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Russell Ackoff Quotes and f-Laws

Provided by James R. Martin, Ph.D., CMA
Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida

Management Theory Main Page | Whole Systems Main Page

Citation: Martin, J. R. Not dated. Russell Ackoff quotes and f-laws. Management And Accounting Web.

"The appeal of gurus lies to a large extent in the simplicity of the doctrines they put forth. They are simple no matter how complex the problems at which they are directed. They provide a life raft to those managers who are incapable of handling complexity."

"Contrary to what happens in politics and religion, in business circles there are so many gurus competing for followers that no one of them can dominate the minds, let alone the emotions, of potential followers."

"Educators stand in sharp contrast to gurus. Educators do not try to bring thinking to a halt but to initiate it. They want their students to extend and expand the ideas they present and students are encouraged to question and modify without constraint. Educators want their solutions to be treated as beginnings, not ends. Gurus lead into; educators lead out of. Gurus provide ready-made solutions but educators provide ways of finding individualized solutions."

"An educator tries to transmit a way of thinking and a way of conducting inquiries. And he does not pretend that these are the only ways. Among other things, he recognizes that differences in personality lead those with different personalities to select different ways of thinking and behaving."

"I find that business schools tend to avoid the important complex strategic problems that corporate management is currently involved with. Not too long ago at a meeting of the deans of business schools I identified the set of six or seven corporate problems on which I was working. I asked them if any of them had courses that addressed such problems - not a single one of them was covered."

"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....Managers do not solve problems, they manage messes."

Some f-Laws from Ackoff, R. L., H. J. Addison and S. Bibb. 2007. Management f-Laws. Triarchy Press Ltd.

1. "You can't teach an old dog or executive new tricks, or even that there are any new tricks."

3. "You rarely improve an organization as a whole by improving the performance of one of its parts."

12. "An organization's planning horizon is the same as its CEO's retirement horizon."

19. "The only thing more difficult than starting something new in an organization is stopping something old."

23. "Business schools are as difficult to change as cemeteries, and for the same reasons."

29. "The amount of time a committee waste is directly proportional to its size."

36. "The less important an issue is, the more time managers spend discussing it."

38. "Administration, management and leadership are not the same thing."

40. "Business schools are security prisons of the mind."

61. "It is very difficult for those inside a box to think outside of it."

64. "Most corporations and business schools are less than the sum of their parts."

71. "Overheads, slides and PowerPoint projectors are not visual aids to managers. They transform managers into auditory aids to the visuals."


Related summaries:

Deming, W. E. 1993. The New Economics For Industry, Government & Education. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Engineering Study. (Summary).

Goldratt, E. M. 1990. What is this thing called Theory of Constraints. New York: North River Press. (Summary).

Goldratt, E. M. and J. Cox. 1986. The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement. North River Press. (Summary).

Iansiti, M. and R. Levien. 2004. Strategy as ecology. Harvard Business Review (March): 68-78. (Summary).

Johnson, H. T. and A. Broms. 2000. Profit Beyond Measure: Extraordinary Results through Attention to Work and People. New York: The Free Press. (Summary).

Martin, J. R. Not dated. Russell Ackoff: What is a system? Videos. (Note).

Martin, J. R. Not dated. The Beer Game. Management And Accounting Web. (Summary).

Parker, L. D. 1984. Control in organizational life: The contribution of Mary Parker Follett. The Academy of Management Review 9(4): 736-745. (Note).

Senge, P. M. 1990. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Doubleday Currency. (Note).