December 28, 2022

Seeing Your Company as a System

Whole-systems Design

Much-needed guidance on making companies more employee-centered, adaptive, and capable.

Any effort to cultivate a systems orientation could profitably begin with the work of the late Russell Ackoff, one of the field’s pioneers. Not surprisingly for a man who warned against organizational silos and fragmentation, Ackoff rejected narrow specialization in his own career. He studied architecture and philosophy and pioneered operations research before joining the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s, where he taught systems sciences and management. After leaving Wharton in 1986, Ackoff worked as an independent consultant until his death in October 2009.

Ackoff drew a clear distinction between the machine age, in which companies could assume relative stability and seek optimum solutions to discrete problems, and the systems age, beginning after World War II, a time of growing global and technological complexity. Organizations would henceforth have to deal with “sets of interacting problems” and give up the quixotic search for simple solutions that could be applied consistently. The key challenge, Ackoff said, would be designing systems that would learn and adapt. In a talk he frequently gave on “the second industrial revolution,” he said, “Experience is not the best teacher; it is not even a good teacher. It is too slow, too imprecise, and too ambiguous.” Organizations would have to learn and adapt through experimentation, which he said “is faster, more precise, and less ambiguous. We have to design systems which are managed experimentally, as opposed to experientially.” To accomplish this, he laid out a method of interactive planning, which involved an “idealized design of the organization” — a technologically feasible future that reflected how key stakeholders would redesign and rebuild a system if it were suddenly destroyed.

Seeing Your Company as a System

Posted by ACASA on December 28, 2022 at 11:05 PM in Classics | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 20, 2018

From Mechanistic to Social Systemic Thinking

"Each of us has a theory of reality, a concept of the nature of the world which is referred to as our worldview. Our worldview is the cement that holds our culture together; we absorb it by osmosis in the process of acculturation. We are currently in the early stages of a tremendous change in the dominant worldview—a shift in age as large in its implications as the movement from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance to the Machine Age. In order to understand the change we are experiencing we need to look more closely at the philosophies and ideas that have shaped our current view of the world and the shift in thinking that is required as we move from the Machine Age into the Systems Age. To understand the challenges we face requires a historical perspective that traces the evolution of Western thought from the Middle Ages to the present."

From Mechanistic to Social Systemic Thinking

Posted by ACASA on February 20, 2018 at 09:20 AM in Classics | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 23, 2018

Corruption: Its Nature, Causes, and Cures


Russell L. Ackoff, Raul Carvajal, Thomas A. Cowan, Ali Geranmayeh, Aron Katsenelinboigen and Sanjay Sharan

Of the:

Busch Center, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104

December 1980

Table of Contents:

  1. The meaning of corruption
  2. The Causes of corruption: A review of the literature
  3. The causes of corruption: A synthetic view
  4. On prevention and cure: A review of the literature
  5. On prevention and cure: A synthetic view

Download Corruption nature causes and cure

Posted by ACASA on January 23, 2018 at 02:37 PM in Classics | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 05, 2014

On Business School's Allleged Education

Russell L. Ackoff

Keynote Speech at the Hull University Business School, 2005

When I retired from Wharton as a member of the regular faculty and became emeritus I was asked to reflect on the value of a business school education. I endeared myself to the faculty by identifying what I thought to be the three most important values of such an education.

  • First, it equips students with a vocabulary that enables them to talk with authority about subjects they do not understand.
  • Second, it inculcates them with principles of management and organization that have demonstrated their ability to withstand any amount of disconfirming evidence.
  • Third, and this is what makes business school education worthwhile —it provides a ticket of admission to a job that provides a chance to learn what should have been learned in business school but wasn’t.

To read the speech, download the following file: Download UK TALK 05

Posted by ACASA on November 5, 2014 at 08:07 PM in Classics | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 20, 2014

GRADUATE EDUCATION – An Idealized Design

Russell L. Ackoff notes 3/3/2006

Education, as previously noted, involves subjects and practices.  A subject is a body of information, knowledge and/or understanding that can be learned by reading and listening to relevant material and, in some cases, by engaging in exercises.  Examples of subjects are history, literature, logic, mathematics, and economics.  Practices, on the other hand, are activities that can only be leaned by engaging in them.  Such learning can be significantly supplemented and consolidated by reading and listening.  Examples are the practices of medicine, law, and architecture.

            The importance of the distinction between subjects and practices becomes apparent when we take the position that graduate education should be exclusively directed at practices, even the practice of teaching or conducting research on subjects.  It is this characteristic of graduate education, as we see it that dictates many of the properties it ought to have.  It is also this characteristic that differentiates it from undergraduate education.

please click the link to read more  Download Ackoff -- Graduate design

Posted by ACASA on February 20, 2014 at 09:24 PM in Classics | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 08, 2014

Thinking About the Future

By Russell L. Ackoff

This is the transcript of the talk given by late Russell Ackoff at the Tällberg (Sweden) Forum 2005:

"I am not the right person to have been assigned the topic, “Thinking about the Future.”  I am a presentologist, not a futurologist.

So much time is currently spent in worrying about the future that the present is allowed to go to hell.  Unless we correct some of the world’s current systemic deficiencies now, the future is condemned to be as disappointing as the present.

My preoccupation is with where we would ideally like to be right now.   Knowing this, we can act now so as constantly to reduce the gap between where we are and where we want to be.  Then, to a large extent, the future is created by what we do now.  Now is the only time in which we can act."

To download the transcript click on: Download Ackoff's Tallberg talk DOC copy 1

Posted by ACASA on January 8, 2014 at 02:21 PM in Classics | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 13, 2013

A Major Mistake that Managers Make

Full Transcript of the Talk given by Russell L. Ackoff at the University of Pennsylvania in 2006.

All through school we are taught that making a mistake is a bad thing. We are downgraded for them. When we graduate and enter the real world and the organizations that occupy it, the aversion to mistakes continues. As a result one tries either to avoid them or, if one is made, to conceal it or transfer blame to another.

We pay a high price for this because one can only learn from mistakes; by identifying and correcting them .

To read the transcript, Download Ackoff: A major mistake that managers make.

Posted by ACASA on October 13, 2013 at 05:34 PM in Classics | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 19, 2013

On Organizational Learning as Dealt With By Chris Argyris and Russ Ackoff

By Russ Ackoff

In 1999, as a result of inquiries made by his clients, colleagues and students, Dr. Ackoff wrote the attached memo. In this memo he explains the differences between Chris Argyris and himself on the subject of organizational learning.

To read the memo download the attached pdf file.

Download Argyris Ackoff Org Learning

Posted by ACASA on July 19, 2013 at 03:45 PM in Classics | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 20, 2011

Philosophical Speculations On Systems Design

C. West Churchman

This working paper was written in 1973, Center for Research in Management Science, University of California, Berkeley. The original paper is kept at the archives of the Russell Lincoln Ackoff Systems Thinking Library at the Organizational Dynamics Graduate Studies, School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania.

To download the paper click on the link: Download Philosophical Speculations on Systems Design -West Churchman

Posted by ACASA on October 20, 2011 at 03:05 PM in Classics | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 02, 2011

A conversation between Russell Ackoff and Edward Deming

This is the unedited transcript of the only conversation between Ackoff and Deming, as moderated by Clare Crawford Mason. This transcript reveals the views of two pre-eminent thinkers in systems thinking. They discuss the relevancy and the application of a systems worldview to intractable problems and societal ills.

The conversation took place in l992 and was edited and released as Volume 21 of The Deming Library series in l993.  It is called "A Theory of a System for Educators and Managers"  It is available from CC-M Productions and includes a second DVD with discussion/teaching guides for it and the rest of the Deming Library at The CC-M website @

Drs. Deming and Ackoff explain why systems theory is essential knowledge for managing an organization in a world of change and uncertainty. Dr. Ackoff discusses synthesis as a necessary logic for understanding why a system behaves the way it does. He contrasts synthesis with analysis, which is useful for understanding how an organization and its units operate. Analysis is synonymous with thinking in the traditions of Western cultures.

Dr. Ackoff was fond of saying the East is learning scientific thinking  more rapidly than the West is learning systems thinking.  The combination of the two is the next leap forward in ability to manage and predict change and complexity. 

To read this transcript download the attached PDF file.

Download Dr. Ackoff & Dr. Deming

Posted by ACASA on April 2, 2011 at 04:48 PM in Classics | Permalink | Comments (4)