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