May 31, 2022

Success is the result of creative thinking and intuition, not scientific systems.

By Ed Smith



My experience of elite sports supports that argument: without insight, “process” and “methodology” don’t hold much value. Insight is the first domino. It is the quality that the greatest coaches and strategists possess above everything else. They originally see the game, allowing them to perceive how winning happens in ways that others cannot. They are like poets and scientists in this respect: they apprehend the game more clearly and form a superior understanding. Often their insights are bound up with making surprising connections or seeing analogies that others miss. “The creative mind,” in Jacob Bronowski’s phrase, “is a mind that looks for unexpected likenesses.”

Ironically, so much time is wasted studying the “motivational tactics” of great sports leaders (invariably personal and impossible to imitate), which entirely misses what’s actually inspiring and motivating about them: their gift of apprehension, the clarity of their insights, the freshness of their vision. A great coach might or might not be articulate, but they are certain to have a philosophical talent for seeing through to the essence of the game.

McGilchrist’s arguments have implications for how organizations that claim to pursue excellence –  whether businesses, schools, universities or hospitals – should perceive and arrange themselves. He argues in favor of wide-ranging thinkers who have the imagination to apprehend what’s needed, and then the perspective to know which levers and methods are best suited to bringing the project to fruition. Instead of trying to turn life into a machine, adapt your thinking and approach to life.

The primacy of insight and perspective also explains why organizational charts – designed so that accountants can apportion salaries and bureaucrats can file “appraisals” – are not only often fantastical but counterproductive. By encouraging a delusion of mechanistic order, they cut against creativity and genuine collaboration.

“The idea of a Gestalt is central to this book,” McGilchrist writes, “by it I mean the form of a whole that cannot be reduced to parts without the loss of something essential to its nature.” This idea is also highly relevant to team sports. A team must and can only be a collective and living whole. The whole is always different from the sum of its parts. That is true even in sports that (superficially) appear to be a series of independent events, such as cricket and baseball, as well as sports that have intrinsic flow, such as football and rugby. (It is a myth, as the cliché has it, that cricket is “a team game played by individuals”. It is, in fact, an individual game played by teams.)

McGilchrist attacks the notion that a collective endeavor can be chopped up, the elements polished separately, and then subsequently reassembled into a superior whole. He sees it as inappropriate in the human sphere. Indeed, it isn’t even true for machines. Russell Ackoff, the American systems thinker, asked his students to imagine a lecture hall filled with the best component parts drawn from every car manufacturer (the best brakes, the best suspension and so on). If all the best bits were then assembled, would it create the best single car? Of course not. The way a car fits together is, to a significant degree, the majority of what a car manufacturer does.

McGilchrist puts it like this: “I suggest that relationships are primary, more foundational than the things related: that the relationships don’t just ‘connect’ pre-existing things, but modify what we mean by the ‘things’.” In this context, I don’t think McGilchrist is using “relationships” to mean “how people get along with one another socially”. He means “how they relate to each other fundamentally in the creation of the whole”. This connects with the point made by Juanma Lillo – the mentor of Manchester City’s manager, Pep Guardiola, and who is now assistant manager at the football club – when he warned against criticising players without appreciating the context: “My mentality is interaction and relation. If you say, ‘Let’s evaluate the right-back,’ I say, ‘But who is alongside him? Who is in front of him? Nearest to him?’” (Lillo also said, “You can’t take an arm of Rafael Nadal and train it separately.”)

Of course, everyone wants to believe that success can be turned into a system – because a system can be copied and profitably “scaled up”. But there are no systems that can deliver success without intelligent steering by good thinkers. A good process can filter out errors (which is very useful), but it cannot yield insights.

Further, and this theme runs throughout the book, insight, and creativity can only be controlled and willed up to a certain point (even among people who have the talent). Believing there is a complete process for creativity is fundamentally anti-creative. “Brainstorming is practically the antithesis of creativity,” McGilchrist argues, reassuring if you feel looming despair every time someone picks up a marker pen in front of a whiteboard and says, “let’s brainstorm”.


Success is the result of creative thinking and intuition, not scientific systems.

Posted by ACASA on May 31, 2022 at 04:51 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 20, 2012

Audi announces new design strategy

In discussing Audi’s new cooperative vehicle design approach, Achim Badstübner [1], head of exterior design identified a critical challenge faced by any organization attempting improve the manner in which they consider product development in a more holistic manner, that is “ break down the culture of individual authorship and encourage cooperation...You have to be an expert and there is an advantage in digging deep, to really know every screw, every system and pattern for a specific thing, because you have all of the information at the point where you need it, but it is misguided in another way. If you dig too deep, it's a little bit like digging a hole: you're in the hole so you can't see the world around it."

The intensity to which one group focuses on an aspect of a problem is not without merit. As Vince Barabba [2] points out in his new book, The Decision Loom, “Many functional managers...attempt to maintain complete control to ensure that their function is run efficiently and not influenced by outside forces.” He points out that value of the functional silos is found in their “...ability to use their resources to generate deep and valuable functional knowledge.”

The problem that needs to be avoided is to ensure that the perfect solution for a specific function does not have negative consequences for another function with which it interacts.  Finding this problem has occurred after the design is put together is very costly.  Barabba’s suggestion is to treat the design activity more like a molecular structure and treat the functions as molecules that interact with each other. The important distinction of the molecular metaphor is that functional cells are contained by membranes and not walls. Membranes are capable of letting information in and out. In this way the functions share information and improve the chance that their combined capabilities will create a whole that is greater than the sum of their individual expertise.

[1] “Audi announces new design strategy,” Posted on Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 at 5:44 pm by Rose Etherington,  Dezeen Magazine, December 19, 2012

[2] Barabba, Vincent; The Decision Loom, Triarchy Press, Stanton, UK 2011, Pages 193-198

Posted by ACASA on December 20, 2012 at 01:46 PM in Blogger Search, Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 13, 2008

Turning Learning Right Side Up

Putting Education Back on Track

Russell L. Ackoff, Daniel Greenberg

Jul 2008, Hardback, 224 pages
ISBN13: 9780132346498
ISBN10: 0132346494


Over the past 150 years, virtually everything has changed... except education. In the age of the Internet, we educate people much as we did during the industrial revolution. We educate them for a world that no Turning Learning Right Side Uplonger exists, instilling values that are antithetical to those of a free, 21st century democracy. Perhaps worst of all, too many schools extinguish the human creativity and joy they ought to nourish. In this book, legendary systems scientist Dr. Russell Ackoff and "in-the-trenches" education innovator Daniel Greenberg offer a radically new path forward. In the year's most provocative conversation, they take on the very deepest questions about education: What should be its true purpose? Must schools be the way they are? Do classrooms make sense anymore? What should we teach? What should individuals contribute to their own education? What if students did the teaching and teachers did the learning? Is it possible to eliminate old-fashioned distinctions between subjects and between the arts and sciences? What would the ideal lifelong education look like: at the K-12 level, at universities and colleges, in the workplace, and beyond? How do you educate for a world that doesn't yet exist? And how do you pay for tomorrow's "ideal schools"? Ackoff and Greenberg each bring a lifetime of success making radical change. Here, they combine deep idealism with a relentless focus on the real world and arrive at solutions that make far more sense than anything we're doing now.
To read more about this book, click on the following URL: Turning Learning Right Side Up

Posted by ACASA on February 13, 2008 at 12:56 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 10, 2006

F Laws: Management Truths We Wish To Ignore

Russell Ackoff has written a new book called F-Laws. What is an "f-law?" According to Ackoff:
Russacko f-LAWS are truths about organizations that we might wish to deny or ignore - simple and more         reliable guides to managers' everyday behaviour than the complex truths proposed by scientists, economists, sociologists, politicians and philosophers.Ackoff has published a short version of the book for free, which you can download here. A longer version will be released in 2007. I think my favorite f-law is:
"The less important an issue is, the more time managers will spend discussing it."

Here is a more detailed explanation:
More time is spent on small talk than is spent on large talk. Most talk is about what matters least. What matters least is what most of us know most about. The more something matters, the less we know about it.

Everyone is an expert on trivia. So everyone can discuss trivialities with equal authority and at great length. This is not true with important issues on which there are alleged experts. Experts, those who know a great deal about a subject, tend to limit discussion to what they know about it. Their authority is vulnerable to new ideas, which, of course, seldom come from other experts, but from nonexperts whom experts try to exclude from the discussion.

Experts seldom accept any responsibility for errors resulting from following their advice. However, they accept full responsibility for any successes that result from following their advice, however remote the connection.It would be funny if it weren't so true.


Posted by ACASA on November 10, 2006 at 11:00 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

March 03, 2005

Beating the System: Using Creativity to Outsmart Bureaucracies

By Russell L. Ackoff and Sheldon Rovin
Editions: Paperback (Berrett-Koehler Pub, May 31, 2005)

* Provides practical, easy-to-use tactics and strategies for creatively beating any bureaucratic system that is trying to beat you

* Full of entertaining real-world stories of people who have been frustrated by unresponsive systems and have successfully fought back

* Coauthor Russell L. Ackoff is an internationally renowned pioneer in the world of systems thinking who has spent over 50 years studying how organizations work

"I loved the book and read every blessed word of it, savored it, and recommended it to virtually every sentient person I know who works in an organized setting."

- Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Management at USC and author of On Becoming a Leader and Geeks and Geezers

The need to beat the many systems that compromise our quality of life goes without saying. When was the last time you dealt with a bureaucracy--a business, a government agency, a school, a hospital--and got a direct answer to a question or received a service you wanted without having to weave through a maze of infuriating hand-offs? Have you found these systems to be utterly indifferent to the inconvenience or hardship they cause? Want to learn how to beat them?

Beating the System shows you how. Coauthors Russell Ackoff and Sheldon Rovin have spent their lives studying how organizational systems work, and here they share both perversely entertaining anecdotes about the abuse of individuals by a variety of bureaucracies, and descriptions of the creative--and deeply satisfying--approaches these people used to get even.

The authors begin by exploring how systems function and malfunction, where their weaknesses are, and what drives them. They show that much of bureaucratic power is based on unchallenged assumptions--assumptions systems make about themselves and us, and assumptions we make about these systems and ourselves, and that challenging these assumptions is the essence of creativity and the first step in system beating. Ackoff and Rovin use stories to illustrate successful strategies and tactics for defying these assumptions and turning the tables on the many bureaucracies that frustrate us.


Part I: Prerequisites for System Beating

1. Why Systems Need to Be Beat (necessity mothers inversion)

2. Understanding Systems (knowledge without understanding is a misguided missile)

3. The Nature of Creativity (those in boxes can't think out of them)

Part II: System Beaters: Their Stories

4. Denying Assumptions

5. Turnabout is Fair Play

6. Divide and Conquer

7. Threaten the System

8. Side-Step Constraints

9. When All Else Fails, Revolt

Part III: Beating Systems and Making Them Unbeatable

10. Rules of Thumb for System Beaters

11. Making Systems Unbeatable

Stories by System Category

Russell L. Ackoff is Anheuser-Busch Professor Emeritus of Management Science at the Wharton School, Distinguished Affiliated Faculty at the Center for Organizational Dynamics, and is on the advisory board of the Ackoff Center for Advancement of Systems Approaches, all at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of 22 books, including Redesigning Society (with Sheldon Rovin), Recreating the Corporation, and Ackoff's Best.

Sheldon Rovin is Emeritus Professor of Healthcare Systems at the Wharton School of Business and past Director of Healthcare Executive Management Programs at Wharton Executive Education and the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of eight books, including Redesigning Society (with Russell Ackoff), and Medicine and Business: Bridging the Gap

Posted by ACASA on March 3, 2005 at 12:53 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 26, 2004

Community Operational Research

OR and Systems Thinking for Community Development

edited by Gerald Midgley Institute of Environmental Sciences and Research (ESR Ltd.), Christchurch, New Zealand and Centre for Systems Studies, Business School, University of Hull, UK., Alejandro Ochoa-Arias Universidad de Los Andes, Merida, Venezuela.

Community Operational Research: OR and Systems Thinking for Community Development sets out the current concerns of Community Operational Research (Community OR for short) and explores new possibilities for its continued development. Leading Community OR writers, with international reputations in operational research and systems thinking, have contributed chapters that illuminate different aspects of Community OR theory and practice. There is a focus on the value of systems approaches, and other significant perspectives are also represented. The result is a rich mix of theories, methodologies and case studies that will be a significant resource for both practitioners and academics engaged in community development. Following an introductory chapter on Community OR by the editors, the book is presented in three

Section One offers ‘Early Contributions and Later Reflections on Theory, Methodology and Practice’. Here, the nature of Community OR, its institutional development, and people’s motivations for engaging in it are all explored. Some significant theoretical and methodological issues are also a focus of this section.

Section Two covers ‘Local Action for Community Development’. This is concerned with how people have translated the theoretical insights of Community OR into practice, and how practice has informed theory. Since the inception of Community OR, the vast majority of projects have dealt with complex, localized community issues using participative methods (mostly in the developed world). This section of the book presents a variety of methodological ideas evolved for Community OR practice, and illustrates them with examples of projects with community groups, voluntary organisations and welfare services.

Section Three is entitled ‘Dealing Locally with Global Issues’. The authors represented in this section seek to extend the practice of Community OR in two important new directions. The first takes Community OR into developing countries, and the second takes it into the arena of environmental management. In both these areas, there are significant opportunities for Community OR practitioners to make real contributions to human welfare and environmental sustainability. Visit our website at:

"….What the many authors in this book have in common is a commitment to serve the interests of all those affected by a community’s behavior – its stakeholders. This is acquiring a new significance as we decreasingly conceptualize corporations and organizations in general as organisms, and begin to think of them, as Charles Handy has, as communities."
Russell Ackoff
(Professor Emeritus of the Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania; Ex-President of ORSA; Vice President of TIMS).

Posted by ACASA on August 26, 2004 at 12:26 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 07, 2004

Surviving Transformation: Lessons from GM's Surprising Turnaround

by Vincent P. Barabba

Surviving Transformation is an excellent study of the real issues associated with transforming organizations. Standing on the shoulders of his mentors—Russ Ackoff and Peter Drucker—Barabba takes us to new heights in understanding how to successfully lead business transformation.

“This book makes clear the successful journey to transformation does not start with the departure, it starts with the destination.” – Peter Drucker

“This book is about transformation. It tackles transformation from a unique angle. It is not about restructuring and performance evaluation or training programs: it demonstrates that by changing selectively how we do business—by changing our interactions with customers, by changing the way we formulate problems internally, and by changing the ways we imagine a future—we can make a difference.” –C.K. Prahalad, Foreword to Surviving Transformation

Surviving Transformation describes how General Motors reversed its dangerous decline and positioned itself for success in the 21st Century. The story tells how in the early 1990’s GM’s leaders made a series of operating and strategic decisions that brought the company back from the brink of bankruptcy and developed a portfolio of products and services to successfully compete with any car company in the world. The book identifies three business designs that served as guideposts at different points during the transformation. 1) Make and Sell: based on the ability to predict future sales the firm uses economies of scale to produce the right number of products to sell—at a profit. 2) Sense and Respond: accepting that future customer preferences cannot be predicted, the enterprise designs its production and delivery systems to be more adaptive allowing it to effectively respond to changes in customer and market preferences. 3) Anticipate and Lead: also accepts that the future cannot be predicted, but rather than designing adaptive systems, allocates resources to create the future that is best for the enterprise and the customer.

The author explains that one strategy is not necessarily better than another and provides examples that illustrate the circumstances within which either of three (or some combination) can be the basis of success. The objective is to understand the conditions within which the firm operates and determine the most appropriate mix of all three designs. This is one of those rare instances where the author was a participant in the process throughout the entire decade of transformation. Readers will come away from the book with insightful examples and powerful tools to rethink their enterprise strategies as they prepare for a world of complexity and continuous change.

To Pre-order this book, please click on the following link:
Surviving Transformation: Lessons from GM's Surprising Turnaround

Posted by ACASA on June 7, 2004 at 01:38 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 08, 2003

Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for Managers

In order to better manage the growing complexity, change, and diversity of our times, organizations are increasingly turning toward systems thinking approaches.

Unlike quick-fix management solutions, systems thinking is holistic and creative, considering the wholes before the parts, and approaching problem solving from a variety of viewpoints instead of one-size-fits-all.

In his latest book, Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for Managers, Michael C. Jackson discusses the latest research findings in the field, placing special emphasis on the creative uses of systems approaches for today's manager.

Systems Thinking : Creative Holism for Managers
Michael C. Jackson
ISBN: 0-470-84522-8
376 pages
September 2003

Posted by ACASA on October 8, 2003 at 10:34 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 25, 2003

Redesigning Society by Russell Ackoff and Sheldon Rovin

From the SoL (Society for Organizational Learning) website:

Redesigning Society by Russell Ackoff and Sheldon Rovin
available now from Stanford University Press.

This new book from two gifted systems thinkers, takes a no holds barred approach to radically transforming the way we think about societal infrastructures. "Health care, education, welfare, law - the perceived success or failure of these social institutions is constantly being debated in the public arena. In this book, Ackoff and Rovin join the discussion, using systems theory to develop new approaches to governance, the structure and function of our cities, and civic leadership in general. Each chapter tackles a different, important, and timely issue. The authors develop and present specific solutions, with the intention of starting a national dialogue about the structure and organization of American society. Their redesign, radical in its scope and ambition, draws upon existing technology and social constructs, but provides innovative ways to apply them. As the authors contend, ìit is only through creative thought and innovation that our society will be transformed into one that provides a more equitable distribution of wealth, quality of life, and opportunities for development."

Posted by ACASA on August 25, 2003 at 11:18 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (10)