Books: Home truths for the office

An octogenarian soothsayer lays down 81 laws for managers who aren't afraid of self-examination. Charles Handy soaks up the wit and wisdom of Russell Ackoff.

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.'

Focus groups or their equivalents can only provide reactions to existing products or policies. They are no substitute for true innovation. We know this but we still use consumer groups and surveys to boost our failing imagination.

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