Learning, Systems and Improvement

A Major Mistake That Managers Make by Russell L. Ackoff

Once again Ackoff provides great ideas:

Errors of omission, lost opportunities, are generally more critical than errors of commission. Organizations fail or decline more frequently because of what they did not do than because of what they did.

Page 4 and 5 explore the method to effectively learn from decisions the organization makes. The idea seem simple but they are powerful.

Preparing a record of every decision of any significance, ones that involve doing something or (of particular importance) ones that involve not doing something. This record should include the following information:

• The justification for the decision including its expected effects and the time by which they are expected…
• The assumptions on which the expectations are based…
• The information, knowledge, and understanding that went into the decision.
• Who made the decision, how it was made, and when…

The decision should be monitored to determine whether the expectations are being met and the assumptions on which they are based remain valid.

When a deviation is found in either the assumptions or expectations, it should be diagnosed, the cause determined and corrective action prescribed and taken.

The corrective action is itself the result of a decision. A record of this decision should be made and treated as the original decision. In this way the process can not only yield learning but also learning how to learn.

A record of the entire process (all four steps) should be made and stored for easy access by those who may later be confronted by the need to make a similar type of decision.

More articles and books by Russell Ackoff

Theory of Knowledge