NB: I published this article sometime in 2010, around the time I accepted an early severance package from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and retired. It was published using WordPress’s old classic editor and didn’t render well any longer, so I’ve upgraded it to their current block editor format. This should explain why the date associated with it is May 16, 2023.
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.
Update (Thanksgiving, 2013) This post was originally published from www.telegraph.co.uk using Amplify, a curation service that no longer exists. Below is the excerpt as Amplify prepared it.
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.”
Read more at www.telegraph.co.uk (I don’t believe you can see the entire article without accepting a “free” monthly subscription, which you will have to cancel if you don’t want to be charged.)
This month will be 13 years since I retired from Rocketdyne. At the time it was owned by United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney division. When I first joined the organization in 1987 the mother ship was Rockwell International. Later it was sold to The Boeing Co. It is currently owned by Aerojet, but negotiations are continuing to complete its sale to L3Harris.
Throughout all these changes, which I have either experienced or watched somewhat closely from not too far, one thing has remained relatively constant. The quality of the people who work there. I believe I was privileged to work with some of the smartest, most competent people on the planet. After all, it WAS rocket science. To be more precise, Rocket Engine science.
Now, I’m neither an engineer, nor a scientist. I am not a machinist, technician, or mechanic. I had nothing to do with the actual design, manufacture, assembly, test, or flight of the rocket engines we manufactured and provided to NASA. Not directly, that is. An organization such as Rocketdyne cannot operate without ancillary functions to ensure lines of communication are robust and effective between and amongst each of the dozens of functions such an org needs and I am happy I was able to provide some of the skills and knowledge necessary to facilitate those connections.
When I left the company in May of 2010, I took home with me numerous mementos of my time there. These include printed editions of studies I played a major role in conducting, training materials for a tool I was the project manager for, internal awards I received, and other items that had some meaning for me. Today I once again came across this simple ticket. I’ve kept it all these years because it reminds me of one of my favorite people ever. Myrna Beth Thompson or, as we knew her, Beth.
She was one of the first people I met and became friends with when I joined the Program Office of the Space Shuttle Main Engine team. In an organization composed of very conservative people, she was another progressive I could relate to and she wasn’t shy about her beliefs. She was also kind, caring, empathetic, and always available to help anyone who needed it. Tragically, she died of a massive heart attack nine years ago this month.
The ticket is a prop from a class Beth championed and taught as part of our efforts to instill the concept of Systems Thinking into the heart of the organization for which we labored. It was based on Barry Oshry’s book, Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life. If I recall correctly, one of the concepts taught was that of the Abilene Paradox or, as many people refer to it, The Road to Abilene. You can read about it here. It’s understanding, however, is ancillary to my reason for posting this.
Beth has been gone nearly a decade. I don’t think of her often, much as I don’t think of my father, mother, and others who have passed on. But I’ve kept this simple little ticket all these years because it reminds me of her and our friendship. I can’t bring myself to part with it. I’m pretty sure it will be one of those things my children will unceremoniously dump when I am gone. It has absolutely no intrinsic value any longer. Its value is entirely dependent on my memories and my life. I consider that extremely valuable.
PS – In case you’re wondering, SSME stands for Space Shuttle Main Engine (the program we both worked on for many years) and O.E. stands for Organizational Excellence, one of the numerous efforts we indulged in over the years to improve how we did business. They were often spectacularly unsuccessful, but that’s another story.
In early 2009 I was privileged to spend a weekend with Dr. Russell Ackoff thanks to a friend and former colleague. I recall one incident where, while we were at Russ’s home, I mentioned my belief there was a similarity between the philosophy of dialectical materialism and the concept of systems thinking. As I recall, he was pretty upset with me for saying this. It’s stuck with me over the years.
Thanks to another friend on Facebook, I now have access to a set of AI tools, one of which is Google’s Bard. The other day, in an effort to test drive it, I proposed the following task and received the following reply:
Compare the philosophy of dialectical materialism as expressed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to the concept of systems thinking as expressed by Russell Ackoff and others.
• Dialectical materialism is a materialist philosophy that emphasizes the role of conflict and change in history.
• It is based on the idea that the world is constantly changing and evolving, and that this change is driven by the conflict between opposing forces.
• These opposing forces can be social, economic, or political, and they can be found at all levels of society, from the individual to the global.
• Dialectical materialism is a dynamic and evolving philosophy that has been used to explain a wide range of historical events, from the French Revolution to the fall of the Soviet Union.
• Systems thinking is a holistic approach to understanding the world that views it as a complex system of interacting parts.
• It is based on the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that it is impossible to understand any part of a system without understanding the system as a whole.
• Systems thinking has been used to understand a wide range of problems, from environmental degradation to economic inequality.
• Both dialectical materialism and systems thinking are complex and sophisticated philosophies that have been used to understand the world in different ways.
• Dialectical materialism is more focused on the role of conflict and change in history, while systems thinking is more focused on the holistic nature of the world.
• Both philosophies have their strengths and weaknesses, and they can be used to complement each other.
• Dialectical materialism can be used to explain how conflict between social classes leads to social change, while systems thinking can be used to understand how the different parts of a society interact with each other.
• By combining these two approaches, we can gain a more complete understanding of the world and how it works.
Not quite as in-depth as I would have liked, but it does kind of jive with my understanding of the overlap of the two outlooks.
If you live in Simi Valley, CA here are all the candidates you DON’T want to vote for. I live in City Council District 2 and School District D. Here are my thoughts on the candidates I can and will vote for, as well as most of their opponents.
IMLTHO, the fact that Mike Judge is endorsed by the SVPD says nothing good about the police or Judge. Judge is full of anger and hate and has accomplished little as a member of the City Council. His opponent, Sean Weisman, is young, intelligent, and full of fresh ideas. He’s also in tune with changes people like Judge won’t even acknowledge, e.g. climate change.
Fred Thomas’s focus is almost entirely on a “safe and family friendly community”, which I interpret as a dog whistle heavily skewed toward policing and the status quo. Joe Ayala is a forward thinking, long-time union member and negotiator. He supports working people and their struggles, as well as sensible approaches to our housing, water, and climate crises and how the City can lead in addressing these critical issues.
Don Brodt’s approach to education I find incomplete, as he puts parents and students first, with teachers as an afterthought. From a systems perspective, this is both short sighted and incomplete. Kristina Pine, OTOH, is both a teacher and a parent, with two children attending SVUSD schools. Her approach to education is holistic and realistic.
Jacqui Irwin and Julia Brownley are proven leaders and have represented our districts well, IMO.
I’m voting for Jacqui Irwin, Julia Brownley, Joe Ayala, Sean Weisman, and Kristina Pine. I hope you’ll follow me in doing so.
PS – I suspect most, if not all, of the candidates attending this forum are MAGA Republicans, which should tell you more than I can about their suitability to represent our entire community, not just the people they agree with. Choose wisely, fellow Simizens.
PPS – I forgot to mention Brian Dennert for Parks & Rec. Brian’s done a great job in his term as a Director. I have no doubt he’ll do even more if re-elected. I’m voting for him as well.
I’m beginning to think nobody (at least not progressives) should use the word “socialism” any longer. We should replace it with the word “humanism.” This way it’s easier to point to the most important distinction between the two. Capitalism is concerned with capital, i.e. profit/money/wealth/things. Humanism is concerned with humans. Capitalism exalts things over everything else unless there’s a huge regulatory environment seeking to ensure capitalists don’t overreach. Humanism exalts humans over things, and seeks to ensure everyone has the basic things (shelter, food, clothing, healthcare, education) to become a fully realized, contributing member of society.
I know humanism is used differently, but socialism has been saddled with this connotation of authoritarianism, and too many people don’t see the difference between economic systems and systems of governance. Using the word humanism puts emphasis on who we want to benefit from our economic activity … the pipples.
Alan Watts suggested that belief is stagnant and unyielding to change, whereas faith is open and accepting of what is. I often say I have faith the universe is unfolding just fine no matter what any of us believe. We are such insignificant little tubes of matter, constantly ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing stuff that isn’t us, then exhaling, excreting, and sloughing off that which once was us but is now something else. We exist for a moment, comparatively so brief as to be virtually non-existent to anything but our pitiful little selves. Calm down and enjoy the ride. As Jim Morrison said, “No one gets out of here alive.”
Corporations, conglomerates, and industrial organizations aren’t the enemy, ipso facto. In fact, they make socialism not only possible, but necessary, IMO.
What is the enemy is unbridled greed, rampant cronyism, nepotism and, especially, the codification of deep income inequality. It is not good for a society when individuals can amass fortunes they can’t possibly spend. That they then turn some of that fortune into philanthropy and charitable organizations doesn’t change the fact that it should be criminal for one individual to take that much surplus value from the workforce that made their fortune possible. It’s estimated Jeff Bezos makes (not earns) around $2,500/second. Dafuque does he do, other than own Amazon stock?
I’m not saying inventors, creators, entrepreneurs, etc. aren’t entitled to profit from their efforts, but they shouldn’t be able to continue siphoning profit off an organization that has reached a point where it could easily survive without them. By the same token, intellectual property law has expanded patent and copyright protections way beyond their original intent, creating other avenues of indecent profit-making.
And getting back to what I said about making socialism possible and necessary, without large profitable organizations, we’d all be living off mom & pop’s and craft-making. Many of the products we enjoy, and that provide the grease that skids civilization as we know it, would not be possible without large factories, laboratories, and other institutions. By their very nature, though, they transcend the control and direction of any one individual, and I believe our pay/profit structure needs to take that much more into consideration, providing a larger share to the workers who have helped make the org successful.
Just came across this in one of my FB groups and had to share it. It makes so much sense and, truth to tell, it never dawned on me to do this. I think we should all start making lists so we have a fuller understanding of what policies we would like to see implemented.
One of the ways I’ve been working on upping my writing game is by paying attention to what people are reading here on my blog so I might get an idea of what moves my readers. I have now posted well over six hundred times and about 90% of these posts are essentially essays regarding my thoughts about various things, e.g. politics, religion, life, the universe, and everything. The other 10% are tests and sharing things I’ve come across but have little to say about. I also occasionally have reason to look back myself, even if no one has recently read a particular post of mine I find interesting.
Because there have been many highly emotional news stories lately, and emotions are high to begin with, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the role of emotions and, especially, how they relate to empathy. Turns out I had written about empathy over eight years ago, long before Donald Trump’s presidency. Since the reality has hit us that he is entirely without empathy, I would like to share a concatenation of the two posts I wrote in late September of 2012. It’s my hope these two are as pertinent today as they were when I wrote them; perhaps more so because I was only writing then about my feelings and now what I wrote seems so pertinent to what we’re all experiencing in the waning days of this disastrous presidency.
The willing suspension of disbelief. What a powerful, magical, and exceedingly frightening thing it can be – at least for me. Not always, though. It’s been quite a while since my last venture into the genre but, a long time ago – in a galaxy far, far away – I read a lot of Science Fiction. Reading it can’t possibly be enjoyable if you aren’t able to suspend your ability to think critically. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of what many an author hated being called Sci-Fi.
I’m normally somewhat cynical and am a fairly skeptical person, so I’m continuously surprised at how easily I can get sucked into a compelling story, especially if the characters are even moderately complex. I think it actually frightens me to realize how deeply I have disappeared into many a television drama.
This tendency has no doubt been exacerbated by my becoming a father at the ripe old age of 55, when my wife and I culminated a decision we had made a couple of years earlier and traveled to the People’s Republic of China to adopt our first child. We repeated the process four years later and, at the tender age of 59, I once again became a new father.
I now find myself immersed in shows where children are involved (it happens far more often than one might think) and I can’t help but identify with the parents, which sometimes brings me to tears – occasionally racking sobs of grief.
It has always been this way. I’ve been told the men in my family – many of them – were blubberers. Though I couldn’t have been older than five or six at the time, I recall the first time I saw my father cry. He had just received news that my Bubbie Jennie, his mother, had died. He hadn’t seen much of her since moving to Southern California. She had remained in Chicago, where both my parents were born. It was eerie, and not a little unsettling to see my father, a young boy’s tower of strength and resolve, break down like that.
It was made more difficult because I had only met her once, when she came to visit for a week, and she was unfamiliar to me. On the other hand, my maternal grandparents lived with us and I felt a strong emotional tie to them I could not summon up for her. She was by Bubbie, though. My mother’s mother was just Grandma.
I frequently ask myself, however, why I am so deeply and painfully drawn into these stories. I’m not entirely certain I have the answer, but I’m pretty sure it’s not so much the story itself as it is the relationship those stories bear to my own life.
Dictionary.com defines empathy as follows: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. That seems pretty straight-forward, yes? I am a fairly empathetic person and I tend toward the second part of that definition, i.e. I feel the pain of others vicariously. However, I don’t think this captures the essence of what is happening when I am fully immersed in a story.
Perhaps it’s too fine a point and the distinction isn’t all that great, but it seems to me what’s really happening is I’m overlaying the experience in the story onto my own life. I’m not so much experiencing the feelings of another as I’m experiencing the feelings I would have were I to be in that situation. I don’t think they’re the same. Then again, maybe that’s the mechanism that actually facilitates empathy.
This is a minor conundrum that comes to me most every time it happens and, usually, I forget about it within a minute or two. Lately I decided to try and get a descriptive handle on it and this is my first attempt.
Empathy is a valuable and deeply human trait. It is one of the five traits listed as characteristic of emotional intelligence which, in turn, is seen by many as a valuable business and leadership skill. It’s important to understand and to cultivate in order that we may better understand the people in our lives, whether at work, play, or home.
I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.
As it turns out, thanks to a friend I discovered an interesting answer through a wonderful TED talk by VS Ramachandran, a Neuroscientist who has studied the functions of mirror neurons. It would seem there is overwhelming evidence we humans are more closely connected than I was hinting at.
In his talk he says, “There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.” I find this resonates in many ways with my understanding of Systems Dynamics, Quantum Theory, and Zen and goes a long way toward answering my question. Frankly I find it a meaningful addition to my understanding, but still find myself wondering why it manifests itself so powerfully in some . . . and not at all in others. After all, the world is filled with people who are anti-social in varying degrees of severity from mild conduct disorders to outright sociopathy or APSD.
Regardless, there is much value in this talk. He speaks of the wonders of the human brain and, with respect to the issues I raised yesterday, uses words like imitation and emulation, ultimately winding his way to empathy. Rather than repeat any of his talk, I urge you to listen to it. There’s at least one very cool surprise a little more than halfway through. At less than eight minutes, it’s really engaging. Here’s the video. I’d love to hear what others think of this:
It seems to me that anyone who really cares about their country, who is a genuine patriot, has to care for everyone. Life is NOT a zero-sum game, where the gains enjoyed by others are a loss to you and yours. No, life and human society are highly complex, interdependent systems where every part has a role to play, and when we don’t provide optimal conditions for the health and well-being of some of the parts, the whole body suffers. Would you want your car’s engine to go without one of its spark plugs? While it would still get you to where you were going, it wouldn’t do it as efficiently, nor as effectively. In the end, it would almost certainly cost more to deal with the results of an imbalance in the engine than it would to ensure all its components were kept in good working order.
Yet many approach life as though they are living on an island. It’s difficult to fathom the level of insensitivity, blindness to reality, and the callous lack of empathy it takes to turn one’s back on people who may not directly affect your life in a way you can feel immediately, but who nevertheless impact the organizations and institutions you deal with all the time.
For instance, by not ensuring all children receive healthcare, adequate nutrition, and early education, we ensure our up and coming workforce will be less prepared than they otherwise could be for the kinds of jobs that will be available in the near future. The net result is we not only handicap those children, we also handicap their families, their friends, and the entire nation. By guaranteeing they need more help for far longer than might otherwise be the case, we add to both their burden and ours.
We hobble ourselves with mistaken, outdated, unsupportable notions that give far more importance to diversity as a bad thing; as something that takes away from our sense of worth, of self. Instead of understanding, celebrating, and taking advantage of all the ways in which we complement and enhance each other, too many of us turn those virtues into imaginary vices and use them to divide and separate us. What a pity.
I retired nearly 13 years ago, though I've continued to work during most of the time since then. I'm hoping to return to work on the RS-25 rocket engine program (formerly the SSME) which will power our return to the moon. Mostly I'm just cruising, making the most of what time I have remaining.
Although my time is nearly up, I still care deeply about the kind of world I'll be leaving to those who follow me and, to that end, I am devoted to seeing the forces of repression and authoritarianism are at least held at bay, if not crushed out of existence.
I write about things that interest me and, as an eclectic soul, my interests run the gamut from science to spirituality, governance to economics, art and engineering. I'm hopeful one day my children will read what I've left behind.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.