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Monday, 18 January 2010

The Late Great Professor Russell Lincoln Ackoff

I had already prepared today’s blog but last evening I listened to “In Business” on BBC Radio 4 and changed my mind. Peter Day, the presenter, had interviewed Professor Ackoff in 2007 and following the Professor’s recent death at the age of 90, parts of the interview were repeated.

Russell Ackoff was an articulate and contentious individual with very strong views, especially on the role of business schools and on education in general. Kenneth and Will Hopper, in their brilliant book, The Puritan Gift, for which Professor Ackoff wrote the foreword, relate his reply to a question posed as to his opinion of the principal achievements of a business school education.

His reply was:

The first was to equip students with a vocabulary that enabled them to talk authoritatively about subjects they did not understand.
The second was to give students principles that would demonstrate their ability to withstand any amount of disconfirming evidence.
And the third was to give students a ticket of admission to a job where they could learn something about management.

To say the least, these answers did not endear him to the Wharton School faculty where he was Emeritus Professor of Management Science.

In the excellent interview, Ackoff mentions the route from information, through knowledge to intelligence (see my last posting). However, he expands the process to make it data, through knowledge to understanding and then to wisdom. If we can achieve that, then our travels through the maze of management will be made far smoother.

You can get the programme on a podcast (in the UK at least) from
www.bbc.co.uk/radio4 and it is a fascinating insight into a brilliant mind The thoughts of the late Russell Lincoln Ackoff, Professor Emeritus Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, deserve to be far better known.

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