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.
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