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Mastering systems thinking in practice
Mastering systems thinking in practice

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6 Russel Ackoff (1919–2009)

Russell Ackoff was a multifaceted academic and business thinker [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and was the Anheuser-Busch Professor Emeritus of management science at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania at the time of his death.

Born in Philadelphia in 1919, Ackoff has been characterised as an architect, a philosopher, a city planner, behavioural scientist, trailblazer in the field of operations research, the pre-eminent authority on organisational systems theory, and best-selling author. Recognised internationally as a pragmatic academic, Russ, as he was known to all, devoted most of his professional life to dissolving complex societal and organisational problems by engaging all stakeholders in designing solutions. A founding member of the Institute of Management Sciences, his work in consulting and education involved more than 350 corporations and 75 government agencies in the United States and beyond. He has been ranked highly in lists of the world’s most influential business thinkers. But he is perhaps best known for making systems thinking understandable and accessible notably in two books Redesigning the Future (1974) and Creating the Corporate Future (1981).

Activity 6 Management science

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes for this activity.
  1. Refer back to Figure 1 and, using the free response box below, see how Ray Ison has located management science (and OR or operations research) in the various systems traditions.
  2. Make notes as you listen to the following audio recording in which Russell Ackoff reflects on some of the defining features of his life’s work but his studies began uneventfully.
Download this audio clip.Audio player: mstp_1_audio_week6_ackoff.mp3
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Russ Ackoff is noted for being a pioneer of the application of systems thinking to management and being responsible for many innovations in operations research, with the former eventually leading him to disavow classical OR and push for a broader, more strategic form known as soft OR that saw systems as epistemologies and not ontologies.