Russell Ackoff Answering Questions

Guest post by John Hunter, founder of

It is wonderful to listen to Ackoff discuss how to tackle challenging problems. We could create so much value by following the guidance of Dr. Ackoff and Dr. Deming in our organizations and by applying that thinking to the larger problems our societies face. We need to learn how to do much better than we are doing now. We have to actually apply these ideas that have been known for decades.

YouTube video

This is the third video from a day with Russell Ackoff presentation (from 2004). See our posts on the first and second videos: Ackoff on Leadership and Transformation, The Existing Management Conditions Limit How Effective New Strategies Will Be.

Dr. Ackoff answers questions for 35 minutes and provides a huge amount of insight into how to improve our organizations. It is wonderful that we have such resources so easily accessible to us. This quote is one of many responses:

The United States has more people in prison than all the colleges and universities put together. We have the largest percentage of our population in prison of any country in the world and the highest crime rate. Something is fundamentally wrong.

It is not a question of building more prisons and uping the police force, that only makes the problem worse because it is the wrong thing [to do]. The criminal system is devoted to getting revenge on people who commit a crime. The result; criminologist have shown that every time you send a person to prison they have a 90% chance of coming out. And when they come out they have a higher probability of committing a crime than when they went in and it will be a more serious crime.

Prisons create crime. We’ve got to make a fundamental change in our concept of how we treat criminals. That is redesign of an essential part of society.

After answering questions Dr. Ackoff moves onto discussing systems and synthesis.

The most important thing a manager can learn about the organization he manages: how do its parts interact.

I’ve worked in over 400 corporations on thousands of problems and I can tell you on over 90% of them the best place to solve a problem is not where they appear. It’s in some other part of the system, which through interactions gives you the best access to the problem. But there we go, we insist, because we have silos, on solving a problem where it appears and it is almost always inefficient to do that.

The challenge is that to apply this knowledge effectively, we need to improve the management of our organizations in ways that allow us to effectively address system problems. Many of my previous posts discuss how to increase the capability of the organization. This process isn’t easy though. It takes a great deal of effort to transform into an organization that can most effectively apply these ideas. So we often do what can be done with Ackoff and Deming’s ideas with organizations that are clinging to outdated management practices. We can make some progress in those cases, but it is much harder and is severely limited compared to what is possible when long-term continual improvement of the management system itself drives how the organization works.

Related: A Brief Guide to Interactive Planning and Idealized Design by Russell Ackoff – Using Deming’s Management Ideas to Reduce Violence in PrisonTransforming a Management System – A Case Study From the Madison Wisconsin Police Department

1 thought on “Russell Ackoff Answering Questions”

  1. Very true – something is fundamentally wrong. The tax money is spent on: Military, Police, Prisons, Disease i.e. “Health”, Disability, Mental health, Social support, Law (punishment) etc. The tax money feels like feeding a misguided insurance business. Those who run the insurance business never lose. Also, there is no intention of investing all that money in doing something fundamentally right. The main challenge is a lack of awareness of what is going on.

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