February 17, 2019

Russell Lincoln Ackoff: 100th birthday (* 12 February 1919). Remembrance. Reverence. Reflection.

By: Harald Kreher

Today, 100 years ago, Russell Ackoff was born.

This is the addendum-closure of a series, started 10 weeks ago, together with a scene-setting introduction, honouring Professor Russell Lincoln Ackoff.

His language was as pure as his logic clear and his humour dry.

He left his mark. On me, too. Here I want to tell a little about it. Also an account of personal experiences and of personal interpretation. Possibly it may inspire others to go on their own systemic journey or, at least, to become curious for what this trans-disciplinary subject (oops, sorry, Russ - practice!) Systems offers and what professionals can be found along the way. Clearly, many know much more of his work and the man himself than I do. And many will have far more detailed knowledge of his approach. I am a generalist and a systemist, no expert on Ackoff. But I try to

see, understand, and apply what is relevant.

Posted by ACASA on February 17, 2019 at 09:58 AM in blog post | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 15, 2019

Russell L. Ackoff | Posthumous Business Influencer

By: David Dalka 

Russell L Ackoff (1919-2009) was a founding member of the system thinking movement. He was an organizational theorist and pioneer in operations research and management science. He was the first doctoral student of C. West Churchman. They later spent time together at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Ohio. Later they founded the systems thinking movement. Russell L. Ackoff translated data to wisdomHe once worked for D. Edwards Deming at the U.S. Census Bureau. Peter Drucker acknowledged that Russell L. Ackoff had made critical contributions to his work. Russell L. Ackoff authored or co-authored 35 books and over 150 journal articles, including the popular From Data to Wisdom.

Russell L. Ackoff developed empirical inquiry techniques and theory concerning interdisciplinary and interdependent system dynamics. He was a master reductionist about decision making in organizations. Russell L. Ackoff sought to amplify organizational learning across disciplines, especially for nonlinear, transdisciplinary modelling sciences. In the end, he sought to create better understanding so that people were focused on the correct root cause issues so that they could be successful.

Russell L. Ackoff | Posthumous Business Influencer

Posted by ACASA on February 15, 2019 at 05:46 PM in blog post | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)