October 31, 2021

Coping with a complex messy world: Education for the 21st century and beyond

Critical Thinking—surfacing and rebutting fallacious arguments/claims--is one of the most important skills in dealing with Wicked Messes.


We live in a world whose complexity grows by the nano-second. And yet, few have been taught the full complement of skills necessary to make sense of and thereby cope with a complex, messy world. And yet, our very survival hinges on it.

Because they’re all highly interdependent, and thereby interrelated, we could start with any of the critical skills. But since the kind of knowledge necessary to deal with a complex, messy world is fundamental, Philosophy is a natural starting point. Further, if any Philosophic system is especially suited for dealing with complexity, it’s the Philosophical School of Pragmatism. Its essence is best captured in terms of a brief definition of what it regards as the Truth, especially how to obtain it. While the definition is important in itself, it’s made even greater by the unparalleled insights it offers into the nature of complexity.

In brief, “Truth is that which Makes an Ethical and Spiritual difference in the Quality of Our Lives.” Thus, unlike other Philosophic systems for producing knowledge, according to Pragmatism, Epistemology, Ethics, Spirituality, and Aesthetics are not only interrelated, but inseparable. In short, Truth does not consist of facts and abstract propositions alone.

Epistemology is the systematic means by which produce and thereby secure Formal Knowledge. Ethics is the means by which we know what is Right Ethically and what we need to do in order to achieve it. Spirituality is the feelings deep inside of us by which we know that there is more to the Human condition than our bodies and Pure Thought alone. The Quality of Life is a stand-in for Aesthetics, that is, what is Harmonious and thereby Pleasing.  Finally, the little word “Makes” means that Truth does not consist of a set of published articles and books, but a carefully crafted set of Ethical Actions designed to Right a set of Wrongs. In other words, Ethical Actions are not only the means by which Truth is achieved, but its very essence.

The true importance of the Pragmatist approach is that it leads to a deeper understanding of complex, messy systems. The late, great distinguished Social System’s educator and scientist par excellence, Russell L. Ackoff appropriated the word “Mess” to stand for a whole system of problems that were so highly interconnected, and thus constantly changing in direct response to one another, such that one couldn’t take any of the so-called individual problems out of the Mess and attempt to analyze them on their own without doing irreparable damage to the fundamental nature of the problems and the entire Mess of which they were a part. In other words, looking at problems in isolation violated one of the key properties of every Mess, all of the vital interactions between the problems. Indeed, interactions are the key attributes of every Mess.

(As an aside, Ackoff was the first PhD students of my Philosophical mentor at UC Berkeley, C. West Churchman. In turn, Churchman was a student of E.A. Singer who was one of William James’ best students, one of the principal founders of Pragmatism. Thus, if intellectually speaking, Singer is my Grandfather, then James is my Great Grandfather, a fact of which I couldn’t be prouder. My link with Pragmatism is direct indeed.)

There’s another important consideration that makes things both more complex and interesting. The late, distinguished UC Berkeley Architectural planner Horst Rittel introduced the concept of Wicked Problems. Wicked Problems are the complete opposite of Tame Problems, of which Exercises are the prime examples. Their endless attraction is due to the fact that students and teachers alike prefer them because they’re Bounded and Well-Structured, thus lowering the anxiety associated with uncertainty. “X+5=11, find X” is a typical example. Thus, following the classic rules of Algebra, everyone is expected to get the single right answer, X=6. Furthermore, once solved, Tame Problems stay solved forever. Not so with Wicked Problems. No single academic discipline or profession has the final say in either their definition or solution. Furthermore, they are constantly changing.

Putting the two together, the result is Wicked Messes. All of the key problems with which we are faced—the Economy, Extreme Divisiveness and Polarization, Homelessness, Women’s Rights, etc.–are Wicked Messes. But things are even more complicated. Because they continually impact one another, all Wicked Messes are thereby part of the larger Wicked Mess known as The World Mess. In short, all of the known problems of Society and the World are deeply interconnected.

In this way, Pragmatism not only forces us to grapple with, but challenges us constantly to surmount the immense turmoil associated with the most complex entities imaginable. Psychology is thereby a key element with regard to our ability to cope with complexity. In short, one’s state of mind is a key component of every Wicked Mess. Not only does one need to able to tolerate high degrees of uncertainty, but to appreciate the widest possible diversity of Expert Opinion. Indeed, one needs to seek it out. Without it, one is doomed to falling prey to one of the most damaging of all errors, the Error of the Third Kind: “Solving the Wrong Problems Precisely.” Before one makes the critical decision as to which problem one ought to solve, multiple perspectives are absolutely essential.

Since crises are an ever-present feature of today’s world, Crisis Management (CM) is also an integral component of coping with Wicked Messes. Indeed, every Wicked Mess both contains and leads to enumerable crises.

CM is fundamentally Thinking the Unthinkable and then doing everything in one’s power to prevent it from happening. But since crises both happen to and are the result of the faulty and irresponsible—read “Unethical”–behavior of organizations, specialized knowledge of organizations is also a critical ingredient in coping with complexity. In order to be as prepared as possible, it not only necessitates understanding what organizations need to do Before, During, and After crises, but especially why too many are resistant to CM. 

The set of activities that encompass Before are first of all the consideration of as many Worst-Case Scenarios as possible. Namely, how crises can and will occur in the most unimaginable ways and at the most inopportune times. Second, that none of the known types of crises should be discounted. Rather, the key question is, “What is the form that say Product Tampering or Domestic Terrorism can and will assume such that it’s either our fault or does insurmountable damage to us?” Third, how do we identify and overcome the barriers that stand in the way to making CM a key priority for our organization? Fourth, how do we form and maintain Crisis Management Teams (CMTs) throughout our entire organization that will meet regularly, assess our susceptibility to crises, and address if our preparations are adequate?

During involves enacting all of one’s Before preparations. And After involves the most brutal, no-holds- bared assessment of what one did right versus wrong so that one is better prepared for future crises. In other words, learning is key.

One of the most critical of all activities is coming to terms with the different forms and sources of Denial.

In a previous blog[i], I examined a series of arguments/claims that have been constantly bandied about for not getting vaccinated for Covid 19. It quickly became clear that as bad as the individual arguments/claims were, they were made even worse by the disturbing fact that they reinforced one another in the most insidious of ways. Not only are they highly interactive, but they naturally grouped together into tight clusters thereby bolstering one another even more.

While they are by far one of the most destressing outcomes of Covid 19, the situation is made worse by the fact they are a direct reflection of the sad state of Reason in general. The greatest downfall is that they impede our collective ability to tackle the important issues facing us. In short, they are Denial writ large.

To recall, first and foremost is the Hoax Cluster, namely that Virus is not real, and therefore, not deserving of any, let alone serious, attention. It’s supported by the false assertion that the numbers of people affected are too small to worry about. It’s further reinforced by the Conspiracy/Paranoia Cluster. Namely, the Virus has been intentionally fomented by the Government so that by surreptitiously placing microchips in the vaccines, not only can it track our every whereabouts and thoughts at all times, but control them and thereby take away our precious freedoms and liberties. The I Know Best Cluster is the false belief that I and I alone know better than anyone else everything there is to know about myself. Therefore, I and no one else has the right to make important decisions pertaining to my body. The Invulnerability Cluster is the mistaken belief that “If in the highly improbable case that the Virus is real, I’m immune to it.” The Product Defect Cluster is the unfounded claim that the Vaccine, not the Virus, is the true culprit since it’s responsible for causing the Virus in the first place. In other words, it completely reverses the correct order of things. Furthermore, the vaccine has not been tested enough to ensure its complete safety. Therefore, there are no valid reasons for our trusting it.

The major point is that all of the Clusters are part of every Wicked Mess. Whatever the particular case, there are always voices claiming that it’s a Hoax, and so on. For this reason alone, Critical Thinking—surfacing and rebutting fallacious arguments/claims–is one of the most important skills in dealing with Wicked Messes.

Coping with Wicked Messes calls for all the fortitude and skills we can muster. Nothing less will do.

Coping with a complex messy world: Education for the 21st century and beyond

Posted by ACASA on October 31, 2021 at 10:50 PM in Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Interesting, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 17, 2020

What Management Needs to Become in an Era of Ecosystems

"As with all management metaphors, talk of business ecosystems has some commentators asking: Is this really new? Weren’t companies always embedded in larger systems, and also made up of internal networks? Systems thinking in management, as pioneered by Hans Ulrich, Peter Gomez, and Fredmund Malik at St. Gallen University (and in America, by Jay Forrester, Russell Ackoff, and Peter Senge) has long been part of business school curricula. Indeed, Peter Drucker himself, decades ago, came up with the term “social ecology” to describe the nature of his work as he studied the workings of organizations and their impacts and integration with society.

What has changed is the technology that has us more connected and immersed in data than ever before. In today’s world of networking and collaboration software, big data, analytics, and AI, managers simply cannot continue to assume a carved-out model of the firm for the convenience of seeing how to manage it. Now that firms’ activities are so intertwined and their successes so interdependent, the old tools and techniques no longer work.

To succeed in the era of platforms and partnerships, managers will need to change practice on many levels. And with the new practices of ecosystem management must come new management theory, also reoriented around a larger-scale system-level view. Both practitioners and scholars can begin by dispensing with mechanistic, industrial-age models of inputs, processes, and outputs. They will have to take a more dynamic, organic, and evolutionary view of how organizations’ capacities grow and can be cultivated."

What Management Needs to Become in an Era of Ecosystems

Posted by ACASA on September 17, 2020 at 10:24 AM in Interesting | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 01, 2013


There are four basic types of system depending on whether the parts and the whole can display choice, and therefore, be purposeful.



Type of System Model Parts Whole Example

Mechanistic No choice No choice Machines

Animate No choice Choice Persons

Social Choice Choice Corporations

Ecological Choice No Choice Nature

Posted by ACASA on May 1, 2013 at 06:43 AM in Interesting | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 15, 2011

Stafford Beer, Cybernetics and More!

Here are several videos that have Cybernetics as their main topic, as provided to us by Javier Livas. Some have been made using material from Stafford Beer directly. The rest deal mostly with Management Cybernetics as applied to different situations. Included are two major videos each of which last for more than two hours. The first is UNIVERSO KUBERNETES which talks about the evolution of the science of Cybernetics and its implications. The second is THE UNIVERSAL MANAGER which puts together Beer's ideas on management in a single package.

What is Cybernetics?

Feedback / Stafford Beer

The Intelligent Organization PART I Stafford Beer // Javier Livas

The Intelligent Organization PART II Stafford Beer // Javier Livas

The Intelligent Organization Q&A

Viable System Model

Viable Systems meet Complex Adaptive Systems

Management Cybernetics: Science of Effective Organization

Management Cybernetics & Redesigning Government

Management Cybernetics & Chaos Theory

Management Cybernetics: The Law of Requisite Variety

Management Cybernetics: The Cybernetic State

Pycho-Cybernetics and Management Cybernetics

Law & Cybernetics

The Human Brain & Cybernetics

Stuff, Life & Cybernetics

Soros, Popper & Cybernetics
(The Budapest Conferences and Financial Times Videos by George Soros)

Model of a Living Organization

The Financial Crisis and Cybernetics

Cybernetics vs Status Quo: Ideas from Stafford Beer

Cybernetics and Systemic Traps

The Universe and You

The US DOLLAR, a recursive theory of money creation

CAPTAIN of the Brain Explorer Submarine (ALL)




THE UNIVERSAL MANAGER, based on Stafford Beer's Viable System Model // Javier Livas

Posted by ACASA on July 15, 2011 at 02:26 PM in Interesting | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 05, 2008

A. Stafford Beer and Project Cybersyn

Stafford Beer,  a systems thinking advocate and pioneer and a close friend and colleague of Russell Ackoff over the years and stemming from their roots in Operations Research from which they both progressed their own paths, attempted, in his words, to "implant" an electronic "nervous system" in Chilean society. Voters, workplaces and the government were to be linked together by a new, interactive national communications network, which would transform their relationship into something profoundly
more equal and responsive than before - a sort of socialist Internet, decades ahead of its time.

Recently, an article was published in New York Times detailing the "Chilean" experiment conducted by Stafford Beer and his colleague for the Allende administration. To read the article click on the following URL: Before '73 coup, Chile tried to find the right software for socialism

Posted by ACASA on April 5, 2008 at 11:24 AM in Interesting | Permalink | Comments (1)

June 15, 2006

Thinking about the Future and Globalization

Forum 2006 keynoter, Dr. Russell Ackoff, discusses his thoughts on the issue of global development at the occasion of his receipt of the Tallberg Foundation / Swedbank Leadership Award.

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 to constantly 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.
I have found widespread agreement among governmental and organizational executives that their current state is more a product of what their organizations did in the past than a product of what was done to them. Therefore, our future state will be more a product of what we do now than of what is done to us.
If we don't know what state we would be in right now if we could be in whatever state we wanted, how can we possibly know in what state we would like to be in the future? Furthermore, statements   of where we want to be in the future are usually based on forecasts of what the future will be. Such forecasts are inevitably wrong; we cannot identify all the significant changes that will occur in our environments between now and then.           
It is for this reason that so many plans are never completely implemented; they are dropped when it becomes apparent that the forecasts on which they are based are false. I was once told by a public planner that only two percent of the public-sector plans produced in my country were ever completely implemented for this and other reasons.

Download ackoffstallbergtalk.pdf

Posted by ACASA on June 15, 2006 at 02:46 PM in Interesting | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 21, 2005

Dancing With Systems

By Donella Meadows

Versions of this piece have been published in Whole Earth, winter 2001 and The Systems Thinker, Vol. 13, No. 2 (March 2002).

The Dance

1. Get the beat.
2. Listen to the wisdom of the system.
3. Expose your mental models to the open air.
4. Stay humble. Stay a learner.
5. Honor and protect information.
6. Locate responsibility in the system.
7. Make feedback policies for feedback systems.
8. Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.
9. Go for the good of the whole.
10. Expand time horizons.
11. Expand thought horizons.
12. Expand the boundary of caring.
13. Celebrate complexity.
14. Hold fast to the goal of goodness.

People who are raised in the industrial world and who get enthused about systems thinking are likely to make a terrible mistake. They are likely to assume that here, in systems analysis, in interconnection and complication, in the power of the computer, here at last, is the key to prediction and control. This mistake is likely because the mindset of the industrial world assumes that there is a key to prediction and control.

To read this article, click on the link: Dancing With Systems

Posted by ACASA on October 21, 2005 at 02:39 PM in Interesting | Permalink | Comments (2)

September 16, 2005

Essay in Honor of Dr. Aron Katsenelinboigen

Vera Zubarev writes about Aron Katsenelinboigen - whom she describes as friend, father, and teacher - and discusses their conversation "which never stops."

Dr. Aron Katsenelinboigen was professor emeritus of operations and information management. Born in the Ukraine, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1973. He was professor of social systems and decision sciences in the Wharton School and later professor of operations and information management.  His main area of interest in the last thirty years was General Systems Theory and its application to various fields, including economics, biology, ethics, aesthetics, and theology. Aron is the author of twenty books and numerous articles.

Dr. Vera Zubarev is a bilingual Russian-English poet, writer, and scholar who teaches in the Department of Slavic Languages at the Universityof Pennsylvania. Further information can be obtained from her website:http://www.ulita.net/ulea/

To read the essay, please click on the following link: My Journey by Vera Zubarev

Posted by ACASA on September 16, 2005 at 03:39 PM in Interesting | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 29, 2005

Design For A Self-Regenerating Organization

Dr. Michael C Geoghegan ([email protected]) and Dr. Paul Pangaro ([email protected])
Ashby Centenary Conference
March 4-6, 2004, University of Illinois, Urbana

Ashby’s Design for a Brain [Ashby 1952] comprises a formal description of the necessary and sufficient conditions for a system to act ‘like a brain,’ that is, to learn in order to remain viable in a changing environment, and to ‘get what it wants’. Remarkably, Ashby gives a complete, formal specification of such a system without any dependency on how the system is implemented. In this presentation the authors will argue how Ashby’s formalisms can be applied to human organizations.

All organizations seek to successfully carry out transactions that achieve their goals and assert their identity, whether to educate college students for employment, to govern a territory fairly, or to make money for shareholders. An organization’s transactions are predicated on agreements, and agreements in turn are based on conversations in a shared language. Thus human organizations are delimited by their operation in the domain of language, and Ashby’s ‘essential variables’ are the ‘shared truths’ of an organization—perturbed by the environment, regulated by employees’ actions, and carried in its language.
To read this article, click on the link: Design For A Self-Regenerating Organization.

Posted by ACASA on June 29, 2005 at 11:17 AM in Interesting | Permalink | Comments (0)