Harald Kreher on LinkedIn – Russell Lincoln Ackoff: 10-week countdown to his 100th birthday (12 February 1919). Remembrance. Reverence. Reflection.

Go and follow Harald on LinkedIn for more.

#RLA100. Russell Lincoln Ackoff: 10-week countdown to his 100th birthday (12 February 1919). Remembrance. Reverence. Reflection.

Harald Kreher

Professor Russell Ackoff was a great scholar, educator, consultant … and much more. Intellectual and pragmatic. Logician, mathematician, philosopher, … , systemist.

He was and excelled at so many things. One could fill an encyclopedia with #s trying to do him justice. The following I want to choose – feeling awkward about it as I am fairly old-fashioned and myself not too at-, dis-, ex-tracted 😉 by what some filters and algos suggest to be of relevance, based on keywords. Nevertheless, today I give in a little because I think Russ had deserved that he catches attention by more than those who watch out for reference to his vast body of contributions anyway.

#RLA100 #RLA #Ackoff #management #systems #systemsthinking #systemspractice #whole #holistic #purpose #inquiry #orientation #principles #approach #mindset #education #learning #future #design #interaction #philosophy #perspective #theory #practice #sensemaking #complexity #purposeful #human #mess #methodology #logic #method #strategy #organisation #process #efficiency #effectiveness #foundation #essence #DIKW #knowledge #understanding #wisdom #intellect #humour #flaws #entertainment #enlightenment #professionals #linkedin #tribute #differentiation #analysis #synthesis #relevance #rigour #remembrance #reverence #reflection

Few could nail an issue as cogent as he. Right on point. Yet always circumspective, bringing together contents and context – and consequences.

His sharp mind was accompanied by a sharp tongue that chiselled sentences of precision to stand the test of time. And hishumour was just as sharp.

Those who experienced him live will agree. Those who experience(d) him via books or (better to get a feel for the type of personality and clarity of deliverance) videos, regularly are stunned, along the lines of:

Brilliant. How clear. So succinct. Spot on.

So much of his understanding and wisdom is of fundamental essence. Theory and practice has developed, of course. But all development needs a sound, sturdy foundation.

Russ’ foundation is rock solid. Timeless.

A source and guide for sensemaking and design of interactive, complex human systems. And he has been at knowledge and understanding thereof long before systems – in the wider sense of the word – became fashionable. Fashionable industry would (to expand reference to architecture) benefit from more knowledge of the statics and understanding of the pillarsit builds on.

I would hold that lack thereof is one of the main reasons why (modern) systems approaches often are used on and understood from a process level/perspective only. Organisation and strategy fall short. And efforts then may bring short-term efficiency, but no long-term effectiveness.

Systems therefore is not a tool or a theory for normed (or even certified meticulous step-by-step) application, but a mindset and philosophy – as much as a holistic and wholesome practice.

  • It is a construct and method to inquire into, engage with, and design the complex world.
  • It is a frame of orientation to manage messes and complexity.
  • It has principles and guidelines, not rigid rules or (standard operating) procedures.
  • It is user-dependent and changes with user and usage.
  • It is a methodology, an approach that follows the logos of method.

Russell Ackoff has taught and influenced many. In academia, industry, and public sector. In many different countries. In continental Europe he is unfortunately less known than in the English-speaking world.

To all those not RLA fans yet, but curious to learn about and more so from him, I would recommend (from the many publications of his) the following two. They are both entry level to and summary of his wisdom (reference to the DIK-Understanding-W pyramid):

“Management in Small Doses” and “Ackoff’s F/laws The Cake”

Both absolute gems, treasure chests of decades of experience as teacher and practitioner in

quintessential Russ style:

  • entertaining
  • educational
  • enlightening
  • effective
  • elegant

Russ’ ability to explain was compelling.

LinkedIn is a platform for professionals. The ones I regularly exchange with are all applying some form of systems thinking in their practice. However, not all were familiar with RLA and the pile of gems he left behind. Where I made reference to his works, spread the word, instilled pieces of his insights, was a (hope so) non-intrusive and friendly “missionary”, I can honestly and with joy report,

not one (sic!), who did not take to Russ and saw relevance for their own work.

I noted in recent weeks there was an increase of mention of and reference to him on the LinkedIn platform. The body of his work is substantial in every sense of the word. I am aware much has long been shared and stated. Still, I see his approaching centennial as an appropriate time to contribute to rekindling the torch and honouring his legacy.

What would Y O U would like to share as your learning from and reverence to him?

A quote, an insight, an anecdote … that has relevance for you. Something that you associate with him. Whether you provide your own or complement what others share – it is about paying tribute.

Personally, I shall for each of the 10 weeks until his 100th birthday send every Tuesday a little aspect or wisdom (sequence not by priority) that I relate to Russ, something I aim to reflect and embody in my own work. Here is my first in the 10-week countdown:

The fundamental difference betweenanalysis, taking things apart ANDsynthesis, seeing the whole & its purpose, which defines the purpose of the parts.

He was a master of differentiation and maybe that aspect of logic and clarity is a key differentiator that made him so special and relevant.

Russ made a difference. His intellectual rigour and sharpness is missed, for sure. And then, the man himself: demanding, yet caring.

  • A loss – yes.
  • A legacy – yes.
  • A thankful remembrance, reverence, reflection – yes!

For those contacts I know they had truly close bonds with Russ, having been long-time collaborators, business partners and friends, I take the liberty to tag them: #jamshidgharajedaghi #johnpourdehnad

Relations Between Architecture and Management | David L. Hawk | 1996 | J. Architectural and Planning Research

Distinctions between (1) Order!, (2) Legal Order, and (3) Negotiated Ordered are described as modes of management.  As a previous coauthor of an article on Negotiated Order, I hadn’t seen this prior article!

Figure 1 points to three distinct modes of management, the evolution of the field, and to where the field must move if we are to meet the challenges of contemporary conditions. To understand the significance of the third mode, it is instructive to examine the first two. The diagram was largely the creation of undergraduate honors students from engineering and architecture while taking a basic principles of management course.

Three Management Models

Figure 1:

Figure 1. Three modes of management — hard management for soft times, soft management for hard times

The first mode begins within the management confines of a narrow box. All a manager needs to do is get workers to head down the alley and then prod them to go faster and be more “productive.” Workers need not know to where they are moving or why they work. That is the prerogative of management. It is important to note the phenomenon of the “rat” in managing the operation. The rat is a worker that informs management of the nature and depth of worker discontent. In this way, human problems can be neutralized prior to an upheaval.

The second mode is a logical progression from the first. In this case, the straight lines of the alley-way expand into “democratic boxes,” within which people are undemocratically placed. The manager’s role is to articulate the organization’s mission and to convey it to employees that occupy the boxes. The “rat” retains a role, but in democratic circumstances its role is to help articulate the mission statement, which always tends toward the cynical.

The third mode is a different logical type. Management helps articulate the objectives and ideals of the mission, then falls back into a reduced profile. Each employee is expected to achieve the objective/ideals as he/she sees fit relying on teleological processes. Employees are allowed to question the mission by articulating a new ideal based on having gained better information nearer the front line of action. In this mode, the only use of the box is to bong the “rat.” Elsewhere, this third mode is known as the “negotiated order” mode of management.

Negotiated order processes of management are especially appropriate to the current difficult challenges of society. These require capabilities and capacities far beyond those of early industrial democracy, yet are consistent with ideas fight ancient cultures. An example of this is seen in the validity of principles articulated by Laotse in 500 B.C. China. His argument was that “he who manages least manages best.” This philosophy was the basis of my own 1970s development of the conception of the ideal manager as the “virtual management,” the manager who wasn’t. [pp. 23-24]


Hawk, David L. 1996. “Relations Between Architecture and Management.” Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 13 (1): 10–33, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43029192 , cached at https://www.academia.edu/37000183/Hawk_Architecture_Management_96

Parhankangas, Annaleena, David Ing, David L. Hawk, Gosia Dane, and Marianne Kosits. 2005. “Negotiated Order and Network Form Organizations.” Systems Research and Behavioral Science 22 (5): 431–52. https://doi.org/10.1002/sres.717.

#architecture, #management, #negotiated-order