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Books : reviews

Russell L. Ackoff, Shiv K. Gupta, J. Sayer Minas.
Scientific Method: optimizing applied research decisions.
Wiley. 1962

Russell L. Ackoff.
Redesigning the Future: a systems approach to societal problems.
Wiley. 1974

Russell L. Ackoff.
The Art of Problem Solving.
Wiley. 1978

(read but not reviewed)

The enjoyment derived from formulating and solving problems is prerequisite to creative managerial decision making. In this book, Russell L Ackoff uses an innovative method to overcome the deficiencies of the usual, purely scientific approach. He removes problem solving from the sterile, mechanical application of prescribed methods, techniques, and tools by concentrating on the art and design needed to solve problems creatively; he shows how to make the challenge exhilarating.

Material is presented in a discursive style rather than technically, and is liberally sprinkled with anecdotes. Focus is on discussing a serious activity with some humor, poking fun at those who are so preoccupied that they cannot enjoy their tasks and therefore no longer perform well. And, to reinforce his point, Ackoff uses his own fables—based on real problems faced by real managers—for illustration.

Chapter by chapter, The Art Of Problem Solving suggests ways to help you manage more effectively. Chapter 1 analyzes problem solving and creativity, revealing that the principal obstruction to creative problem solving consists of self-imposed constraints. Chapter 2 takes up the role these constraints play in determining how we perceive our own and others’ objectives; and, it provides principles and illustrations that can help overcome these constraints. Chapter 3 deals with constraints that limit our perception of what can and ought to be manipulated in problem situations, showing how this should be accomplished. Chapter 4 considers what we perceive as being out of our control in such situations and how much is actually controllable. Chapter 5 deals with misconceptions of how parts of a problem are related to each other, explaining how to set them right. The remaining seven chapters provide, in the form of case studies, detailed examples of the major points and procedures.

The Art Of Problem Solving is the result of 30 years of experience and is designed for those who wish to bring more than just adequate solutions to their daily challenges. It is a guide to utilizing a creative process.

Russell L. Ackoff.
Creating the Corporate Future: plan or be planned for.
Wiley. 1981

Here is a breakthrough book that delineates ideas and methods managers will need to plan for the uncertain environment corporations face in the future.

Russell Ackoff is an original and provocative thinker. In previous books–A Concept of Corporate Planning (1970), Redesigning the Future (1974), and The Art of Problem Solving (1978)–he set forth innovative approaches to corporate planning that have been widely adopted. In Creating The Corporate Future Ackoff continues to give the business community original and major new challenging ideas that will enable corporate managers to rethink ways and means to plan for the future.

Taking into account the pressing environmental and economic dilemmas we face, Ackoff presents a new, highly participative systems approach to planning, interactive planning. He not only develops its philosophical, conceptual, and theoretical foundations … he translates these into practical procedures. Interactive planning provides opportunities for individual and corporate development by synthesizing operational, tactical, and strategic planning into the design of a desirable future and the inventions of ways of realizing it.

You get concrete guidance on these phases of interactive planning:
• how to formulate the system of problems and opportunities that face a corporation
• how to formulate goals, objectives, and ideals and select and evaluate the means by which they should be pursued
• determining what resources will be required and how they should be acquired or developed
• implementation and control of the planning decisions and the planning process itself.

At once practical and provocative, Creating The Corporate Future is the result of many years of experience in all aspects of corporate planning. It belongs on the shelf of every manager or beginning manager who wants to get a head start on planning for the corporate future.

Russell L. Ackoff.
The Democratic Corporation.
OUP. 1994

We all know that American business needs fixing, and there is no shortage of prescriptions: imitate the Japanese, or follow the example of successful firms, or practice right-sizing. But these approaches do not work very well, says Russell Ackoff, because they only attack the problem piecemeal—and it is the entire system of American business that is flawed. In this revolutionary new book by a widely respected business thinker and pioneer in the fields of operations research and systems thinking, Ackoff underscores the urgent need to overhaul the kinds of systems found in America, from our business schools to our boardrooms. And he shows how firms can break out of the mold—and leapfrog the competition in today’s volatile economy.

To give managers insight into the concept of organizations, Ackoff shows how they have been viewed since the Renaissance: first as machines, later as organisms, and today as social systems. As social systems, companies produce and distribute wealth and raise our standard of living. They are also responsible for facilitating and encouraging the development of the larger systems that contain them and all their stakeholders. The quality of worklife within an organization is key. Work has to be challenging and enjoyable if workers are to give it their full commitment, and Ackoff outlines major ways to achieve this goal. Along the way, Ackoff explodes a number of fashionable business notions. He asserts that firms that try to imitate successful competitors are doomed to play catch-up forever. He attacks the idea of continuous improvement, showing that it has failed to make quantum leaps in quality, and he demonstrates how to re-orient the pursuit of quality. After revealing the weakness in many current practices, Ackoff describes three organizational schemes that will lead to success. In the Circular Organization, a democratic hierarchy, everyone participates directly or indirectly in decisions that affect their work. In the Internal Market Economy, organizations treat their different parts like a collection of firms doing business with each other—which promotes cooperation and eliminates wasteful internal competition. And with the Multidimensional Organization, a company becomes so powerful and flexible that continuous adaptation can happen without reorganization.

Ackoff caps off the book with an incisive critique of business schools, describing how they must be transformed to turn out the leaders we need for the competitive American organization of the twenty-first century. Enabling managers to understand the profound interrelationships in the American economy and to tap into them for success, The Democratic Corporation is a major work by an innovative thinker that is certain to cause ripples throughout the business community.

Russell L. Ackoff.
Re-Creating the Corporation: a design of organizations for the 21st century.
OUP. 1999

Over the last three decades the average life expectancy of a corporation in North America has dipped well below 20 years. In fact, by 1983 a full third of the 1970 Fortune 500 companies had been acquired, merged, or broken apart. In this landmark book, one of the business world’s foremost pioneers, Russell L. Ackoff, delivers this indispensable guide for those hoping to beat these odds—and to better navigate the corporate challenges of the next millennium.

While most business and management schools continue to teach the functions of a corporation separately—production, marketing, finance, personnel—the reality is that for a corporation to endure each division must work with the others to create an effective system. Re-Creating the Corporation is Ackoff’s masterful blueprint for understanding and creating these model corporate systems. In four comprehensive sections—Background, Process, Designs, and Change—Ackoff lays out in clear concise prose the five organizational goals of successful corporate systems: plan effectively, learn and adapt rapidly, democratize, introduce internal market economies, and employ a flexible structure that will minimize the need for future restructuring. And through a deft mix of practical and theoretical examples drawn from a wide range of applications in a wide range of firms, this book ultimately guides executives to the system best suited to meet their organizational goals.

Re-Creating the Corporation, which is the culmination of a lifetime of innovative and insightful business thought from one of the business world’s premier thinkers, is essential reading for those attempting to navigate the rapidly changing economic environment of the next millennium.

Russell L. Ackoff, Herbert J. Addison, Sally Bibb.
Management f-Laws: how organizations really work.
Triarchy Press. 2007

We’ve ail heard of Sod’s Law. Most of us know Parkinson’s Law. Now Management f-LAWS brings together a collection of Professor Russell Ackoff’s subversive insights about the world of business. Russell Ackoff is one of the world’s top business brains and his f-Laws expose the established conventions and laws of management – the hierarchies and power struggles, the ineptitudes and time-wasting, the prejudices and careless thinking – as flaws of management: all of which hinder change and development.

With wit and wisdom, Ackoff and his co-author, Herbert Addison, set out the uncomfortable truth about how organizations really work and get us thinking about how to change our own organizations and management practices for the better. In response, Sally Bibb – author, Director of Group Sales Development for the Economist Group and an enthusiastic pioneer of change – examines and challenges their ironic and provocative claims.

The resulting conversation will appeal to readers at every level of the organizational hierarchy as well as those who resist hierarchy altogether.

Russell L. Ackoff, Herbert J. Addison, Andrew Carey.
Systems Thinking for Curious Managers: with 40 new management f-laws.
Triarchy Press. 2010

This gem of a book introduces the extraordinary world of Systems Thinking and its “Dean”, Russell Ackoff, to curious and enquiring managers, teachers, business people – anyone, anywhere who works in an organization.

Finished just before Professor Ackoff’s death late in 2009, it opens the door to a joined up way of thinking about things that has profoundly influenced thinkers and doers in the fields of business, politics, economics, ecology, biology and psychology.

In business and academia, in the public sector and in the search for solutions to the environmental problems we face, both Systems Thinking and Russell Ackoff are being talked about more than ever.

This timely book presents 40 more of Russ Ackoff’s famously witty and incisive f-Laws (or flaws) of business – following on from his 2007 collection Management f-Laws. All those in this collection are new and previously unpublished. Andrew Carey’s extended introduction ties these f-Laws into the rest of Ackoff’s work and gives the reader new to Systems Thinking a guide to the implications of Systems Thinking for organizations and managers.