Systems Thinking for Curious Managers

Russell L. Ackoff | 2009

This gem of a book introduces the extraordinary world of systems thinking and its ‘Dean’, Russell L. Ackoff, to curious and enquiring managers, teachers, business people – anyone, anywhere who works in an organisation.

Finished just before Professor Ackoff’s death late in 2009, “Systems Thinking for Curious Managers” opens the door to a joined-up way of thinking about things that have profoundly influenced thinkers and doers in the fields of business, politics, economics, biology, and psychology.

Although Systems Thinking was ‘invented’ early in the 20th century, even the 1990 Peter Senge’s best-selling The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (Systems Thinking is the fifth discipline) failed to popularise the term.

But now, in business and academia, in the public sector and in the search for solutions to the environmental problems we face, systems thinking is being talked about everywhere. In the same way, it’s only since his death in 2009 that management thinker, writer and guru Russell Ackoff has achieved the reputation he deserves.

This timely book presents 40 more of Russ Ackoff’s famously witty and incisive f-Laws (or flaws) of business – following on from his 2007 collection “Management f-Laws”. In this collection, find out:

  1. Why is it better to dissolve a problem than solve it?
  2. The best place to begin an intellectual, strategic or planning ‘journey’.
  3. Russ Ackoff’s contribution to the discussion on how organisations can best bring about ‘continuous improvement’…
  4. … and his thoughts on benchmarking.
  5. The relationship between consensus and agreement… and how best to reach agreement.
  6. What makes a successful business author.
  7. And much more besides…

The book also includes:

  1. The 81 f-LAWS from the first collection (just the f-LAWS, not Russ’s commentary or Sally Bibb’s responses)
  2. An extended essay written by Andrew Carey (and edited and approved by Russ Ackoff) which presents a thumbnail sketch of Ackoff’s approach to Systems Thinking and Interactive Design and ties them in to his collection of f-LAWS. 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. Separate sections cover:
    • Systems Thinking in the Crossfire Definitions
    • The Feedback Loop
    • Tropisms
    • Self-Organisation
    • Interconnectedness
    • Equifinality
    • Events vs Systems
    • Parts vs the Whole
    • Mess
    • Analysis vs Synthesis
    • Failure to Learn
    • Change
    • Aims and Intentions
    • People

All those in this collection are new and previously unpublished. Andrew Carey’s extended introduction ties these f-Laws into the rest of Ackoff’s work and gives the reader new to Systems Thinking a practical guide to the implications of Systems Thinking for organisations and managers. The Foreword by Jamshid Gharajedaghi is a moving tribute from Ackoff’s friend and business partner of many years.


Ackoff, R, Addison, H and Carey, A  (2009) Systems Thinking for Curious Managers. Charmouth Dorset, United Kingdom: Triarchy Press.

Senge, P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. London: Random House UK.

Picture: © Jack Kruf (2021) System fibers. Breda: Private collection.

This publication is part of Ecosystem City: Lessons from the Forest