute this information as widely as possible to your social media groups and contacts.
These scholarships are structured into three research areas, each of which has a pair of scholarships associated with it:
Resilient Communities for Sustainable Development: exploring the potential for harnessing ecosystem services and local sustainable development to promote the physical, social, mental and economic well-being of communities in different socio-economic settings. One PhD student will work on local “green economy” models and their impact on the socio-economic well-being of the community, and the other will work on the exploitation of ecosystem services for health and well-being.
Resilience in Cyberspace: examining the opportunities and challenges for public and private sector service providers operating in the digital economy. The focus will be on internet-based business models and their sustainability. One PhD student will focus on the way social media and pervasive technologies furnish data and networks that can be harnessed by businesses; and the other student will focus on how the digitisation and connectivity afforded by these technologies can expose service providers and consumers to ethical and security challenges.
Marginalisation and Conflict: extending the capabilities of systemic action research methodologies and complexity science to address the dynamics of conflict and marginalisation and their consequences in complex social systems. The first PhD student will focus on health/welfare settings, and the second will focus on social inclusion/exclusion, collective identities and radicalisation. Both students will work with the wider team of academics to develop a framework for understanding and explaining the systemic phenomena associated with the dynamics of marginalisation, in order to inform the design of policies and interventions to minimise the social costs of this.
For applicants in the European Union (EU), the scholarship pays for your fees and an annual stipend of £14,057 (tax free) for three years. For applicants outside the EU, it covers three years of fees only, so you must have the means to pay for your living expenses during your studies. Hull is one of the cheapest places in the UK to live, so your stipend (if you receive one) will spread further than those offered by many other universities.
For further details of these scholarships, please click on the link below. This will take you to a page where, if you scroll down, you will find a list of all the scholarship topics being offered across the University. In this list, click on Resilience and Sustainability of Socio-Ecological Systems, which is the overall title for our Centre for Systems Studies cluster of scholarships. This will open a drop down menu where you can click on each Systems scholarship topic in turn to view the details.
All the Systems PhD topics have Professor Yasmin Merali nominally allocated as supervisor, as she is Director of the Centre for Systems Studies. In reality, however, she will allocate successful candidates to a pair of appropriate supervisors with in-depth knowledge of the relevant research area.
To apply, please go back to the first page you visited. Above the list of all the scholarship titles is a button saying Apply Now. Click on this and follow the instructions. Remember, the deadline is 29 February 2016. We look forward to reading your application!
PS. We also welcome applications on other topics from potential students who have their own sources of funding.
Professor Gerald Midgley
Associate Dean for Research and Enterprise
T +44 (0)1482 463316
Hull University Business School
University of Hull
Hull, HU6 7RX, UK
December 11, 2015
TERRORISM: A SYSTEMIC VIEW
Russell L. Ackoff and Johan P. Strümpfer
Broadly speaking “terrorism” is regarded as extremely violent behavior by what is normally considered to be a minority subgroup of society. The value system in which terrorism is embedded is not universally shared within the larger society from which it emanates. Terrorists form a movement that pursues a cause defined by its aims which, in turn, are defined within a value framework that may be political, religious, social or economic. Its objective is to obtain acceptance of its value system and its aims. In pursuit of this objective it applies violence aimed at creating terror and anxiety in one or more target societies.
A major factor in the success of terrorism lies in the fear and social paralysis it induces. Through the media, particularly television, the terror produced is rapidly disseminated through a large part of the world. Instantaneous global dissemination by the media, particularly television, of news of terrorist acts promotes the aims of terrorism. Terrorists thrive on exposure of their message. The connections created by the media between most parts of the world directly favors terrorism. There is no better example than CNN and the September 11 attacks on the USA, which allowed a global audience to witness first hand terrorism in progress, in real time. Through violence terrorism conducts what is primarily a psychological war directed at affecting the mind and the behavior of public.
Those who sympathize with terrorists see them as freedom fighters. They create an environment in which terrorist movements are supported and flourish.
October 04, 2015
Failing With Single-Point Solutions: Systems Thinking For National Security
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