Blog, Business, Crisis Management

Facing Up to Reality: It’s a Mess!

Originally posted June 15th, 2016 on the Huffington Post

In 1979, in a highly critical speech—“The Future of Operational Research Is Past”—that he gave to the Operations Research Society of America, of which he was one of the early founders and past presidents, the late social systems’ theorist Russell L. Ackoff appropriated the word “mess” to stand for a whole system of problems that were so intertwined that one couldn’t take any problem out of the mess and study it independently of all the other problems to which it was connected. In short, to treat problems as if they were independent was not only to distort their “true nature,” and thereby to make their solution impossible, but also to make the mess as a whole unmanageable:

“…Managers are not confronted with problems that are independent of each other, but with dynamic situations that consist of complex systems of changing problems that interact with each other. I call such situations messes. Problems are abstractions extracted from messes by analysis; they are to messes as atoms are to tables and chairs. We experience messes, tables, and chairs; not problems and atoms.

“Because messes are systems of problems, the sum of the optimal solutions to each component problem taken separately is not an optimal solution to the mess. The behavior of a mess depends more on how the solutions to its parts interact than on how they act independently of each other.”

The following chain not only shows what we are up against, but it illustrates the “nature of the New Reality.” Each of the components is not only a mess in itself, but all of them are linked together. As such, they constitute A General Mess. One cannot solve anyone of them without solving all of them in concert. More accurately, one cannot cope with any of them without coping with all of them in concert.

The Sustainability Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Global Warming/Climate Change Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Renewable Energy Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Middle East Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction Messes, which cannot be

tackled without tackling

The Fundamentalism and Corruption Messes, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Poverty Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Crime Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Racism Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Education Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Income Distribution Gap Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Unemployment Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Global Financial Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The European Union Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Aging Population Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Social Security Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Health Care Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Washington Political Mess, which cannot tackled without tackling the

The Media (failure of the fourth estate) Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Capitalism Mess, which cannot be tackled without tackling

The Sustainability Mess.

Thus, the whole cycle of messes repeats itself again and again.

Name one public figure if you can who acknowledges that all of our problems are parts of a mess.

Before one can attack a problem, it’s absolutely necessary to understand its true nature.

(I wish to credit Murat Alpaslan for first formulating the General Mess.)

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