Russell L Ackoff (1919-2009) was a founding member of the system thinking movement. He was an organizational theorist and pioneer in operations research and management science. He was the first doctoral student of C. West Churchman. They later spent time together at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Ohio. Later they founded the systems thinking movement. Russell L. Ackoff translated data to wisdomHe once worked for D. Edwards Deming at the U.S. Census Bureau. Peter Drucker acknowledged that Russell L. Ackoff had made critical contributions to his work. Russell L. Ackoff authored or co-authored 35 books and over 150 journal articles, including the popular From Data to Wisdom.

Russell L. Ackoff developed empirical inquiry techniques and theory concerning interdisciplinary and interdependent system dynamics. He was a master reductionist about decision making in organizations. Russell L. Ackoff sought to amplify organizational learning across disciplines, especially for nonlinear modeling sciences. In the end, he sought to create better understanding so that people were focused on the correct root cause issues so that they could be successful. Please scroll through his wonderful quotations to get to the videos.

Russell L. Ackoff Quotes:
Explanations always lie outside the system, never inside. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

Continuous improvement isn’t nearly as important as discontinuous improvement. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

The basic managerial idea introduced by systems thinking, is that to manage a system effectively, you might focus on the interactions of the parts rather than their behavior taken separately. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

The cost of preparing for critical events that do not occur is generally very small in comparison to the cost of being unprepared for those that do. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

The less we understand a phenomenon, the more variables we require to explain it. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

Jargon is noise that keeps our brains from understanding what our mouths are saying. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

The only thing more detrimental to organizational development than corruption is tolerating it. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

Good secretaries serve as filters and condensers of solicited and unsolicited information. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

I do not deny that most managers lack a good deal of information that they should have, but I do deny that this is the most important informational deficiency from which they suffer. It seems to me that they suffer more from an overabundance of irrelevant information. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

Those who serve management should focus on those that they serve, not on the services they render or the instruments used in rendering them. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

The best place to solve a problem is not necessarily where it appears. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

Changes in a field are never created by experts, but from outsiders looking at the field. – Russell L. Acoff Quotes

We have also come to realize that no problem ever exists in complete isolation. Every problem interacts with other problems and is therefore part of a set of interrelated problems, a system of problems I choose to call such a system a mess… Furthermore solutions to most problems produce other problems… a financial problem, a maintenance problem, and conflict among family members for its use. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

When a mess, which is a system of problems, is taken apart, it loses its essential properties and so does each of its parts. The behavior of a mess depends more on how the treatment of its parts interact than how they act independently of each other. A partial solution to a whole system of problems is better than whole solutions of each of its parts taken separately. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

A bureaucrat is one who has the power to say “no” but none to say “yes”. Bureaucrats can find an infinite number of reasons for rejecting any proposed change, but can find none for accepting it. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

The only problems that have simple solutions are simple problems. The only managers that have simple problems have simple minds. Problems that arise in organisations are almost always the product of interactions of parts, never the action of a single part. Complex problems do not have simple solutions. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

The lower the rank of managers, the more they know about fewer things. The higher the rank of managers, the less they know about many things. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure. For example, those who want a high quality of work life but don’t know how to measure it, often settle for wanting a high standard of living because they can measure it. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

The less sure managers are of their opinions, the more vigorously they defend them. Managers do not waste their time defending beliefs they hold strongly – they just assert them. Nor do they bother to refute what they strongly believe is false. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

The less important an issue is, the more time managers spend discussing it. More time is spent on small talk than is spent on large talk. Most talk is about what matters least. What matters least is what most of us know most about. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

Managers cannot learn from doing things right, only from doing them wrong. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

An improvement program must be directed at what you want, not at what you don’t want. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

The criteria that you use is perfectly simple, I will only improve the part if it results in an improvement of the whole. If it doesn’t I will not change the part. Which is exactly the opposite of what we do in management normally. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

When you get rid of what you don’t want, you do not necessarily get what you do want and you may get something you want a lot less. It is that simple…..anyone that ever watches television knows that! – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

Problems seldom (if ever) exist in isolation. Problems are extracted from reality by analysis. Almost any problem exists as part of a set of interacting problems called by some a mess. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

Successful problem solving requires finding the right solution to the right problem. We fail more often because we solve the wrong problem than because we get the wrong solution to the right problem. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

The product of an innovative act may be either good or bad. Not all acts of creativity are beneficial or satisfying. For example, a newly designed article of clothing may actually be repulsive to potential uses. Many new products fail in the market place. –  Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

The hope was that mechanization and automation would relieve people of many onerous – dull and repetitive – tasks. Those onerous tasks that remain in developed countries are increasingly exported to  less developed countries. Unfortunately, the exporting countries have not made a significant effort to replace the jobs they have lost in this way. They could do so by providing other more productive and demanding tasks. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

Change itself is constantly changing. – Russell L. Ackoff Quotes

Russell L Ackoff Books:
1946 Psychologistics co-author – C. West Churchman
1947 Measurement of Consumer Interest – co-author C. West Churchman
1950 Methods of Inquiry: An Introduction to Philosophy and Scientific Method – co-author C. West Churchman
1957 Introduction to Operations Research – co-author C. West Churchman
1961 Progress in Operations Research
1962 Scientific Method: Optimizing Applied Research Decisions
1963 A Manager’s Guide to Operations Research
1968 Fundamentals of Operations Research
1970 A Concept of Corporate Planning
1972 On Purposeful Systems: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Individual and Social Behavior as a System of Purposeful Events
1974 Redesigning the Future: A Systems Approach to Societal Problems
1974 Systems and Management Annual
1978 The Art of Problem Solving: Accompanied by Ackoff’s Fables
1981 Creating the Corporate Future: Plan or be Planned For
1984 A Guide to Controlling Your Corporation’s Future
1984 Revitalizing Western Economies co-author Roberta Snow and Paul Broholm
1986 Management in Small Doses
1991 Ackoff’s Fables: Irreverent Reflections on Business and Bureaucracy
1994 The Democratic Corporation: A Radical Prescription for Recreating Corporate America and Rediscovering Success
1998 Exploring Personality: An Intellectual Odyssey
1999 Ackoff’s Best: His Classic Writings on Management
1999 Re-Creating the Corporation: A Design of Organizations for the 21st Century
2003 Redesigning Society
2005 Beating the System : Using Creativity to Outsmart Bureaucracies
2006 Idealized Design: How to Dissolve Tomorrow’s Crisis Today; Creating an Organization’s Future
2006 A Little Book of f-Laws
2007 Management f-Laws : How Organizations Really Work
2008 Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track
2010 Memories
2010 Differences that Make a Difference

Russell L. Ackoff YouTube video on systems thinking with W. Edwards Deming:

Russell L. Ackoff YouTube video on systems thinking:

Russell L. Ackoff YouTube video University of Cincinnati, invited by Warren G Bennis:

Humourous Russell L. Ackoff YouTube video:

Russel L. Ackoff YouTube video From Mechanistic to Systemic Thinking 1993:

Russel L. Ackoff YouTube video Studio 1 Network Video:

Russell L. Ackoff ATT Labs talk video

Russell L. Ackoff 2004 keynote speech video

Young Russell L. Ackoff lecture video