Russell L. Ackoff

February 12, 1919 – October 29, 2009

Brief Biography

Ackoff Presidential Gallery Photo

Russell Ackoff was an important early proponent of the field of operations research, and remained a tireless advocate for an expansive vision of what the field could be. Ackoff was raised in Philadelphia during the Great Depression. He enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in 1937 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. His graduate studies in philosophy were interrupted by the Second World War, during which he served in the Fourth Armored Division prior to moving on to Officer Candidate School. Afterward, Ackoff returned to Penn and resumed his study of philosophy under C. West Churchman. Churchman and Ackoff were both adherents to the "experimentalism" of the philosopher Edgar A. Singer, Jr., a doctrine dedicated to identifying proper scientific procedure.

In the immediate postwar years Churchman and Ackoff worked to bring experimentalism into practice by establishing "institutes of experimental method." Churchman and Ackoff moved to Wayne State University in Detroit in 1947, and in 1951 to the Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, now part of Case Western Reserve University. There they wedded their philosophical vision to the new field of operations research, and created one of the first academic programs dedicated to the subject. Ackoff was a founding member of the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA), and served the organization as its fifth president. With Churchman and their colleague Leonard Arnoff, Ackoff was also an author of Introduction to Operations Research (1957), the field's first textbook written as such.

In 1964 Ackoff relocated the Case OR department to the Wharton School at Penn, where it merged with an existing statistics department. Throughout his time in OR, Ackoff insisted on working on practical problems of management, and maintained ongoing relationships with a number of clients, including Anheuser-Busch, which he collaborated with for decades. Ackoff resisted the confinement of his work to any particular methodology, and remained deeply concerned with problems of ethics and social responsibility. Because OR had become increasingly defined by its mathematical methdology, Ackoff became disillusioned with the subject, and turned instead to what he called Social Systems Science. In the 1970s he would sever his relationship with OR altogether, declaring the field dead.

While Ackoff struggled to exert an influence on the American OR profession, he had more success overseas, and particularly in the United Kingdom. In the early 1960s he influenced the first OR program in Britain at the University of Lancaster, and maintained a close relationship with British proponents of "soft" OR. After Ackoff retired from the Wharton School in 1986, he founded the Institute for Interactive Management (INTERACT), through which he continued his consulting and academic work. His life's work was widely lauded, and he was honored as one of twenty-three members of the International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS) Hall of Fame. He died in 2009 at the age of ninety.

Other Biographies

Profiles in Operations Research: Russell L. Ackoff
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Wikipedia Entry for Russell L. Ackoff

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Portrait Gallery: Russel Ackoff. Accessed December 28, 2014. (link)

Kirby M, Rosenhead J (2005) IFORS' Operational Research Hall of Fame: Russell L. Ackoff. International Transactions in Operations Research 12: 129-134 (link)


University of Pennsylvania, BA 1940

University of Pennsylvania, PhD 1947 (Mathematics Genealogy Project)


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS


Systems Thinking

Application Areas

Oral Histories

Ackoff R (2001) Interview by Phyllis Haynes. Studio 1 Network. (see embedded YouTube video below)


Memoirs and Autobiographies


Ackoff R. L. (2010) Memories. Triarchy Press: Devon, United Kingdom. 

Ackoff, R. L.  (1999) On Passing Through 80.  Proceedings Russell L. Ackoff and the Advent of Systems Thinking, Viilanova University  March 4-6,1999 32-36 (link)

Ackoff, R. L.  (1999) A Lifetime of Systems Thinking.  Systems Thinker (link


(2009) Memories of Russ Ackoff. OR/MS Today, 36(6). (link)

The Economist (2009) How to change the System, in praise of the ideas of Russ Ackoff. November 3. (link)

The Huffington Post (2009) Russel Ackoff, 'Einstein of Problem Solving,' has died. October 31. (link)

Wilson J. M. (2010) Obituary: Russell L Ackoff Journal of the Operational Research Society 61(3): 713. 


Russell Lincoln Ackoff Systems Thinking Library, c/o Organizational Dynamics Graduate Program, University of Pennsylvania, Alan Barstow, Director  (link)

Awards and Honors

UK's Operation Research Society's Silver Medal 1971

George E. Kimball Medal 1975

UK Systems Society Gold Medal 1995 

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2002

International Federation of Operational Research Societies' Hall of Fame 2005

Professional Service

Operations Research Society of America (ORSA), President 1956

Selected Publications

Ackoff R. L. (1952) Some New Statistical Techniques Applicable to Operations Research. in The Journal of the Operations Research Society of America, 1(1): 10. 

Ackoff R. L. (1954) Statistics in Operations Research and Operations Research in Statistics. McCloskey J. F. & Trefethen F. N., eds. in Operations Research for Management, 117-133. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore. 

Ackoff R. L., Arnoff E. L., & Churchman C. W. (1957) Introduction to Operations Research. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Ackoff R. L. (1961) Progress in Operations Research, Volume I. Wiley: New York.

Ackoff R. L. & Rivett P. (1963) A Manager’s Guide to Operations Research. Wiley: New York.

Ackoff R. L & Sasieni M. (1968) Fundamentals of Operations Research. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Ackoff R. L. (1970) A Concept on Corporate Planning. Wiley-Interscience: New York.

Ackoff R. L. & Emery F. E. (1972) On Purposeful Systems: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Individual and Social Behavior as a System of Purposeful Events. Aldine-Atherton: Chicago.

Ackoff R. L. (1973) Science in the Systems Age: Beyond IE, OR, and MS. in Operations Research Quarterly 21(3), 661-671.

Ackoff R. L. (1974) The Social Responsibility of Operations Research. in Operations Research Quarterly 25 (3), 361-371.

Ackoff R. L., Addison H. J., & Bibb S. (2007) Management f-Laws. Triarchy: Devon, United Kingdom. 

Additional Resources

Ackoff, R. (1994) The Difference Between "Continuous Improvement" and "Discontinuous Improvement". The Learning and Legacy of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Lecture. (link)

Ackoff, R. (1995) Beyond Continuous Improvement. Video, May 2. College of Business Administration at the University of Cincinnati. Lecture. (link