Summary of Beating the System

Using Creativity to Outsmart Bureaucracies

Berrett-Koehler, more...

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Beating the System book summary
Fed up with all the hoops the bureaucrats make you jump through? Well, stop jumping. Turn the tables instead.


7 Overall

7 Applicability

8 Innovation

7 Style


This is an amusing, entertaining and relevant book. At some point, senseless rules, mindless bureaucracies, or poor service and communication frustrate everyone. Authors Russell L. Ackoff and Sheldon Rovin offer a series of straightforward suggestions for getting the respect you deserve and fighting back against maddening treatment. They illustrate their principles with brief, accessible stories and, in at least one instance, even recommend lying to get your way. You can read this book quickly and immediately pull out tips you can use. However, you might want to consider the ramifications before, for instance, refusing to leave an airline clerk’s desk or flooding an organization’s voice mail. There may be lines you don’t want to cross. Everyone has frustrating moments when they might want to apply these techniques, so it would help if the authors did more to sort the moments of justifiable frustration from the unjustified, or to help readers figure out when a rule is bad or a system needs changing. They seem to assume that if you are frustrated, you should retaliate quickly. As a result, the book seems a touch adolescent at times, despite the authors’ impressive credentials. Everyone could enjoy this book, but recommends it primarily to readers with a sense of perspective who can tell when to use these tactics - and when to just move along.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How to beat bureaucracies;
  • What principles are involved in standing up for yourself; and
  • Why beating bureaucracies is good for you and the system.


System-Beating Tools
You’re human. That means you’ve been frustrated by systems, a lot. They’ve beaten you. Take heart, though. It is possible to beat the systems that have abused you, and you don’t have to be an expert to do so. Aside from the personal satisfaction of besting an overbearing...
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About the Authors

Russell L. Ackoff is chairman of The Institute for Interactive Management, and has published more than a dozen books. He is a professor emeritus of management sciences at the Wharton School, where Sheldon Rovin is emeritus professor of healthcare systems. Previously the two co-authored Redesigning Society (2003).

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