January 08, 2019

The Problem with the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom Hierarchy

           February 02, 2010

The data-information-knowledge-wisdom hierarchy seemed like a really great idea when it was first proposed. But its rapid acceptance was in fact a sign of how worried we were about the real value of the information systems we had built at such great expense. What looks like a logical progression is actually a desperate cry for help.

The DIKW hierarchy (as it came to be known) was brought to prominence by Russell Ackoff in his address accepting the presidency of the International Society for General Systems Research in 1989. But the actual first recorded instance of it was in 1934:

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in the information?

Those lines come from the poem “The Rock” by T.S. Eliot. (And for now we can skip over the 1979 reference in the song “Packard Goose” by Frank Zappa.) The sequence seems to have been reinvented in the late 1980s, independent of these poetic invocations.

The DIKW sequence made immediate sense because it extends what every Computer Science 101 class learns: information is a refinement of mere data. Information thus is the value we extract from data. But once the idea of information overload started taking root (popularized in Alvin Toffler’s 1970 Future Shock), we needed a way to characterize the value we extract from information. So we looked for something that would do to information what information did to data. Ackoff suggested knowledge as the value of information, and we collectively nodded our heads.

The Problem with the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom Hierarchy

Posted by ACASA on January 8, 2019 at 01:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 04, 2019

‘The Objective of Education Is Learning, Not Teaching’

In their book, Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track, authors Russell L. Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg point out that today’s education system is seriously flawed — it focuses on teaching rather than learning. “Why should children — or adults — be asked to do something computers and related equipment can do much better than they can?” the authors ask in the following excerpt from the book. “Why doesn’t education focus on what humans can do better than the machines and instruments they create?”


“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth learning can be taught.”
   — Oscar Wilde

‘The Objective of Education Is Learning, Not Teaching’

Posted by ACASA on January 4, 2019 at 12:07 PM in Blogger Search | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 05, 2018

Russell Lincoln Ackoff: 10-week countdown to his 100th birthday (12 February 1919). Remembrance. Reverence. Reflection.


Harald Kreher

Harald Kreher

PhD, lic.oec.HSG. General Management Professional. "If you want to se... See more

Professor Russell Ackoff was a great scholar, educator, consultant ... and much more. Intellectual and pragmatic. Logician, mathematician, philosopher, ... , systemist.

He was and excelled at so many things. One could fill an encyclopedia with #s trying to do him justice. The following I want to choose - feeling awkward about it as I am fairly old-fashioned and myself not too at-, dis-, ex-tracted ;-) by what some filters and algos suggest to be of relevance, based on keywords. Nevertheless, today I give in a little because I think Russ had deserved that he catches attention by more than those who watch out for reference to his vast body of contributions anyway.

Professor Russell Ackoff

Posted by ACASA on December 5, 2018 at 09:41 PM in blog post | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 29, 2018

Learning to solve the right problems: The case of nuclear power in America

Jonathan B. King

Journal of Business Ethics 12 (2):105 - 116 (1993)
Three general types of problems entail different strategies. Continuing to seek solutions to tame problems when we face messes, let alone wicked problems, is potentially catastrophic hence fundamentally irresponsible. In our turbulent times, it is therefore becoming a strategic necessity to learn how to solve the right problems. Successful problem solving requires finding the right solution to the right problem. We fail more often because we solve the wrong problem than because we get the wrong solution to the right problem. Russell Ackoff (1974). But then, you may agree that it becomes morally objectionable for the planner to treat a wicked problem as though it were a tame one, or to tame a wicked problem prematurely, or to refuse to recognize the inherent wickedness of social problems. Rittel and Webber (1973).

Posted by ACASA on November 29, 2018 at 04:12 PM in blog post | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 28, 2018

Interactive Planning

"A methodology for solving an interrelated set of problems" (G.A. BRITTON & H. McCALLION, 1994, p.503).

According to these authors, widely inspired by R.L. ACKOFF's "Interactive Planning", the methodology includes five interconnected phases:

"Mess formulation: an analytical phase that results in a clear description of the problems and opportunities confronting an organization

"Ends planning (which) involves developing an idealized design and comparing it with the mess formulation to identify the gaps that need to be filled by planning

"Means planning (during which) alternate ways are invented to achieve the planning gaps identified during ends planning

"Resource planning (which) involves determining the resources that are available, the resources that are required to implement the means plan, comparing the resources required with the available resources to identify the resource gap, inventing and evaluating alternative ways to meet the resource gap, and selecting an appropiate resource plan.

"Implement means: the last phase, to identify the tasks required to implement the means plan, to assign these people for execution, and to design and establish a control system to monitor and control the execution" (p.504).

"The purpose of interactive planning is to enable the stakeholders of an organization to progress more rapidly toward the ideal of omnnicompetence. The idealized design of the organization should be more adaptive and better at learning than the existing organization" (Ibid).

Interactive Planning

Posted by ACASA on September 28, 2018 at 09:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 19, 2018

Which significant bodies have made a solid case for systems thinking?


"A friend of a friend is facing some push-back on the status of systems thinking as compared e.g. to managemen, psychology, other organisational thinking. This could potentially have impacts on her immediate career prospects.

So we are looking to create a collection of high profile organizations who have stated that we need more systems/holistic/joined-up/integrated/etc. thinkers to solve world problems."

Ellen Lewis contributed three stonking examples:

1. 2017, UN Chief Executives’ Board for Coordination described systems thinking as a “key way of working” and an essential “leadership characteristic” needed to respond to the “interconnectedness and indivisibility” of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

United Nations Chief Executives Board for Coordination, 2017
First regular session of 2017, summary of deliberations
Added to Library: 30 Jun 2018Last Updated: 02 Jul 2018

2. In 2018, the Governance Directorship of the OECD declared that “the time for piecemeal solutions in the public sector is over” and they recommended the use of systems thinking to instigate innovative solutions to cross-cutting and complex issues.
Governance Directorate of the OECD
Embracing Innovation in Government
Global Trends 2018

3. The International Council for Science (ICSU), which reports to the UN, has released a report saying that a massive shift towards systems thinking for coordinating the SDGs is needed. This report is more systems-focused than any I have seen before, and ICSU are putting their money where their mouths are: they are integrating themselves with the Social Science equivalent body, to have a more systemic approach themselves.

And I came up with (clearly linked to (2) above):
4. OECD-OPSI (Observatory of Public Sector Innovation) said this strongly:

5. Paulibe Roberts (who has featured here more than once as http://www.systemspractitioner.com) adds the World Health Organisation: http://www.who.int/alliance-hpsr/resources/9789241563895/en/

 Which significant bodies have made a solid case for systems thinking?

Posted by ACASA on August 19, 2018 at 11:14 AM in blog post | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 05, 2018

Full transcription of 2-hour video interview with C. West Churchman

Screenshot from the video

"Two days ago I posted a partial transcription of a 2-hour video interview with C. West Churchman. Today I completed the full transcription, so here it is, in PDF format. The interview can serve as an introduction to Churchman the systems philosopher with regard to his early, seminal work on operations research, but also to his later, even more original work on social systems thinking, which he called the dialectical systems approach. The video, which was recorded in April 1987, shows that after his retirement his ideas on some aspects of the dialectical systems approach continued to evolve, especially where the relationship between the planner and the decision-maker (or the researcher and the manager) is concerned. In his categorical framework that falls under the category of ‘implementation’. The interviewer was Professor Ivanov, to whom all West Churchman afficionados owe a deep debt of gratitude for having arranged and produced these videos."

Full transcription of 2-hour video interview with C. West Churchman


Posted by ACASA on July 5, 2018 at 10:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 28, 2018

Russell Ackoff


Russell Ackoff was an important early proponent of the field of operations research, and remained a tireless advocate for an expansive vision of what the field could be. Ackoff was raised in Philadelphia during the Great Depression. He enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in 1937 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. His graduate studies in philosophy were interrupted by the Second World War, during which he served in the Fourth Armored Division prior to moving on to Officer Candidate School. Afterward, Ackoff returned to Penn and resumed his study of philosophy under C. West Churchman. Churchman and Ackoff were both adherents to the “experimentalism” of the philosopher Edgar A. Singer, Jr., a doctrine dedicated to identifying proper scientific procedure. In the immediate postwar years Churchman and Ackoff worked to bring experimentalism into practice by establishing “institutes of experimental method.” Churchman and Ackoff moved to Wayne State University in Detroit in 1947, and in 1951 to the Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, now part of Case Western Reserve University. There they wedded their philosophical vision to the new field of operations research, and created one of the first academic programs dedicated to the subject. Ackoff was a founding member of the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA), and served the organization as its fifth president. With Churchman and their colleague Leonard Arnoff, Ackoff was also an author of Introduction to Operations Research (1957), the field’s first textbook written as such. In 1964 Ackoff relocated the Case OR department to the Wharton School at Penn, where it merged with an existing statistics department. Throughout his time in OR, Ackoff insisted on working on practical problems of management, and maintained ongoing relationships with a number of clients, including Anheuser-Busch, which he collaborated with for decades. Ackoff resisted the confinement of his work to any particular methodology, and remained deeply concerned with problems of ethics and social responsibility.

Russell Ackoff Author


Posted by ACASA on June 28, 2018 at 09:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 21, 2018

There Is a Difference Between Doing Things Right and Doing the Right Thing

Continuing to invest more time, energy, resources in trying to do things right with Abbott is going to get us more of what we’ve got

richard c. ten eyck
Rich Ten Eyck

For a while now, I've been working on a paper dealing with the relationship between the 40-plus years of work in New Jersey on the development and refinement of curriculum standards, the related investment/development of large-scale assessments, and the persistently flat (with very few exceptions) NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress ) scores over that same span of years. The data seems very clear and the conclusions obvious. If we want to significantly increase student achievement for all kids, we haven't found the correct formula.

I began this project as a result of my reflections on the time I spent serving in the New Jersey Department of Education and the place of that work in the ongoing continuing discussions about education reform.

During this same time, I found myself drawn to the story of Newark. Much like following videos on YouTube, one book led to another… each adding another dimension to the story, none painting pictures of success. I realized there was a connection between what I was reading and the work on my paper; however, identifying that connection was proving maddeningly elusive.

Recently, though, in just one week along came Ms. Laura Waters’ analysis of the Abbott decisions and, from another source, a link to an interview with Russell Ackoff, conducted before his death in 2009. As a regular reader of this site, I needed no introduction to Ms Waters. Ackoff, however, was a new name. A little research revealed that he had a long, varied, and distinguished career, including a time from 1986 until his death as professor emeritus of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

In Ackoff's interview he noted that, while we frequently used the terms synonymously, there was a growing recognition that there is a difference between efficiency and effectiveness and that Peter Drucker had captured this by saying that there's a difference between “doing things right” and doing “the right thing.”

Ackoff expands by suggesting that doing things right is about efficiency but doing the right thing is about effectiveness. He makes a strong case for the connection between wisdom and doing/identifying the right things. He notes further that when we try to do things right about the wrong thing, we actually make things worse. Such attempts at improvement actually take us further from both the recognition and accomplishment of the “right thing”.

There it was.

While at the Department of Education, I was proud to work with many good people who worked very hard to do testing right. Yet at no time did we consider the possibility that we were trying to do testing right without considering seriously whether or not it was the right thing. Ten years later, there is increasing (but nonetheless largely ignored) evidence that it was not the right thing. Accompanying this evidence, is the increasing voice of those pointing out the failure of this direction on both the ‘doing things right’ and the ‘right thing’ test.

Assume for sake of discussion that Ackoff was correct when he noted that we learn more from our mistakes than by doing things right. This places us in great shape. We’ve got more than a few mistakes from which to learn. One takeaway seems to be that we can continue to try to do things right or we can invest significant human capital in the exploration and identification of the right thing.

What seems abundantly clear is this: Continuing to invest more time, energy, resources in trying to improve “doing things right” with Abbott, the 40-year cycle of revised standards and assessments, the state takeover of school districts and municipalities, and the like is going to get us more of what we’ve got. It’s time to consider that we have identified the wrong thing and our attempts to do things right are actually taking us further away from any lasting solutions and from the right thing.

There Is a Difference Between Doing Things Right and Doing the Right Thing

Posted by ACASA on April 21, 2018 at 10:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 15, 2018

An Evaluation of R.L. Ackoff’s Interactive Planning: A Case-based Approach

Darek M. Hafton, Stockholm University School of Business Stockholm Sweden

Russell L. Ackoff developed the Interactive Planning (IP) methodology as a conceptual tool to guide systematic and systemic development of organizations. One of its unique features is that such development should be ideal-oriented. IP has been well received
within the Systems Thinking community in particular; where more than 300 applications of IP are mentioned. However, it has not been easy to answer the question:‘‘does the use of IP enable that which it is proposing to enable?’’ as there have been no systematic, empirically grounded, and critically oriented, evaluations of IP. This study attempts to offer such an evaluation. In this case, IP was employed to support a comprehensive development of a Department within a company. This IP application was evaluated using a set of predefined evaluation criteria derived from the IP as such and also from its critique. The results suggest that IP is indeed a powerful methodology to guide organizational development. While IP has several positive merits, a set of limitations were
identified and serve here as a basis for deriving recommendations for the practitioners of IP and also suggestions of areas that merit further IP research.

Download Evaluation of Interactive Planning

Posted by ACASA on March 15, 2018 at 03:31 PM in Systems Articles | Permalink | Comments (0)