January 2006



Thinking about the Future and Globalization
Forum 2006 keynoter, Dr. Russell Ackoff, discusses his thoughts on the issue of global development at the occasion of his receipt of the Tallberg Foundation / Swedbank Leadership Award.


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Book Review: Blink, by Malcom Gladwell


By: Dr. Russell L. Ackoff

This is a transcript of a speech originally given by Dr. Ackoff in Tallberg, Sweden on the occasion of his receipt of the Tallberg Foundation / Swedbank Leadership Award for Principled Pragmatism on August 3, 2005.

So much time is currently spent in worrying about the future that the present is allowed to go to hell. Unless we correct some of the world's current systemic deficiencies now, the future is condemned to be as disappointing as the present.

My preoccupation is with where we would ideally like to be right now. Knowing this, we can act now so as to constantly reduce the gap between where we are and where we want to be. Then, to a large extent, the future is created by what we do now. Now is the only time in which we can act.

I have found widespread agreement among governmental and organizational executives that their current state is more a product of what their organizations did in the past than a product of what was done to them. Therefore, our future state will be more a product of what we do now than of what is done to us.

If we don't know what state we would be in right now if we could be in whatever state we wanted, how can we possibly know in what state we would like to be in the future? Furthermore, statements of where we want to be in the future are usually based on forecasts of what the future will be. Such forecasts are inevitably wrong; we cannot identify all the significant changes that will occur in our environments between now and then.

It is for this reason that so many plans are never completely implemented; they are dropped when it becomes apparent that the forecasts on which they are based are false. I was once told by a public planner that only two percent of the public-sector plans produced in my country were ever completely implemented for this and other reasons.

Nevertheless, it is apparent that our current decisions are based on what we expect the relevant future to be. Obviously, we must do something about those aspects of the future that we cannot control but which can affect us significantly. But this should not be based on forecasts; it should be based on assumptions.

When forecasting addicts hear a statement such as this they think "Aha, gotcha! Assumptions are nothing but forecasts in disguise." They could not be more wrong. For example, we carry a spare tire in our cars because we assume a flat tire is possible, not because we forecast that one is going to occur on our next trip. In fact, one can easily show by examining our preparations for the next trip by automobile that we forecast implicitly that we will not have a flat tire on that trip. Forecasts are about probabilities; assumptions are about possibilities. We handle future possibilities differently than we handle future probabilities.

There are two nonexclusive ways of dealing with possibilities; contingency planning and developing responsiveness. In contingency planning we identify a set of (hopefully exhaustive) possibilities that would be costly not to anticipate if they came about, and prepare a plan to identify and respond to the correct possibility as early as possible. In World War II I participated in planning the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines. We had poor intelligence on the conditions we would encounter on landing. We identified a set of possibilities that we thought were exhaustive and prepared a landing plan for each. Then the commanding general selected the one he thought most likely. We had hardly hit the beach when it became apparent that the possibility he had selected was wrong. The plan was changed immediately. If this had not been done, I and many others would not be here today.

Making organizations able to respond rapidly and effectively to the unexpected is appropriate when we can't identify anything approximating all the possibilities. For example, when I drive from my home in Philadelphia to New York City, my getting there depends on what a large number of people do while driving their cars along the route I take. I do not try to forecast what I will encounter because I believe I can react rapidly and effectively to whatever confronts me. Design of a theater's stage does much the same thing. The designer cannot anticipate all the scenes the stage will have to accommodate, but he can design a stage so flexible that it can accommodate virtually any set that a producer wants to put on it.

Some, if not many, aspects of the relevant future are subject to our control. For example, a municipal government can control land use by zoning ordinances. It can control the availability of publicly owned utilities. It can control traffic, and so on. In addition it can influence much of the behavior it cannot control. The prices it sets on publicly provided services influence their use. Taxation influences savings and expenditures. Financial aid influences attendance at universities, use of medical facilities, and so on.

There are two types of control: control of causes and control of effects. For example, we can use DDT to destroy mosquitoes bearing yellow fever and thereby avoid an epidemic of this disease. On the other hand we can avoid an epidemic by immunizing people against yellow fever. Where we cannot prevent negative effects we may be able to reduce them. For example, we cannot prevent earthquakes but we can build buildings that will not crumble when one occurs.

It should also be noted that many of those relevant aspects of the future that we cannot control or influence may, nevertheless, be subject to control or influence if we and others collaborate. For example, sanctions unilaterally imposed by one nation on another may have little effect; but the same sanctions imposed by a number of nations may have a considerable effect. The same is true of measures to reduce or eliminate environmental pollution.
So much for how I believe we should think about the future- we should do so by focusing on the present and the gaps between where we are and where we want to be now, ideally. We can then march into the future redefining those gaps as we and our environments change, and by closing or reducing them.

Now let me focus on what I believe to be the major gaps between where we collectively are and where we would most like to be...[click here to continue]

Dr. Russell L. Ackoff is the Anheuser Busch Professor Emeritus of management science at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Ackoff has authored over 20 books and 250 articles, and has conducted research for more than 300 corporations and government agencies.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Review by: Austin Kim

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Author: Malcom Gladwell
Publisher: Little, Brown
Length: 288 pages

You have four decks of cards face-down in front of you- two decks are red and two decks are blue. Your job is to select a card, one at a time. Each time you turn over a card it has a number on its face which is the amount of money you either win or lose. After about 50 cards, most people start getting a hunch that its better to pick cards from the blue deck. After about 80 cards, most people can also explain why- the blue deck provides steady positive payouts, while the red deck has some big payouts combined with some very big negative payouts. This is exactly how University of Iowa's researchers stacked the payouts in these experimental decks.

Now let's hook some new players up to a polygraph machine that measures the amount of sweat on the palms and watch them play this experiment for the first time. Within only 10 cards, the researchers found that players developed an unconscious sweat reaction (a stress reaction) when they reached for the red cards, but not the blue cards. This is 40 cards before the players even began to suspect that the blue cards had better payouts than the red ones. Forty cards before their conscious minds realized it, their unconscious thinking had come to some very accurate conclusions.. That's what Malcom Gladwell calls "thinking without thinking," which is the premise of his latest page-turner, "Blink."

At the intersection of science, sociology, and life experience, Gladwell takes us on another adventure into the sort thinking we don't usually call thinking, but as he abley demonstrates through several real-world examples, this kind of thinking (Gladwell calls it "thin-slicing") can have interesting and sometimes disturbing implications. Its a highly accessible book written in the page-turning style that has rocketed Gladwell's latest books to the same heights as his previous bestseller, "The Tipping Point." This is a highly recommended book for all audiences.

Buy this book NOW at Powell's Books and help support the In2:InThinking Network!


FORUM 2006!

Daring to Explore:
Creating Possibilities

March 30 - April 4*, 2006
Los Angeles, CA

Online registration opens on February 1.

*Now with a recently added post-conference workshop, "Enterprise Thinking," April 3-4 taught by Bill Bellows.



Visit our website to order DVDs of the conference sessions.

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  • After performing at the In2:InThinking Network's Forum 2005, musical group On Ensemble set to work on its first studio-recorded album, "Dust and Sand". That album is now available and features Gengakki, the gentle koto piece performed at the conference's Saturday dinner, as well as On Ensemble's more rocking taiko drumming.


  • The Ongoing Discussion for January will feature Dr. Russ Ackoff, upcoming Forum 2006 keynoter, discussing the future, globalization and his most recent book, Beating the System. Two hour conference calls will be held on January 25th and 26th. For call-in information, contact bill@in2in.org
  • The Deming Institute will be hosting its 12th Annual Research Seminar in New York City on February 13th and 14th. More information can be found on their website.

We are always looking for news, ideas, letters, reviews of books and conferences, short articles on original research, and suggestions for future issues. Please send these and other comments to newsletter@in2in.org or visit our new discussion board at the Online cafe.