Doesn’t it strike you as odd,” he said, “that the three most important contributions this laboratory has ever made to telephonic communications were made beofre any of you were born? What have you been doing?” he asked. “I’ll tell you,” he said. “You have been improving the parts of the system taken separately, but you have not significantly improved the system as a whole. The deficiency,” he said, “is not your’s but mine. We’ve had the wrong research-and-development strategy. We’ve been focusing on improving parts of the system rather than focusing on the system as a whole. As a result, we have been improving the parts, but not the whole. We have got to restart by focusing on desiging the whole and then designing parts that fit it rather than vice versa. Therefore, gentlemen, we are going to begin by designing the system with which we would replace the existing system right now if we were free to replace it with whatever system we wanted, subject to only two not-very-restrictive constraints.
“First,” he continued, “let me explain why we will focus on what we want right now, not out five or ten years. Why? Because we know that where we say today we would like to be five years from now is not where we will want to be when we get there. Things will happen between now and then that will affect our goals and objectives. By focusing on what we want right now, we can eliminate that potential source of error.”
“Second, why remove practically all constraints? Because if we don’t know what we would do now if we could do whatever we wanted, how can we know what to do when we can’t do everything we want? If we knew what we would do with virtually no constraints, we could modify it, if necessary, to become feasible and adapt it to changing internal and external conditions as time goes on.”
“Now, here are the two constraints. First, technological feasibility. This means we cannot use any but currently available knowledge. No science fiction. We can’t replace the phone with mental telepathy. The second constraint,” he said, was that “the system we design must be operationally viable. What does that mean? Because we are not changing the environment, it means that the system must be able to function and survive in the current environment. For example, it will have to obey current laws and regulations.”
The vice president then said, “This group is too large to operate as a single group. Therefore, I am going to divide you into six subgroups of about six each, each with responsibility for a subsystem. Each group will select a representative to meet with other representatives at least once a week to discuss interactions. Let me explain.
“Each group will be able to design whatever it wants as long as it does not affect any other group’s design. If what a group wants to do does affect one or more other groups’ designs, it must get their agreement before it can be included in their design. I can tell you in advance,” he said, “that the groups will do little that does not affect other groups. At the end of the year,” he said, “I want to see one completely integrated system design, not six subsystem designs. I don’t even want to know what the individual teams came up with. Is that clear?” he asked.
Excerpt from Ackoff’s work.