This article is a few years old, but there’s so much good stuff in here I’m thinking I should post it every other week for the rest of my life. Seriously, with all the talk lately about how you need to be careful of people who hold themselves out as Social Media Experts, Russ’s words are even more impactful.
This October Russ will have been gone for a year. I’m willing to bet I speak for a lot of people when I say he is sorely missed. He is surely not forgotten. Read the whole article; then get the book f-Laws.
Anti-guru of joined-up management
Published: 12:01AM GMT 08 Feb 2007
If you were asked to picture what a management guru should look and sound like, you might come up with a description of someone very like Russ Ackoff. Grey-haired, distinguished, softly spoken, Ackoff fits the bill. And also, since he turns 88 on Monday, he can claim the benefit of wisdom earned over the course of six decades studying and working with businesses and organisations.
Except, of course, that “guru” is not a label that Ackoff is keen to accept.
“A guru produces disciples, and a discipline, and a doctrine,” he says. “If you are a follower of a guru, you don’t go beyond his thoughts, you accept his thoughts. He gives you the questions and the answers – it’s an end to thought. An educator is exactly the opposite,” he says. “You take off where he sets you up for the next set of questions. One is open-ended, the other is closed. Most consultants are gurus. They are ‘experts’, not educators.”
So please don’t refer to Ackoff’s body of work as gurudom and please don’t describe his work with clients as management consulting.
“We don’t call it consulting,” he states firmly. “We make a distinction between consulting and being an educator. A consultant goes in with a solution. He tries to impose it on a situation. An educator tries to train the people responsible for the work to work it out for themselves. We don’t pretend to know the way to get the answer.”
In his distaste for gurudom, Ackoff is of a mind with his old friend and colleague, the late Peter Drucker. Drucker famously once observed that the only reason people called him a guru was that they did not know how to spell the word “charlatan”.
“Peter Drucker made a great distinction between doing things right and doing the right thing,” Ackoff says. “All of our social problems arise out of doing the wrong thing righter. The more efficient you are at doing the wrong thing, the wronger you become. It is much better to do the right thing wronger than the wrong thing righter! If you do the right thing wrong and correct it, you get better.”