John N. Warfield

Items Of Interest


I grew up in Missouri, and studied at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Originally I majored in chemistry and minored in math, but my studies were interrupted by World War II. After my basic training in the U. S. Army Infantry, the Army put me in a specialized training program to study electrical engineering, which I found very interesting, especially electronics and communications.

After the war I completed my original undergraduate program, and continued on to get advanced degrees in electrical engineering. I then became a faculty member of several departments of electrical engineering, at Missouri, but finally left in 1966, and joined the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, OH to become a professional researcher.

At Battelle, I began to study complexity and how to cope with it in managing large projects for clients. This led me to study a great deal on my own in such fields as sociology, anthropology, psychology, and philosophy. The latter, in turn, led me into study the mathematics of logic and its connection to graph theory. I became convinced that complexity would only yield, if it yielded at all, to the appropriate mix of anthropological, logical, and technological components.

I found about 98% of the management literature to be worthless or worse. On the other hand, I found gems in the other areas that I mentioned.

Out of this relatively uninterrupted period of study starting in 1968 and ending in 1974, I was able to develop the process that I called "Interpretive Structural Modeling" or ISM. This process was founded in mathematics that was largely developed by DeMorgan in England and Peirce in the United States in the 19th century, and summarized very nicely by Frank Harary and his colleagues at the University of Michigan, who made the connections to graph theory.

By taking the analysis that had been previously developed, I was able to convert that into a synthesis scheme, where computer assistance could be provided to groups to structure their collective knowledge.

With suggestions from others, we incorporated the Nominal Group Technique (NGT) of Delbecq and Van de Ven as the way of getting the original information in a form suitable for developing structural models. This incorporation came later, after we found that ISM really worked, and we saw that we needed ways to develop the needed inputs.

A number of small examples of use of ISM took place between 1974 and 1980. The first two were done by Robert James Waller (then of Iowa) who later would become famous as the author of "The Bridges of Madison County", and Raymond Fitz of the University of Dayton (who later would become and still is President of the University of Dayton).

In 1980, my friend and longtime associate (off and on) Alexander Christakis and I started a Center for Interactive Management at the University of Virginia. We coined the term "Interactive Management" (IM) to represent the collection of ideas that had grown around the core ISM process. Included in this collection was the DELTA Chart, which Doug Hill and I developed at Battelle in the early 1970s, the Ideawriting process, which was brought to me from Battelle researchers in Frankfurt, Germany, and the Options Field/Options Profile methods that I developed at the University of Virginia. We then added something called the "Tradeoff Analysis Method", which came to us from Bob McDonald of the U. S. Forest Service, who was one of the early sponsors.

I designed a special room to be used for IM work while I was a visiting professor in Iowa, where Robert Waller was Dean of the School of Business, for whom I worked for one year. He was able to get a room started there, but it couldn't follow the plan too well.

When I returned to Virginia in 1980, we were able to get the room built, thanks to the late Dean Jack Gibson, who was a strong advocate of IM. Unfortunately we could only use it for two years until a fight among university executives and a bad decision by Aleco's department chairman, led us to shut down that Center. Before it was shut down, we did several significant projects, one of which was carried out largely by Aleco, and which installed IM at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, CA, which would have many successful applications later. David Mackett of that Center became a leader in applying IM and eventually won a U. S. Government Award as NOAA Administrator of the Year.

Eventually Aleco and I got back together at George Mason University. He began to operate another Center with a new room that was completed in 1985. This work went very well until 1989, when more administrative problems caused us to shut down the center. Aleco then went to Philadelphia where, today, he runs CWA Limited, a consulting organization specializing in IM work.

Meanwhile I was doing a lot of writing. In 1976 I produced a book with support from Battelle called SOCIETAL SYSTEMS. This John Wiley book summarized all of the research that I did at Battelle between 1968 and 1974. It took a long time for me to get the next book together called A SCIENCE OF GENERIC DESIGN, which was published in paperback by Intersystems in 1990. Regrettably, Intersystems couldn't seem to get its act together. Finally I was able to get this book published in its 2nd edition by a responsible publisher, the Iowa State University Press. Robert Waller put in a good word there to help make that happen. During the same period, I got a great associate, Roxana Cardenas, who worked with me to complete A HANDBOOK OF INTERACTIVE MANAGEMENT. It was also published in 1994 by Iowa State University Press. Meanwhile, she had begun to introduce generic design and IM in Mexico, and has had a strong influence there, to get it used in many places and taught in some outstanding classes.

Current Projects

As of today, I am primarily engaged in four projects:

If you have any questions you can reach me at:

Last Modified: June 10, 1996
Copyright John Warfield, All Rights Reserved.
Created by Theo Chaojareon