Russell Ackoff gave a lecture on Systems Thinking.

He described it as understanding the interdependent nature of any system.

As he puts it: “A system is not just the sum of its parts, it’s a product of their interaction.”

He gives several examples of systems thinking, one is a car.

A car is made up of many parts: engine, steering, transmission, seats, etc.

But none of these parts can do the job of the car on its own.

The job of the car is to get from point A to point B, and you need all these parts working together to do that.

The engine on its own can’t do that, neither can steering, or transmission or seats.

To do the job of a car you need all the parts working together.

Take another system, the human body: heart, lungs, stomach, pancreas, etc.

The job of the human body is to live, but none of these parts can do the job of living on their own, they need to work together.

Ackoff says that where we mainly go wrong is trying to improve a system by considering individual parts without considering the whole.

Take the car, if we wanted to build the best car in the world we might decide to start by seeing which cars have the best features.

Then we might take the engine from a Rolls Royce, the transmission from a Mercedes, the batteries from a Buick, and so on.

And we will have a collection of the best car-parts in the world.

But if we then tried to put them all together to make the best car in the world, it wouldn’t work, because they wouldn’t fit.

They wouldn’t fit because they hadn’t been designed to work together.

So, far from being the best car in the world, they wouldn’t even do the basic job of a car.

As Ackoff says: “When a system is taken apart it loses its essential property”.

He says this is the main flaw people make when trying to improve any business, they

try to improve one part without considering how it effects the entire system.

This is certainly applicable to advertising and marketing.

The strategy and media departments have seen massive growth, so much that they are now dominant and the system is completely unbalanced.

Ackoff says this is what happens when we confuse efficiency with effectiveness.

He quotes Peter Drucker: “Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things”.

So with advertising we are more efficient at placing more advertising in more channels at a faster rate than ever before.

But at the same time, consumers say the quality of the advertising is worse than it’s ever been, so we’re not effective.

This is because we’ve ignored the system by concentrating on individual parts.

Just like putting an oversized engine in a tiny car would give us enormous power but no means of controlling the result.

The creative department has been reduced to the level of an in-house studio because we haven’t developed it at the same rate as media or planning.

We’ve forgotten the job of advertising and consequently ignored the system as a whole.

The job of advertising is to deliver information that makes consumers aware of the benefits of our product, so simply isolating an emotional category-generic won’t do that.

And delivering that message at a greater rate than ever before won’t do that, either.

The message needs to be impactful, informative, and correctly attributable.

All of those attributes can only be realised by the creative department.

Like every system, from a football team to an aeroplane, everything has to work together or you haven’t got a system.