Quotations by Ackoff, Russell


Recently I asked three corporate executives what decisions they had made in the last year that they would not have made were it not for their it not for their corporate plans. All had difficulty in identifying one such decision. Since each of their plans were marked “secret” or “confidential,” I asked them how their competitors might benefit from the possession of their plans. Each answered with embarrassment that their competitors would not benefit. Yet these executives were strong advocates of corporate planning.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
“A Concept of Corporate Planning” (1969)
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The only problems that have simple solutions are simple problems. The only managers that have simple problems have simple minds. Problems that arise in organisations are almost always the product of interactions of parts, never the action of a single part. Complex problems do not have simple solutions.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
“Case Histories Five Years after,” Operations Research 8.2 (1960)
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I do not deny that most managers lack a good deal of information that they should have, but I do deny that this is the most important informational deficiency from which they suffer. It seems to me that they suffer more from an overabundance of irrelevant information.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
“Management Misinformation Systems,” Management Sciences (Dec 1967)
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My experience indicates that most managers receive much more data (if not information) than they can possibly absorb even if they spend all of their time trying to do so. Hence they already suffer from an information overload. They must spend a great deal of time separating the relevant documents. For example, I have found that I receive an average of 43 hours of unsolicited reading material each week. The solicited material is usually half again this amount. Most MIS designers “determine” what information is needed by asking managers what information they would like to have. This is based on the assumption that managers know what information they need and want.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
“Management Misinformation Systems,” Management Sciences (Dec 1967)
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A problem never exists in isolation; it is surrounded by other problems in space and time. The more of the context of a problem that a scientist can comprehend, the greater are his chances of finding a truly adequate solution.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
“The development of operations research as a science,” Operations Research (Jun 1956)
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When a mess, which is a system of problems, is taken apart, it loses its essential properties and so does each of its parts. The behavior of a mess depends more on how the treatment of its parts interact than how they act independently of each other. A partial solution to a whole system of problems is better than whole solutions of each of its parts taken separately.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
“The future of operational research is past,” The Journal of the Operational Research Society, Vol 30 (1979)
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Managers are not confronted with problems that are independent of each other, but with dynamic situations that consist of complex systems of changing problems that interact with each other. I call such situations messes. Problems are extracted from messes by analysis. Managers do not solve problems, they manage messes.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
“The future of operational research is past,” The Journal of the Operational Research Society, Vol 30, pp.93-104. (1979)
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Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure. For example, those who want a high quality of work life but don’t know how to measure it, often settle for wanting a high standard of living because they can measure it.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
A little book of f-laws: 13 common sins of management (2006)
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A bureaucrat is one who has the power to say “no” but none to say “yes”. Bureaucrats can find an infinite number of reasons for rejecting any proposed change, but can find none for accepting it.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
A Little Book of F-laws (2006)
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Man seeks objectives that enable him to convert the attainment of every goal into a means for the attainment of a new and more desirable goal. The ultimate objective in such a sequence cannot be obtainable; otherwise its attainment would put an end to the process. An end that satisfies these conditions is an ideal …. Thus the formulation and pursuit of ideals is a means by which to put meaning and significance into his life and into the history of which he is part.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
On Purposeful Systems, Vol. 6 (1972) [with R Lincoln and F Emery]
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Successful problem solving requires finding the right solution to the right problem. We fail more often because we solve the wrong problem than because we get the wrong solution to the right problem.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
Redesigning the Future (1974)
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English does not contain a suitable word for “system of problems.” Therefore, I have had to coin one. I choose to call such a system a mess.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
Redesigning the Future (1974)
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In reactive problem solving we walk into the future facing the past — we move away from, rather than toward, something. This often results in unforeseen consequences that are more distasteful than the deficiencies removed.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
The Art of Problem Solving (1978)
Added on 12-Mar-15 | Last updated 12-Mar-15
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