AckoffWith a view to the writing of a forthcoming article I have been revisiting systems theory and the thought and writings of the late Russell Ackoff (picture) in particular. I would encourage anybody who works in or with any sort of organisation to familiarise her- or himself with systems theory. Here, as an appetiser, are just a few of Ackoff’s nuggets of wisdom. Improving the performance of some parts of a system will not necessarily improve the performance of the whole. Problems are, by their nature, trans-disciplinary (put another way, reality is not ‘structured and organised in the same way universities are’). The best thing that can be done to a problem is to dissolve it (rather than solve it). Most systems are, in reality, pursuing objectives other than the ones they proclaim. ‘It is much better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right, because when errors are corrected, it makes doing the wrong thing wronger but the right thing righter.’ Educational systems are not dedicated to producing learning by students, but teaching by teachers – and teaching is a major obstruction to learning.’ (My son loves that one!) ‘The principal function of most corporations is not to maximise shareholder value, but to maximise the standard of living and quality of work of those who manage the corporation.’ ‘Corporations tend to collect activities that they do not have the competence or even the inclination to run well. They also tend more to adversarial relationships with employees, and to encourage competition between parts of the corporation and conflict with competitors.’ In the same vein, the late, great Peter Drucker once pointed out that there is more competition within corporations than between them, and the internal kind tends to be less ethical. Recognising the truth of such observations is one thing, reforming organisations to avoid such traps is another.