Russell L. Ackoff

Russell L. Ackoff

Russell Lincoln Ackoff (12 February, 1919) is an American organizational theorist, consultant, and Anheuser-Busch Professor Emeritus of Management Science at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Ackoff is a pioneer in the field of operations research, systems thinking and management science.


Russell L. Ackoff was born in 1919 in Philadelphia to Jack and Fannie (Weitz) Ackoff. "Who's Who in America", 61st ed. (2007), p. 17.] He received his bachelor degree in Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1941. He stayed at this university for one year as assistant instructor in philosophy. From 1942 to 1946 he joined the U.S. Army. He returned to study at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his doctorate in philosophy of science in 1947 as C. West Churchman’s first doctoral student. Maurice Kirby and Jonathan Rosenhead (2005). [ "IFORS Operational Research Hall of Fame : Russell L. Ackoff"] . In: "Intl. Trans. in Op. Res." Vol 12 pp. 129–134.] Next he went on to receive his doctorate of science from the University of Lancaster in 1967.

From 1947 to 1951 Ackoff was assistant professor in philosophy and mathematics at the Wayne State University. He was associate professor and professor operations research at Case Institute of Technology from 1951 to 1964. 1961 and 1962 he was also visiting professor of operational research at the University of Birmingham. From 1964 to 1986 he was professor of systems sciences and professor of management science at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ackoff married Alexandra Makar on July 17, 1949. This union produced three children: Alan W., Karen B., and Karla S. After the death of Alexandra in February, 1987, Ackoff married Helen Wald on December 20, 1987.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Social Systems sciences Program at The Wharton School was noted for combining theory and practice, escaping disciplinary bounds, and driving students toward independent thought and action. The learning environment was fostered by distinguished standing and visiting faculty such as Eric Trist, C. West Churchman, Hasan Ozbekhan, Thomas A. Cowan, and Fred Emery. [ [ Ackoff Home Page ] ]

Since 1979 Ackoff and John Pourdehnad worked as consultants in a broad range of industries including aerospace, chemicals, computer equipment, data services and software, electronics, energy, food and beverages, healthcare, hospitality, industrial equipment, automotive, insurance, metals, mining, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, utilities, and transportation.

Since 1986 Ackoff is professor emeritus of The Wharton School, and chairman of Interact, the Institute for Interactive Management. From 1989 to 1995 he was visiting professor of marketing at Washington University in St. Louis.

Ackoff was president of Operations Research Society of America (ORSA) in 1956–1957, and he was president of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) in 1987.

Ackoff was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science at the University of Lancaster, UK in 1967. He got a Silver Medal from the Operational Research Society in 1971. Other honors came from the Washington University in St. Louis in 1993, the University of New Haven in 1997, the Pontificia Universidad Catholica Del Peru, Lima in 1999 and the University of Lincolnshire & Humberside, UK in 1999. That year from the UK Systems Society he got an Award for outstanding achievement in Systems Thinking and Practice.


Throughout the years Ackoff's work in research, consulting and education has involved more than 250 corporations and 50 governmental agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Operations research

Russell Ackoff has had a distinguished career in Operations Research both as an academic and as a practitioner. His book "Introduction to Operations Research", co-authored with C. West Churchman and Leonard Arnoff from 1957 appeared as a pioneering text that helped define the field. His influence on the early development of the discipline in the USA and in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s is hard to over-estimate. However, by the 1970s he had become trenchant in his criticisms of technique-dominated Operations Research, and powerfully advocated more participative approaches. These criticisms have had limited resonance within the USA, but were picked up in Britain, where they helped to stimulate the growth of problem structuring methods, such as Soft systems methodology from Peter Checkland.

The nature of science

Ackoff believed that the need to synthesize findings in the many disciplines of science arises because these disciplines have been developed with relatively unrelated conceptual systems. Scientific development has resulted in the grouping of phenomena into smaller and smaller classes, and in the creation of disciplines specializing in each. As disciplines multiply, each increases in depth and decreases in breadth. Collectively, however, they extend the breadth of scientific knowledge. [ Symbolic Generalizations and Definitions ] ]

Nature does not come to us in disciplinary form. Phenomena are not physical, chemical, biological, and so on. The disciplines are the ways we study phenomena; they emerge from points of view, not from what is viewed. Hence the disciplinary nature of science is a filing system of knowledge. Its organization is not to be confused with the organization of nature itself.

Purposeful systems

In 1972 Ackoff wrote a book with Frederick Edmund Emery about purposeful systems, [ Ackoff, Russell, and Emery, F. E. "On Purposeful Systems". Aldine-Atherton: Chicago 1972.] which focused on the question how systems thinking relates to human behaviour. Individual systems are purposive, they said, knowledge and understanding of their aims can only be gained by taking into account the mechanisms of social, cultural, and psychological systems.

They characterize human systems as purposeful systems whose members are also purposeful individuals who intentionally and collectively formulate objectives and are parts of larger purposeful systems: [ [ "ISD Knowledge Base; Systems Theory"] , 10/27/2001]

* A purposeful system or individual is ideal-seeking if it chooses another objective that more closely approximates its ideal.
* An ideal-seeking system or individual is necessarily one that is purposeful, but not all purposeful entities seek ideals.
* The capability of seeking ideals may well be a characteristic that distinguishes man from anything he can make, including computers. [ [ Without ideals man's life is purposeless] , by Stuart Umpleby, 24 July 1996.]

The fact that these systems were experiencing profound change could be attributed to the end of the "Machine Age" and the onset of the "Systems Age". The Machine Age, bequeathed by the Industrial Revolution, was underpinned by two concepts of reductionism and mechanism whereby "all phenomena were believed to be explained by using only one ultimately simple relationship, "cause-effect", which in the Systems Age are replaced by "expansionism" and "teleology" with "producer-product" replacing "cause-effect". "Expansionism" is a doctrine maintaining that all objects and events, and all experiences of them, are parts of larger wholes." [ [ "Science in the Systems Age: Beyond..."] , p. 663-665; "Science in the Systems Age", p. 9-10.] According to Ackoff, the beginning of the end of the Machine Age and the beginning of the Systems Age could be dated to the 1940s, a decade when philosophers, mathematicians, and biologists, building on developments in the interwar period, defined a new intellectual framework.


In 2006, Ackoff worked with Herbert J. Addison and Sally Bibb. They developed the term F-Law to describe each in a collection of subversive epigrams, co-authored with Herbert J. Addison. The F-Laws expose the common flaws in both the practice of leadership and in the established beliefs that surround it. According to Ackoff f-LAWS are truths about organizations that we might wish to deny or ignore - simple and more reliable guides to managers' everyday behaviour than the complex truths proposed by scientists, economists, sociologists, politicians and philosophers. [ [ F Laws: Management Truths We Wish To Ignore] , Ackoff Center Weblog, 10 November 2006.]


Ackoff has authored or co-authored 30 books and published over 150 articles in a variety of journals. Books:
* 1946, "Psychologistics", with C. West Churchman.
* 1947, "Measurement of Consumer Interest", with C. W. Churchman and M. Wax (ed.).
* 1950, "Methods of Inquiry: an introduction to philosophy and scientific method", with C. W. Churchman. Educational Publishers: St. Louis.
* 1953, "The Design of Social Research".
* 1957, "Introduction to Operations Research", with C. W. Churchman and E. L. Arnoff. John Wiley & Sons: New York.
* 1961, "Progress in Operations Research", I. Wiley: New York.
* 1962, "Scientific Method: optimizing applied research decisions", Wiley: New York.
* 1963, "A Manager's Guide to Operations Research", with P. Rivett. Wiley: New York.
* 1968, "Fundamentals of Operations Research", with M. Sasieni. John Wiley & Sons: New York.
* 1970, "A Concept of Corporate Planning". Wiley-Interscience: New York.
* 1972, "On Purposeful Systems: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Individual and Social Behavior as a System of Purposeful Events", with Frederick Edmund Emery, Aldine-Atherton: Chicago.
* 1974, "Redesigning the Future: A Systems Approach to Societal Problems". John Wiley & Sons: New York.
* 1974, "Systems and Management Annual", (ed.).
* 1976, "The SCATT Report", with T. A. Cowan, Peter Davis (Ed.).
* 1976, "Some Observations and Reflections on Mexican Development".
* 1978, "The Art of Problem Solving: accompanied by Ackoff's Fables". John Wiley & Sons: New York. Illustrations by Karen B. Ackoff.
* 1981, "Creating the Corporate Future: plan or be planned for". John Wiley & Sons: New York.
* 1984, "A Guide to Controlling Your Corporation's Future", with E.V. Finnel and J. Gharajedaghi.
* 1984, "Revitalizing Western Economies", with P. Broholm and R. Snow.
* 1986, [ "Management in Small Doses"] . John Wiley & Sons: New York.
* 1991, "Ackoff's Fables: Irreverant Reflections on Business and Bureaucracy". John Wiley & Sons: New York.
* 1994, "The Democratic Corporation: a radical prescription for recreating corporate America and rediscovering success". Oxford Univ. Press: New York.
* 1998, "Exploring Personality: an intellectual odyssey". CQM: Cambridge, MA.
* 1999, "Ackoff's Best: his classic writings on management". John Wiley & Sons: New York.
* 1999, "Re-Creating the Corporation: a design of organizations for the 21st century". Oxford Univ. Press: New York.
* 2000, "A Theory of a System for Educators and Managers", with W. Edwards Deming [ This is really a video; part of _The Deming Library_ series, produced by Clare Crawford Mason) Real publication date is 1993.]
* 2003, "Redesigning Society", with Sheldon Rovin. Stanford Univ. Press: Stanford, Calif.
* 2006, " [ A Little Book of f-Laws"] , with Herbert J. Addison and Sally Bibb.
* 2007, " [ Management f-Laws] ", with Herbert J. Addison and Sally Bibb.
* 2008 "Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track", with Daniel Greenberg

Articles, a selection

* 1968, "General Systems Theory and Systems Research Contrasting Conceptions of Systems Science." in: Views on a General Systems Theory: Proceedings from the Second System Symposium, Mihajlo D. Mesarovic (Ed.).
* 1971, [ "Towards A System of Systems Concepts"] .
* 1973, [ "Science in the Systems Age: Beyond IE, OR, and MS"] , "Operations Research" 21(3), pp. 661-671. Reprinted as "Science in the Systems Age" in "Wharton Quarterly" 1973. 7 (2); pp. 8-13.
* 1974, [ "The Social Responsibility of Operational Research"] "Operational Research Quarterly" 25 (3), pp. 361-371.
* 1975, "Advertising Research at Anheuser-Busch, Inc. (1963-68)", with James R. Emshoff, "Sloan Management Review", 16 (2), pp. 1-15.
* 1975, "A Reply to the Comments of Yvan Allaire", with James R. Emshoff, "Sloan Management Review", 16 (3), pp. 95-98.
*1977, [ "The Corporate Rain Dance"] , "The Wharton Magazine", Winter, pp. 36-41.
* 1996, [ "On Learning and Systems That Facilitate it"] , in: "Center for Quality of Management Journal" Vol. 5, No.2.
* 1998, [ "A Systemic View of Transformational Leadership"]
* 2003, [ "Terrorism: A Systemic View"] , with Johan P. Strumpfer, in: "Systems Research and Behavioral Science" 20, pp. 287-294.
* 2004, [ "Transforming The Systems Movement"]
* 2006, [ "A major mistake that managers make"]

Some Ackoff center blogs:
* 2006, [ Thinking about the future]
* 2006, [ "Why few organizations adopt systems thinking"] in: "Systems Research and Behavioral Science". 23, pp. 705-708.

* 2005, [ "Doing the Wrong Thing Right"] by Russell Ackoff, Oct 2005. [Program [ National Summit on School Design, October 6-8, 2005] , American Architecture Foundation.]


External links

* [ ACASA] Ackoff Collaboratory for Advancement of the Systems Approach, center for the vanguard of systems approaches, since July 2000.
* [ Ackoff Center Weblog] a forum for systems thinkers and systems thinking.
* [ Set of videos] with Russell Ackoff, 2004.

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