[sociate] BOOKS - Two systems thinkers - Ackoff and Churchman

  • From: "Jerry Michalski" <jerry@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Sociate News" <sociate@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 24 Aug 2002 15:27:43 -0400

Ackoff, Russell
Redesigning the Future and Ackoff?s Fables

I studied under Ackoff while I was at Wharton, where he was a bit of a black
sheep. His ideas, well outside the mainstream Wharton establishment,
affected me more than any others I was exposed to during the MBA program. I
also did a bit of consulting for him in Buenos Aires after graduation.
Ackoff may best be known for the Idealized Redesign process he uses to help
companies rethink what they do (sometimess referred to as planning
backwards). Surprisingly, I?ve found no resources online describing
Idealized Redesign.

In the 1930s, Ackoff was a student of West Churchman?s. Alongside a few
others, they helped start the field of Operations Research during World War
II by figuring out how often ship convoys should zig to avoid enemy
submarines and how many shells to test in each box of ammo to be sure most
of them would work properly. (OR is a branch of applied statistics that
includes techniques such as queueing theory, linear programming, Monte Carlo
simulations and multiple regression.)

Later, disillusioned with OR?s direction and approach, Ackoff and Churchman
founded the field of systems theory. For years, Ackoff ran the Social
Systems Science department at Wharton, also known as S-Cubed, and consulted
to the likes of Annheuser Busch, Mexico, Iran, Clark Equipment, Volvo, Alcoa
and Martin Marietta. In the early 90s, Ackoff left Wharton and founded
Interact Design with his longtime colleague, Jamshid Gharajedaghi.

Infamous for not getting along with his peers, Ackoff is becoming
increasingly famous for the clarity with which he has long explained the
complex ideas of how systems work (and therefore how companies, industries
and economies work). If ?systems theory? sounds muddy to you, Ackoff?s your
man. His Fables are accessible anecdotes that he has used for years to
illustrate systems solutions. Redesigning contains the bulk of his thinking,
presented with his trademark simplicity.

Many of Ackoff?s peers have done fascinating work, including Eric Trist,
Fred Emery, Stafford Beer (who tried to help Salvador Allende build a
cybernetic control panel for Chile), Chris Argyris and Donald Schon (Argyris
and Schon brought us double-loop learning). [Bo McFarland steered me toward
Geoffrey Vickers.] Management guru Peter Drucker has long been a fan of
Ackoff?s; systems thinking is Peter Senge?s famed Fifth Discipline.

Churchman, C. West
The Systems Approach and Its Enemies
Churchman, a gentle soul, didn?t originally have ?and Its Enemies? in the
title of this book. He added it in the second edition, having seen the
reactions to the first edition. Systems thinking is challenging, but making
systems change is really difficult. Hierarchies and mechanisms don?t morph
easily.

posted by Jerry Michalski at 1:09 AM



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