In management, conventional thinking (conThink) says, “If you’ve got a problem, analyse it, identify critical events, see what went wrong, train the people involved so they don’t make the same mistake again, put better controls in place, avoid future failure”. Russ Ackoff and others introduced a completely thought-through alternative in the form of Design Thinking and Systems Thinking.
Here are some examples of conThink in action taken from Ackoff's Management f/Laws, along with his ideas of how to do it better:
F/Law #4 ~ There is no point in asking consumers (who do not know what they want) to say what they want.
Many new product and service introductions have been disastrous despite the extensive surveys conducted to show that there is consumer interest in, and intention to buy, such a product or service. These surveys have incorrectly assumed that most consumers know what they want.
Consumers can discover what they want in products and services by designing them. It is in design that people find what they want. Furthermore, consumer involvement in product/service design almost always gets creative results.
• A group of men designing their ideal men’s store found that they did not want the lowest price for clothing of a specified quality but the highest quality for a specified price. (They decided how much they were going to spend before going shopping.) They also wanted clothing arranged by size not type so they could go to one part of a store where all clothing in their size was gathered. (Because they disliked shopping, they waited until they wanted to buy several things before going shopping.) Finally, they wanted sales personnel to be available only when asked for.
F/Law #29 ~ The amount of time a committee wastes is directly proportional to its size.
The amount of useful output generated by a committee decreases as its size increases. Therefore, the optimal size of a committee is zero or less. Committee meetings are a very efficient way of sharing ignorance and prejudices.
The function of committees is not to make decisions but to delay their being made long enough to allow the issue involved to fade away. A committee is an instrument for managing by default.
The value of a committee is judged to be proportional to the length of time and amount of money it requires to come to no conclusion, and the length of the report on the way it got there. The length of the report is inversely related to the amount of information it contains.
Those who convene committee meetings (or any meetings) should be required to pay for the time of those who attend. This would not only make meetings more productive but it would reduce their number and duration.
F/Law #45 ~ The more managers focus on how hard their subordinates work, to the exclusion of how much they play, learn and are inspired on the job, the less productive their work is likely to be.
In the Renaissance, human activities were dissected into four categories: work, play, learning, and inspiration. The West then developed institutions where each of these could be engaged in to the exclusion of the others. Factories and business offices, for example, are designed for work, not for learning, fun, or inspiration. Country clubs are designed to provide fun, not work, learning, or inspiration. Museums and churches provide learning and inspiration but neither of the other two. Schools provide learning, but none of the other three.
The effectiveness of an activity and the joy that can be derived from it depends on the extent to which all four of these aspects of life are integrated. Therefore, ideal corporations, country clubs, schools, and museums would be distinguishable from each other only by their emphasis.
A few such corporations exist; very few.
This short introduction to Ackoff's thinking includes the text in brief (not the full explanation) of all his 120 f-LAWS PLUS an extended essay (edited by Russ Ackoff) with a thumbnail sketch of his approach to Design and Systems Thinking. For anyone new to Ackoff's work or simply looking for a handy introduction to Systems Thinking in organisations, this is the ideal starting point.