Thursday, February 22, 2020
Russell Ackoff: a wise and subversive thinker
How flawed, out-of-date, and misplaced teachings are crippling management
Professor Russell Ackoff has recently published a new book about the f-Laws, uncomfortable truths about the (mistaken) way most organizations are run, and how this approach is embedded in decades of repeated management mistakes and conventional business teaching. If you don't already know about Professor Ackoff, this article will introduce you to a grand old man of management non-conformity.
Here's a fascinating short piece from the BBC in London about Russell Ackoff and his f-Laws: the view that business is riddled with “flaws . . . from decades of repeated management mistakes and conventional business teaching.”
According to Professor Ackoff:
f-Laws are truths about organizations that we might wish to deny or ignore—simple and more reliable guides to managers’ everyday behavior than the complex truths proposed by scientists, economists and philosophers.Here are a few examples:
- 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.
- Executives make mountains out of molehills; subordinates make molehills out of mountains.
- The relationship between executives and subordinates is complementary: neither knows why the other does what they do, nor cares about it. This leaves a large black hole between them into which most important issues and communications fall, lost and, like Clementine, gone forever.
In the workplace it’s also true that managers will measure anything that can be quantified in order to be able to set targets.Then there is this piece of wisdom from Sally Bibb, Professor Ackoff’s collaborator, that speaks directly to Slow Leadership and the current craze for over-ambition and Hamburger Management:
Managers don’t know what they want because they never think about it. One executive told his psychotherapist he was depressed because he felt he wasn’t successful. To the therapist he looked successful: good job, great salary, lovely family and beautiful home. She asked how he would know when he was successful. He couldn’t answer. He just kept on striving without knowing what he was striving for.Ackoff's books on the f-Laws are published in Great Britain, and you can get a free “taster” from the publishers. His latest book is Management f-Laws: How organizations really work and it’s definitely worth reading, The publishers are offering readers of this post a 10% discount on the book. Order from them here and type “triarchy-ten” into the Promotional Code box (which you’ll find when you get to the checkout).
I’ve said in many posts that I believe traditional organizational ideas are out-of-date and badly flawed. We still owe far too much to methods dreamed up in the days of Henry Ford and the Model-T. Despite great books like Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton, business schools seem happy to go on trotting out half-truths and out-of-date nonsense and calling it management theory. I’m looking forward to the next piece by Peter Day of the BBC, in which Professor Ackoff promises to tell the truth about business schools!
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