Dr. Russell Ackoff’s list of antisystemic (sub-optimising) methods – part 7/8 – dissecting Cognitive Therapy

This is part 7 of the series of blog posts that is elaborating on some of the methods in the list of managers’ panaceas [1], a list of anticipated antisystemic (sub-optimising) methods that Dr. Russell Ackoff brought up in the middle of the 1990s. Today’s blog post will dissect Cognitive Therapy.

Cognitive Therapy, CT [2], was developed by the American psychiatrist Aaron Beck [3] in the 1960s, and is today part of the larger group of Cognitive Behavioural Therapies, CBT [4], that all are problem-focused. CT is based on the cognitive model, which states that thoughts, feelings and behaviour are all connected, and CT can with different steps help the individual to recover from negative mental difficulties.

But, even if a method is successful in one area, does not mean that it can be widely used in other areas without sanity control. Especially when the area for the start consist of few agents and/or is sequential, and then are moved to areas with higher complexity, with many agents and innumerable interrelationships, as we already have seen failing examples of, for example this in earlier blog posts.

This also applies for CT, or CBT in general, since there is a big difference between problem-focused individual CBT treatment and problem-focused organisational CBT treatment. The former has root causes that can be tricky to find and are mostly out of control, but the latter have problems that are symptoms due to a bad system, which we have control of ourselves. And a bad system, we know how to treat with help of our set of principles and our Prefilled Problem Picture Analysis Map, derived by negating the principles.

A related organisational problem is regarding consultants within for example Organizational Psychology, or other consultation trying to change the employees to fit the system. These consultants are brought in to an organisation where people have bad performance. Instead of caring for the real problem, why the employees feeling demotivated, frustrated, unhappy, etc., the consultants try to cure the employees; a sickness that plagued American industry for decades after the second world war according to Deming [5]. And since the manager that has called for the performance issue also pays the money, the real problem is not understood or at least not looked for, and the plastering of the employees’ “problems” take place. Seldom this kind of consultation asks one single why the problem exist, and the sub-optimisation is a fact, a sub-optimisation that is very far from the actual root causes of the bad system. And this accepted behaviour is not awkward, since the companies are divided into many disciplines and the consultants are too, simply mirroring the companies. There is almost no systemical thinking, and definitely no systemical acting. And with the knowledge of our set of principles, we know that many symptoms are far from the root causes, especially when we are talking about culture, mindset, values, behaviour, etc.

So, in the case with CBT for organisations, it is really about plastering the symptoms, the root causes are never looked for. Which means that if the organisation is non-healthy due to that the system it is built on, is bad with many unsolved root causes, CBT cannot cure that. Maybe it will look like some positive effects have been reached short-term, but then only due to the Hawthorne effect [6]; someone cares about the workers, which can make them more happy and therefore more productive for a short while. The only possible way forward for an unhealthy organisation with unsolved root causes is to fulfil our set of principles, i.e., make the system better, and in that way achieve a healthy organisation. We simply need to focus on fulfilling our organisational principles, both for our people and for our activities. We must stop focusing on curing the individuals when our organisation, due to that it is mal-functioning, disrespects our own people in the end, as a consequence.

With Toyota’s motto “Respect for people” and their systemical thinking, they have already what is needed for their people to flourish.

Of course if a person already come into negative mental state, CBT can be needed also for individuals within an organisation. But, in an organisation, the root causes to people’s mindset, behaviour, values, etc. are within the system. This means that the root causes to the bad system need to be solved, so that the people in the organisation can flourish and the organisation be successful. If we instead do CBT on the organisation, we are only trying to plaster the soft symptoms of a bad system, meaning that CBT performed on an organisation is only antisystemic and therefore cannot work.

Regarding Cognitive Therapy in our Prefilled Problem Picture Analysis Map, it is already obvious that Cognitive Therapy is trying to optimise on the parts or layers, make people happier, which is once again very far from the root causes. This is how the sub-optimising areas will look like in our map:

As you can see above, trying to make people happier, is a sub-optimisation similar to the Learning Organization method, which is also trying to change the people.

Easy judgement.

Dr. Ackoff                                           Panaceas
6                               –                              0

This was all for today and in the next blog post we are going to dissect the next method in the list of managers’ panaceas; Groupware (or as we say today: Collaboration Software).

C u then.


[1] Ackoff, Dr. Russell Lincoln. Speech. “Systems-Based Improvement, Pt 1.”, Lecture given at the College of Business Administration at the University of Cincinnati on May 2, 1995.
The list at 03:30 min. Link copied 2018-10-27.

[2] CT. Wikipedia. Link copied 2018-12-25.

[3] Beck, Aaron Temkin. Wikipedia. Link copied 2018-12-25.

[4] CBT. Wikipedia. Link copied 2018-12-25.

[5] PQ Systems, Interview with Dr. Deming, “W. Edwards Deming – Rare Full-Length Interview – February 1984”, at Ford Motor Company 1984-02-29.
At 06:35: “In my estimate it will take three decades for the American industry to stabilize.”

[6] Hawthorne effect. Wikipedia. Link copied 2018-12-25

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