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115Ackoff belated remembrance posting

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    Oct 29, 2010
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      R.L . Ackoff – a personal remembrance

      Many have noted the impact of Russell Ackoff on their careers.  I too was guided by his work and his comments over decades.  I first encountered his Corporate Planning  and Redesigning the Future books  through an independent study at Penn State –  my systems oriented advisor was already a fan.  My advisor informed me of the new program – S3 – at Penn.  On arrival I discovered a strong linkage with Eric Trist’s postwar work at Tavistock and so became a Trist student.  I continued to follow and appreciate Russ’s work, particularly in strategic planning.  I spent 30 years helping organizations craft strategy using a variation of idealized design while remembering his encouragement to pick an important subject to work on.

      We invited Russ to present his planning model to our health care strategy association in the early 1990s.  At an ISSS meeting, he came to my presentation and sat in the row directly in front of me, testing in the questions period  to see if I knew the central stakeholders in the VA Medical System.   A few years later I was invited to one of his Smeal  College Executive Education seminars (he asked me why I was not working… ).  And ,  I was a part of the multi-year implementation of his circular design  at the Penn State Medical Center.  He liked my 6 year evaluation paper of the project and said so directly. 

      I have been teaching at Penn State for nearly 28 years where I have implemented systems thinking education, writing up the experience formally in the mid 1990s (which he also liked - whew).  We have stayed in touch for nearly 30 years exchanging notes, holiday cards and his comments on my publications.  He even took the time to correct my use of his idealized design model in my new book, noting that even if I did not get it quite right I was free to make my own adaptation.    On one of our last exchanges he wanted to make sure I understood the difference between his model and my use in my strategy formulation projects over several decades.  My wife and I said hello at his book signing of Turning Learning Rightside Up.

      For my whole career he was and continues to be an inspiration and I am most grateful to have known him.   

       James  Ziegenfuss..  October 29, 2010