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 (0)

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)

November 05, 2014

On Business School's Allleged Education

Russell L. Ackoff

Keynote Speech at the Hull University Business School, 2005

When I retired from Wharton as a member of the regular faculty and became emeritus I was asked to reflect on the value of a business school education. I endeared myself to the faculty by identifying what I thought to be the three most important values of such an education.

  • First, it equips students with a vocabulary that enables them to talk with authority about subjects they do not understand.
  • Second, it inculcates them with principles of management and organization that have demonstrated their ability to withstand any amount of disconfirming evidence.
  • Third, and this is what makes business school education worthwhile —it provides a ticket of admission to a job that provides a chance to learn what should have been learned in business school but wasn’t.

To read the speech, download the following file: Download UK TALK 05

Posted by ACASA on November 5, 2014 at 08:07 PM in Classics | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 01, 2014

By Rejecting the Status Quo, Russ Ackoff Took Systems Thinking to Greater Heights

After World WAr II, the U.S. War Production Board sought to preserve the scientific knowledge gained during the war support efforts. Major advances expanded theoretical knowledge, such as the development of the discipline of operations research. Practical advances of knowledge resulted from the intense manufacturing efforts, such as the application of statistical methods in a practice of control for production methods. But somehow, theory and practice diverged—and today we are worse off because of it.

That was the lifetime message of Russ Ackoff, who died [October 2009]. He was a man who had one foot firmly planted in mathematical-analytical disciplines and the other in humanistic-participatory teamwork. His life story is instructive for quality professionals as it traces the development of systems thinking during its 60-year migration.

To read the article, click on the following link: By rejecting the status quo, Russ Ackoff took systems thinking to greater heights

Posted by ACASA on October 1, 2014 at 04:35 PM in blog post | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 27, 2014

Ackoff Quotes

From: Wikiquotes

This page provides some quotes from Russell Ackoff who was a professor and pioneer in the fields of operations research, systems thinking and management science.


Posted by ACASA on August 27, 2014 at 04:23 PM in blog post | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 17, 2014

Systems Wisdom, Pioneers in Translational Consulting

In 2013, a group of practitioners, including some of the Ackoff’s former students and colleagues came together to create Systems Wisdom, an organization with the objective of going beyond traditional boundaries of various disciplines and consulting practices.   They shared the following concerns and opportunities:

Frustrations with traditional consulting approaches: i.e., if what is offered by traditional organizations is so good why has the average life expectancy of organizations decreased from 75 years in 1937 to 11.5 years today?

Limitations by those who believe one methodology or consulting approach fits all customer/client requirements; and who adhere to one methodology even within the systems and design thinking community.

Inadequate integration of systems and design thinking particularly when confronted with complexity – a topic “everyone” talks about.

Constraint of 2nd generation design in which experts study users but remain the designers.

From this emerged the pioneering work on “translational consulting” in which similar to translational medicine there is focus on the unique organizational DNA of a client, on capturing lessons learned, and where an intervention must be individually designed, implemented and controlled/tracked. Another objective was to bring a greater degree of realism to computational thinking to make it more effective for teaching decision making processes.

To read more go here: Systems Wisdom

Posted by ACASA on June 17, 2014 at 02:03 PM in Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 08, 2014

Russell Ackoff Doctoral Fellowship from Wharton School

Doctoral student Minji Kim is the recipient of the Russell Ackoff Doctoral Student Fellowship Award for 2014 from the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center.

Kim’s research will focus on determining the effectiveness of anti-smoking public service announcements with different themes (e.g. negative health consequences on smokers vs. secondhand smoking) that are customized to the level of race, gender, and age of the audiences.  This builds upon research that indicates that the used of tailored communication using exemplar or persuader characters that are similar to the target audience are more effective.
The Ackoff Fellowship provides funding for doctoral research on human decision making. It is named in honor of an endowment provided to the Wharton School by the Anheuser-Busch Charitable Trust.  Russell Ackoff, Professor Emeritus of Management Science life's work was dedicated to furthering the understanding of human behavior in organizations. 
The fellowships provide financial support for the students to conduct specific research projects. In addition to supporting the cost of research, one of the goals of the Ackoff awards is to foster a sense of community among scholars at Penn involved in research on decision making. 
Kim is the seventh Annenberg student to receive this fellowship. Hyun Suk Kim, Susan Mello (Gr ’13), and Dina Shapiro-Luft received the fellowship for their individual projects in 2012; Shapiro-Luft also received the honor in 2010. Cabral Bigman-Galimore (Gr ‘11) and Peter Busse (Gr ‘11) received fellowships in 2011. Shawnika Hull (Gr ‘10) is a two-time recipient, receiving the honor in 2008 and 2009.



Posted by ACASA on May 8, 2014 at 07:16 PM in Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)

The 58th Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences

The George Washington University, Washington, DC.
July 27 – August 1, 2014
Theme: Learning Across Boundaries: Exploring the Variety ofSystemic Theory and Practice
The International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) was founded in 1956 as a section of the AAAS, to “encourage the development of theoretical systems which are applicable to more than one of the traditional departments of knowledge”. There are now many thousands of systems thinkers, complexity scientists and cyberneticians worldwide. As more and more new application areas, practices, systems methodologies, theories and philosophies are developed, the number of research communities continues to increase. Fragmentation is the inevitable result of the proliferation of new systems ideas in response to new issues and contexts. While this might, at first, appear to be a negative consequence of our success, it brings with it an enormous opportunity: mutual learning from each other to enhance systems, cybernetic and complexity theories and practices in all our diverse domains. It is this opportunity that provides the focus for our 2014 conference.

This conference will reach out to all the diverse systems communities and provide a forum for mutual learning across their boundaries.
This year we will innovate in three ways:

  • Not centrally determining all the conference streams. While the ISSS ‘special integration groups’ (SIGs) will each have their own stream (as in previous years), we also encourage anyone with an interest not already represented by the SIGs to put forward their own ideas for streams. Inviting thought leaders from as many research communities as possible.
  • Designing hour-long boundary-spanning workshops where a single theory or practice, developed in a given research community, will be presented.
  • This conference represents a tremendously exciting learning opportunity, and we warmly welcome your participation, whether you are a long-standing member of the ISSS or have never heard of us before. We particularly welcome systems, cybernetics and complexity researchers who have knowledge of a particular domain of theory, methodology or practice, and want to expand their understanding of what else might be available. We invite abstracts and papers in all areas of systemic thinking and practice, and details of possible SIG streams and Exploratory groups are listed on the ISSS website.

This year, the American Society for Cybernetics (ASC) meeting "Living in Cybernetics" will also be held at GWU in the week following the ISSS meeting (3-9th August). There will be a discount for those attending both conferences, and details are on each society’s conference web pages.

Note that the conference fee includes free membership of the ISSS for a year, including electronic access to our journal, Systems Research and Behavioral Science.
Important dates:

May 31, 2014  End of Early Discount Rate on ISSS conference
May 31, 2014  Deadline for Workshop Proposals
June 30, 2014  Last date for Abstracts to be included in the Conference Programme.

Full Papers may be submitted at any point, but people must first submit an abstract for review. See website for further details on publications, and all conference information is available at or by emailing:

Posted by ACASA on May 8, 2014 at 05:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)