In praise of the ideas of Russ Ackoff

Posted 8 years ago by Adam Gautsch

Thanks to Aaron for linking to a very interesting article on the works of Russ Ackoff and his ideas of system thinking. You can start reading with this particularly nice thought and keep on for the rest of article:

The only profession that he believed had truly embraced systems thinking is architecture, where the design process starts by asking what sort of building is desired, and then works backwards to focus on what individual parts are required. An architect never starts by saying, “Here are the parts, what can I build from them?”

It's all good stuff.

And in case you were wondering, as I was, there seems to be a good collection of Russ Ackoff on Amazon.


Evan Tishuk ~ 8 years ago

Nice find!

I have always tended to be a top-down thinker. That is, I visualize what I intend to create and work backward from there. Top-down thinking feels more natural for me and can be more efficient because if something doesn't fit the intuitive blueprint, then it generally doesn't make it into the design. This way I can avoid frivolous or fruitless wastes of effort. That, of course, comes at the expense of exhaustive coverage of the landscape of ideas. Essentially, I have a heuristic brain that eventually crystallizes learning into a generalized understanding that endures. After that it's smooth sailing.

This trait did not serve me well when studying Computer Science (or, I imagine, anyone in an experimental science) which strongly favors and rewards a bottom-up approach. That is, “Here are the parts, what can I build from them?” The prerequisites for successfully employing bottom-up thinking are rigor, patience and critical thinking. I think I have adequate doses of those traits, but when compared to someone like Jimmy C...ehh, not so much.

The lesson? Top-down will generally accomplish 80%, and the other 20% requires serious bottom-up meticulousness. I suppose this is why architects need good engineers and vice versa.

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