b-school, Management, MBA, Thoughts

Russell Ackoff and his f-laws of management

Thinking about learning I happened to find about Russell Ackoff. Although he’d never label himself as a guru -he hates the term- he’s one of the greatest in Operations Research. And believe me, being great in Operations Research means having a crystal clear mind. (I promise, that course gave me a hard time)


Russell Ackoff is also one of these rare humans that seem to know about almost everything. So he focused on organisations too and began to write the f-laws. A f-law is a snippet of management reality, used a misguided one, but that belongs to the commonly accepted practice. Ackoff analyses them and challenges them, challenging in turn conventional wide established management wisdom.

In fact he focused so much on management that right now he teaches Management Science at Wharton and he is one of the world’s most influential business thinkers.

The idea is to challenge the way organisations really work through f-laws (should I say flaws?)

There’s a big book on f-laws, with co-author Addison, that can be bought right here.

And there’s also a small book of 13 selected f-laws. I reproduce them here because they are worth it.

  • The lower the rank of managers, the more they know about fewer things. The higher he rank of managers, the less they know about many things.
  • Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure.
  • There is nothing that a manager wants done that educated subordinates cannot undo.
  • The less sure managers are of their opinions, the more vigorously they defend them.
  • The more time managers spend trying to get rid of what they don’t want, the less likely they are to get what they do want.
  • A bureaucrat is one who has the power to say ‘no’ but none to say ‘yes’.
  • The legibility of a male manager’s handwriting is in inverse proportion to his seniority.
  • The less important an issue is, the more time managers spend discussing it.
  • The more important the problem a manager asks consultants for help on, the less useful and more costly their solutions are likely to be.
  • Managers cannot learn from doing things right, only from doing them wrong.
  • The amount of irrationality that executives attribute to others is directly proportional to their own.
  • There is no point in asking consumers – who do not know what they want – to say what they want.
  • Overheads, slides and power point projectors are not visual aids to managers. They transform managers into auditory aids to the visuals.

Any of them are worth a post and worth reflecting 🙂


3 thoughts on “Russell Ackoff and his f-laws of management

  1. What a great mind and a great pen Ackoff is! I posted some quotes of his on my blog . They are taken from a CQM article on management gurus. It is a good supplement to your post.

  2. Hey I’ve just visited your blog and we share many thoughts. I’ve also posted on Mintzberg a couple of times and read his book “Managers not MBA’s”. I think it’s very healthy to rethink why you do something, like an MBA, and how can you get the most of it 🙂

    BTW Ackoff wouldn’t like to be in an article under the “guru” header hehehe.

    Best regards and thanks for the comment 🙂

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