The life of OR
has been a short one. It was born here late in the 1930's. By the mid
60's it had gained widespread acceptance in academic, scientific, and
managerial circles. In my opinion this gain was accompanied by a loss
of its pioneering spirit, its sense of mission and its innovativeness.
Survival, stability and respectability took precedence over
development, and its decline began.
I hold academic OR and the relevant professional societies primarily
responsible for this decline-and since I had a hand in initiating both,
I share this responsibility. By the mid 1960's most OR courses in
American universities were given by academics who had never practised
it. They and their students were text-book products engaging in impure
research couched in the language, but not the reality, of the real
world. The meetings and journals of the relevant professional
societies, like classrooms, were filled with abstractions from an
imagined reality. As a result OR came to be identified with the use of
mathematical models and algorithms rather than the ability to formulate
management problems, solve them, and implement and maintain their
solutions in turbulent environments.
Eventually the tails begins wagging the dog. "When all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail".
[...] In the first two decades of OR, its nature was dictated by the nature of the problematic situations it
faced. Now the nature of the situations it faces is dictated by the techniques it has at its command.
There's an interesting passage on interdisciplinarity as a sign of the aliveness of a field:
Subjects, disciplines, and professions are categories that are useful
in filing scientific knowledge and in dividing the labour involved in
its pursuit, but they are nothing more than this. Nature and the world
are not organized as science and universities are. There are no
physical, chemical, biological, psychological, sociological or even
Operational Research problems. These are names of different
points-of-view, different aspects of the same reality, not different
kinds of reality. Any problematic situation can be looked at from the
point-of-view of any discipline, but not necessarily with equal
[...] The fact that the world is
in such a mess as it is is largely due to our decomposing messes into
unidisciplinary problems that are treated independently of each other.
Don't miss the ironic postscript, too.
A related earlier post of mine is "Information systems research: towards irrelevance?"
has been spending a few days over here in Moncton (and on Prince Edward
Island). We've had a great time bouncing all kinds of ideas around. If you're around
Moncton, you might be interested in knowing that Seb will be giving a
Webpublishing networks: A conversational learning
environment for self-organized learners Speaker:
Sebastian Fiedler, University of
p.m. – noon (Atlantic Standard
Building (Room 163), Université de Moncton,
who will not be in the Moncton area and are interested to
attend Sebastian Fiedler's presentation, please note that this session will be
recorded and made available through the Internet. If this option is of interest
to you, contact Shannon
Watts (Shannon.Watts@gnb.ca) and specify that
you are interested in viewing the webcast version
and we will send you the url
and related instructions as soon as the recorded presentation becomes
In case you've been wondering, Seb's domain name is broken at the moment but he's trying hard to get things straightened up.