« Beating the System: Using Creativity to Outsmart Bureaucracies | Main | From Mechanistic to Social Systemic Thinking »

May 20, 2005

IFORS Operational Research Hall of Fame: Russell L. Ackoff

Kirby, MW, Rosenhead, JR. (2005) International Transactions in Operational Research, 12(1), 129-134.

Russell Ackoff has been honored as the latest inductee into the IFORS Operational Research Hall of Fame.

In their recent article, Maurice Kirby and Jonathan Rosenhead track Ackoff's intellectual journey and detail his gradual transition from "OR apostle to OR apostate."

The authors begin by noting Ackoff's influence on the early development of OR in the 1950s and '60s. Teaming up with C. West Churchman, their self-defined mission was to apply philosophy to societal issues, and in 1957 they co-authored the pioneering text, Introduction to Operations Research.

As the Machine Age faded, however, the Systems Age presented an increasingly complex and volatile society, whose issues Ackoff was finding OR models too narrow to effectively address. Increasingly, Ackoff focused more on interdisciplinary approaches to decision-making. Moving away from OR's quantitative/computational norm, he called for a new paradigm for OR rooted in a more participative, holistic systems approach.

Eventually, he found OR completely irrelevant to problems above the purely tactical level. He was quoted in 1987 as saying, "I did not abandon [OR], [OR] abandoned me." The break led him to identify himself with the systems movement, a constituency where his writings have been enormously influential.

To read this article, click on the link: IFORS Operational Research Hall of Fame:
Russell L. Ackoff.

Posted by ACASA on May 20, 2005 at 10:46 AM in ACASA News | Permalink


I am a degreed Operations Researcher (oh no!)

I must say when I first ran across Dr. Ackoff's comments I was taken aback. I have found OR (or what I thought was OR work) to be very exciting, and have embraced Dr. Deming's works and systems thinking. Now, I believe it is making sense.

My story is I was interviewing for a job upon leaving the US Navy in 1992. I interviewed at the manufacturing plant of a large pharmaceuticals firm. As part of the day long process, I was sent to the plant Ops Researcher. He inhabited this little closet size office in the center of the plant. He asked me "What does an Ops Researcher do"? I answered process improvement, increase productivity on the line. "No, no that is management's job". I responded with "Well, then to detect problems and make improvements". "No, no that is quality's job". I think I took a few more stabs, and every response was it was someone else's job. He then fell into a lament that he was one of the last operations researchers left in the corporation, and could not understand why the company did not want an OR type at every facility.

By the way, my OR degree is from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey CA. Perhaps I got a little different view of OR there, as there was a need to combine academics and practical application.

Steve Prevette
Fluor Hanford
City University

Posted by: Steven S Prevette at May 31, 2005 11:55:09 PM

Just a quick word to acknowledge the influence that Dr. Ackoff has had on my thinking about how to improve those systems called school districts.

Drs. Ackoff and Rovin also wrote a wonderful essay for my newest book, "Power, politics and ethics: Dynamic leadership for systemwide change in school districts." The book is in press and will be released in the late summer or early fall by Rowman & Littlefield Education (www.rowmaneducation.com).

Thank you Dr. Ackoff...so very much for all that I learned from your writings and for the essay you co-authored with Dr. Rovin.

Francis Duffy

Posted by: Francis M. Duffy, Ph.D. at May 23, 2005 7:20:57 PM

Post a comment