Management f-Laws: How Organisations Really Work

The book was the brainchild of the late Russ Ackoff. Russ hated to be called a guru but he was up there in the same league of Peter Drucker and the other great management thinkers. He was Professor Emeritus of the Wharton School, he wrote many books on Management Systems and is high in the list of the World’s Top Business Brains.

The intention behind the book is to reveal some truisms about management and organisations in a fun but insightful way. The combination of perspectives: male and female, American and British make for an interesting and entertaining read. Here’s what the publisher, Triarchy Press say about the book:

“Sally Bibb, author of The Stone-Age Company and co-author of the award-winning Trust Matters, gives her own feisty responses to Ackoff and Addison’s bad laws or f-laws. Sally is a Young Turk, a self-confessed pioneer of good practice.

The conversation between the authors is funny and wise and brings a light touch to the debate on change. Insisting that understanding the status quo is what makes change possible, the book will be a great gift for anyone who has experienced the frustration of working in a hierarchical management structure.”

Reviews of Management f-Laws

“This book is fun – not something one can often say about a management book. It’s also a compact piece of distilled wisdom. That’s because it has its origins in the fertile mind of Russ Ackoff. He has been studying, advising and working with organisations of all sorts for more than 60 years and is world-renowned for his work on systems thinking – the idea that the whole is more than the parts and that any changes to one part of the system will have repercussions on others. Obvious stuff, perhaps, but incredibly important. It’s the same with this little book. Many of the 81 f-Laws are obvious when you think about them, but are too often ignored or neglected. Yet they matter. Take No. 4, for instance: ‘There is no point in asking customers, who do not know what they want, to say what they want.’ …Eighty-one f-Laws cannot be assimilated in one sitting. Skim it, if you like, and raise the odd wry smile of rueful recognition. Or undergo a self-examination course. Take each f-Law in turn and ask yourself how it applies to you, to  your role in the organisation and to your organisation as a whole. Do it seriously and you might learn a lot. But the book might be best used as the basis for a serious conversation with colleagues. There is truth at the heart of all the laws, and it will be best dragged out in discussion, perhaps as one f-Law at a time.”
Charles Handy

“Reading Russell Ackoff’s slim new volume, Management f-Laws, is like being pricked by a series of delayed electric shocks. At first glance and on their own, the book’s 81 short aphorisms, paradoxes and put-downs seems nothing special. The first shock comes as the implication sinks in, followed by a chain-reaction of secondary ones as the first implication interacts with subsequent ones, until shocks are going off all over and you are left in no doubt that you are in the presence of one of the profoundest and wittiest brains ever to engage with the bizarre human activity called management.”
Simon Caulkin — The Observer

“If you ever need a reality check after stumbling out of some appalling management meeting, or just need cheering up on a long business trip, this is the book for you. Just about every myth or pompous delusion about management gets punctured in the course of 160 feisty pages.”
Stefan Stern — The Daily Telegraph

“It is always exciting to meet a real subversive, especially when he (or she) is old and wise. Russell Ackoff was in London the other day to launch a new book and he fits all the categories. He is 88 and simply bubbles with ideas about what’s wrong with the way business works. His new book is all about the F-Laws, uncomfortable truths about the (mistaken) way most organisations are run. The flaws come from decades of repeated management mistakes and conventional business teaching.”
Peter Day — BBC

“The ancient laws of management suck. And in this unique little book, Russ and Sally have a go at assessing them, dismissing them and revealing them for what they are – a hindrance to good business, and something that we can have a good chuckle about.”
Dan Germain — Group Head of Brand, Innocent Drinks

“Long ago, Shakespeare wrote The Comedy of Errors. Now, Russell Ackoff and Herbert Addison, with astute commentary by Sally Bibb, write with compelling wit about the errors found in the usual practice of management. In this aptly labeled tome, Management f-LAWS, using a wonderfully readable style, laced with humor and irony, the three writers skewer many conventional behaviors and practices prevalent in today’s management. But do not be deceived, there is much, much more here than the piercing of sacred cows. The book is an instructive gem that should be required reading for anyone interested in effective management.”
Sheldon Rovin — Emeritus Professor at Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania

“We came to expect thought-provocation and wit from this ground-breaking intellectual and prolific writer whose two most cited and serious academic papers are titled ‘the future of operational research is past’ and ‘management misinformation systems’. It is fitting that Ackoff once again applies his exceptional gift to reduce complex phenomena to their bare essentials. A life-time of thinking about management and experiencing its arcane rituals is summarized in the form of 80+ f-LAWS, making for very entertaining reading. But make no mistake: this is a fun way of going about serious work. Each of the laws hits hard on common sins of management, and should be taken by the reader very personally as a stimulus to think ‘out of the box’ about what really matters. Thoughtful commentary by Sally Bibb can be used to jump-start one’s own reflections.  Law 45 states that ‘all work and no play is a prescription for low quantity and quality of outputs’. I therefore recommend that each corporate meeting  start with the collective reading of one f-LAW. Alternatively, the very-busy-executive-with-no-time-left-to-spare  could keep this book in the restroom – an important accoutrement of executive  life according to f-LAW 22 – declare reading it to be work, and be proud  of adding another few minutes to the productive work-day. Either way, this  book is a must.”
Dr. Wladimir M. Sachs — Affiliate Professor  at CERAM Sophia-Antipolis and Visiting Professor at Leiden University School  of Management

“This book offers profound thoughts in digestible bites. It is easy to read and entertaining, yet full of wisdom. How much better our organizations would be if managers could really learn these lessons!”
Michael C Jackson — Professor of Management Systems and Dean of Hull University Business School

“Wit and wisdom in small doses on the deep rooted abuse of hierarchical power. It takes a Russ Ackoff to unveil myths and illusions of this kind.”
Göran Carstedt — Vice chairman, Learning Lab Denmark and Managing Director, the Society of Organizational Learning (SoL-network), Cambridge, Massachussetts, USA. Formerly President, Volvo Cars and President, Ikea Europe

“Diverse views are a great antidote to blinkered thinking and they can be seen in this book – across the generations, across the Atlantic and across the gender divide. It is a perfect example of complementary dialogue, a resource we ought to see used a lot more in organizations. As long ago as 1993, Russ came up with the idea of a corporate jester. In his column in the journal Systems Practice, he wrote: ‘Medieval royal courts had court jesters who unfortunately disappeared even when the courts remained. They should be reincarnated and placed in corporate courts … Corporate jesters must be able to ask questions that others either have not thought of, or dared to ask. In addition, they must be able to provide answers that are not expected, even by the ‘kings’ before whom they perform.’ So, corporate royalty, wherever you are, please read this book, learn its lessons and act on them, if you wish your kingdoms to endure.”
Gerard Fairtlough — Former CEO, Shell Chemicals U.K and CEO, Celltech

“The small book is a delightful, if occasionally painful, read that makes it clear there are no magic formulas or simple solutions. But when confronted with the inherent uncertainty of their job, managers will still look for something simple to work some magic.”
Leon Gettler — The Age, Melbourne