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Doing, not-doing; errors of commission, errors of omission

Should we do, or not-do?  Russell Ackoff, over many years, wrote about (negative) potential consequences:

There are two possible types of decision-making mistakes, which are not equally easy to identify.

  • (1) Errors of commission: doing something that should not have been done.
  • (2) Errors of omission: not doing something that should have been done.

For example, acquiring a company that reduces a corporation’s overall performance is an error of commission, as is coming out with a product that fails to break even. Failure to acquire a company that could have been acquired and that would have increased the value of the corporation or failure to introduce a product that would have been very profitable is an error of omission  [Ackoff 1994, pp. 3-4].

Ackoff has always been great with turns of phrases such as these.  Some deeper reading evokes three ideas that may be worth further exploration:

  • 1. Doing or not-doing may or may not invoke learning.
  • 2. Doing or not-doing invokes implicit orientations on time.
  • 3. Doing or not-doing raises question of (i) changes via systems of willful action, and/or (ii) changes via systems of non-intrusive action.

These three ideas, explored in sections below, lead us from the management of human affairs, beyond questions of science, and into question of philosophy.

For those interested in the history of philosophy and science, the three ideas above are followed by an extra section:

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Should we do, or not-do?  Russell Ackoff, over many years, wrote about (negative) potential consequences:

There are two possible types of decision-making mistakes, which are not equally easy to identify.

  • (1) Errors of commission: doing something that should not have been done.
  • (2) Errors of omission: not doing something that should have been done.

For example, acquiring a company that reduces a corporation’s overall performance is an error of commission, as is coming out with a product that fails to break even. Failure to acquire a company that could have been acquired and that would have increased the value of the corporation or failure to introduce a product that would have been very profitable is an error of omission  [Ackoff 1994, pp. 3-4].

Ackoff has always been great with turns of phrases such as these.  Some deeper reading evokes three ideas that may be worth further exploration:

  • 1. Doing or not-doing may or may not invoke learning.
  • 2. Doing or not-doing invokes implicit orientations on time.
  • 3. Doing or not-doing raises question of (i) changes via systems of willful action, and/or (ii) changes via systems of non-intrusive action.

These three ideas, explored in sections below, lead us from the management of human affairs, beyond questions of science, and into question of philosophy.

For those interested in the history of philosophy and science, the three ideas above are followed by an extra section:

Read more (in a new tab)
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    • 1969, 1981 Emery, System Thinking: Selected Readings
      Social Systems Science graduate students in 1970s-1980s with #RussellAckoff, #EricTrist + #HasanOzbehkhan at U. Pennsylvania Wharton School were assigned the Penguin paperback #SystemsThinking reader edited by #FredEEmery, with updated editions evolving contents.
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      It's been challenging to find sources that specifically define two-word phrases -- i.e. "systemic change", "systematic change", "systems change" -- as opposed to loosely inferring reductively from one-word definitions in recombination. MartinReynolds @OpenUniversity clarifies uses of the phrases, with a critical eye into motives for choosing a specific label, as well as associated risks and […]
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