I received the following note recently about the passing on of Russell Ackoff from Bo Ekman at Tallberg Foundation. Ackoff was a legend even to those of us who never met him. His systems view is one I fully embrace. Bo's remembrance touched me and I wanted to share it. For an overview of Russ Acknoff's life and work check this link to his Wikipedia biography.
Dear Friends,Recently the news reached us that our dear friend and inspiration Russ Ackoff passed away on October 29th. Russ was a truly humble and generous person allowing everyone and everything around him to grow. He was a master of mind but also a master of unpretentiousness.
I had the privilege to stumble across Russ' writings already in the early 1960's. We met at an international conference in Tel Aviv in 1974 where I gave a paper on "How to create problems through long-term planning." He liked the twist and we became friends for life.
He has over the years, singularly been the most important inspiration to the evolution of the Tällberg Foundation and its activities. From the very start, we chose the Tällberg approach to be a systems approach. He said that: "The only problems that have simple solutions are simple problems. The only managers that have simple problems have simple minds. Problems that arise in organizations are almost always the products of interactions of parts (of a system), never the action of a single part. Complex problems do not have simple solutions."
This is a typical Ackoffian quip. His writings and talks are full of these gems of clarity of mind and of perception of reality. Russ, if anyone, lived up to Einstein's admonitions "make things as simple as possible, but not simpler." Therefore, any dealings with Russ were an occasion to rise to. No sloppiness allowed. No weakness of logic, no tampering with truth. His stern intellectual demands on himself and on others were complemented with the warmest of spirits.
Russ came many times to Volvo and he inspired us to think very differently about cars and mass communication systems. He also helped us to think very differently about learning processes. Russ was enormously productive. He turned out over 30 books. He was always writing. He became a beloved teacher who never taught. He delegated to the students to define their curricula and to set their own objectives. Russ said "there is no teaching, there is only learning" and developed his institution at the Wharton School accordingly. He broke out of the academic and university bureaucracy which in the end forced him out of the system of the university and the Wharton system. He subsequently created Interact Inc, together with his fellow faculty members. Thus, he could retain his freedom of thoughts, creativity and was freed from the bureaucratic hassle. Thanks to generous support from some major corporations and a steady flow of consulting assignments he could continue his academic work and doctoral programs.
Russ Ackoff came many times to Tällberg, always providing us with extraordinary insights and provocations. He made us understand that through systems analysis and the recognition of the true complexity of problems, you stand a much better chance to understand the dynamics that create the future. He was the first recipient of the Tällberg Leadership Award, that honours principled pragmatism.
Russ was an extraordinary storyteller. His lectures were breathtakingly witty and studded with anecdotes. Russ made us feel as smart as he was. He made us grow.
PS A memorial service will be organized on 12 February 2010 in Philadelphia.
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