Russell L. Ackoff: 1919 -2009

photo of Russell Lincoln Ackoff

We lost another of the absolutely best minds in management history, this week. Somehow, many managers, do not know of Russell Ackoff’s ideas. I find that amazing. Dr. Ackoff is one of two management thinkers that any manager, that is serious about improving management results in their organization, must study (the other is Dr. Deming).

The Curious Cat management library includes many articles by Russell Ackoff. Transformation and Redesign at the White House Communications Agency by March Laree Jacques is a great articles exploring adopting his ideas.

Like many management greats he had no limit to the great ideas he put forth. He believed in the value of people and the importance of social systems. He is well known his ideas on systems thinking and specifically human systems. He understood to create effective management structures the human element must be at the heart of the system. He firmly believed in respect for people and his management ideas built on providing the opportunity for people to flourish.

We lost another great management mind. But by reading Ackoff’s books and articles and learning from him we can continue the improvements he brought to management during his life. His ideas will continue to provide those that adopt them great success for a long long time. And the management community will continue to build on his work and that of others to help managers improve their organizations.

Earlier this year we lost Peter Scholtes, another management leader and friend of Russell Ackoff. Russell wrote the forward to Peter’s Leader’s Handbook.

Peter Scholtes is an education, not a guru. A guru is one who develops a doctrine and seeks disciples who accept and transmit it without modification. No deviation is acceptable…
Educators, on the other hand, encourage and even try to inspire progressive deviations from what they have said. Their objective is not to remove the need for further learning, as is the guru’s, but to initiate it

Those words also describe Russell Ackoff perfectly. He inspired those he worked with to adapt and transform his ideas as they worked to improve their organizations. Take this opportunity to learn more about his ideas, you will not be disappointed.

Related: Russell L. Ackoff, Management Consultant & Systems Thinker, 1919 -2009Ackoff, Idealized Design and Bell LabsQuotes By Dr. Russell L. AckoffDr. Russell Ackoff Webcast on Systems ThinkingFrom Mechanistic to Social Systemic ThinkingTraffic Congestion and a Non-SolutionWrite it Down to Improve LearningDesigning a New OrganizationAckoff’s New Book: Management f-LawsThe Importance of Management Improvement

4 thoughts on “Russell L. Ackoff: 1919 -2009

  1. Peg Scholtes

    Russell Ackoff was a hero. A great thinker with a never-failing belief in human dignity and the necessity of systems thinking. Peter thought so highly of Russell and was so thrilled when Russell agreed to review his Leaders Handbook and then wrote the forward. We will all miss Russell yet take heart- knowing that he has left us with valuable writings and essential tools. I am sorry for all who have lost a friend, leader and teacher.

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  2. Rick Ladd

    Russell will be missed greatly. Those of us on the west coast who had been graced numerous times by his visits to Rocketdyne were already missing him, as he had chosen (for good reason) to limit his travel here. I was fortunate enough to be able to visit with both Russ and Johnny Pourdehnad when my colleague, Bill Bellows, and I traveled to Philadelphia to have Russ be the featured thought leader for the monthly ongoing discussions Bill has been conducting for many years.

    Russ had a good, long life and I’m hopeful that, despite being largely ignored by so many who could have benefited from his wisdom and wit, his teachings will only gain strength now that he’s left it up to us to carry on. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants and have a responsibility to see that both Russ’s and Dr. Deming’s teachings don’t go unheeded by the current crop of management leaders, many of whom are more interested in being what Russ noted Peter was not, “Gurus”, rather than Educators.

    My thoughts also go out to Helen, a marvelous woman I only got to know a little during our visits. One of my last memories is of Bill and I having dinner with Helen and Russ to celebrate his 90th birthday when we were visiting.

    Que te vaya bien, Maestro.

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  3. Pingback: We Lost Another of the Absolutely Best Minds in Management This Week « Systems Savvy

  4. Michael Yanakiev

    Remembering Russell Askoff.
    Dear Helen, Johnie, and friends, I knew this would eventually happen, yet it hurts awfully to understand that Russell Ackoff,
    – A Remarkable Man , Teacher, Mentor and a Great friend of the World’s Systems Thinkers is no more among us. I am so saddened by the loss, that tears are dropping from my eys! We lost ” OUR” Russ and his presence, unique thoughts and fantastic deep understanding and reflections is absolutely irreplaceable. I have always been struck by our teacher’s no- nonsense language…he enlightened us to face the basic business issues that we so often are inclined to bury under some modish fads… Yet being ages ahead of his time, he was able to make us think in a miraculous way straight into the future, about solutions before these issues were to become tomorrow’s basic business crises. Russ basically invented modern systems and design thinking. And both his personal work and theories are already surviving his death, for ages to come. His enormous heritage is yet to be assembled and studied thoroughly. He could have easily written conventionalist methodologies, handbooks and encyclopedias but he never allowed himself the liberty to restrict over people’s ideas in fields that he considered open to further developments. His honesty, tolerance, loyalty to his friends and human generosity were practically limitless. He was a living “SAGE”, something rarely known now days. For this very reason I would like to devote chapter -81, to Russ, from Lao Tzu’s self portrait in The book of the Way and its Power:

    “ True words aren’t eloquent;
    Eloquent words aren’t true.
    Wise men don’t prove their point;
    Men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.

    The Master has no possessions.(These no- possessions may include a house, a car, a computer, a roomful of books, and an electric toothbrush).
    The more he does for others,
    The happier he is. (Because he is doing it for himself).
    The more he gives to others,
    The wealthier he is.(The less he holds on to, the more he can give himself to others.When he can give himself completely, his wealth is infinite). .

    The Way of Heaven nourishes by not forcing.
    By not dominating, The Master leads.

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