From Mechanistic to Systemic Thinking – Russell Ackoff

Russell Ackoff


November 1993

Presented at the Systems Thinking in Action conference, Ackoff states that humanity is in the early stage of a transition from the Machine Age to the Systems Age. The Machine Age was characterized by belief in complete understandability of the universe, analysis as a method of inquiry, and cause and effect as a sufficient relationship to explain all. The dilemma that disrupted such beliefs was systems thinking. The Machine Age began to die when humanity gave up the principle of understandability. Gradually, it’s become accepted that there can be no complete understanding of the universe because nothing can be understood independently of its environment—all is environmentally relative. While analysis produces knowledge, it is synthesis that produces understanding. Furthermore, the Systems Age recognizes that cause and effect is just one way of looking at reality among an infinite number.

From Mechanistic to Systemic Thinking – Russell Ackoff