unicorns and operations research

My latest–and overdue–podcast is about unicorns and operations research. No, not those unicorns. The unicorn we discuss is based on the English coat of arms, where it is fighting a lion for the crown. This is the beginning of the paper we discuss:

In an essay entitled The Unicorn, J. B. Priestley comments on the lion and the unicorn  depicted  on our national coat of arms as  fighting  for the crown. He draws an  analogy  from this to two strands which are dominant in the British character. On the one hand  are those characteristics which relate to the lion. These include the power of the establishment, the whole body of received knowledge and doctrine, the logical deductive approach to decisions and all that might in some sense be termed vertical thinking, vertical communication and vertical authority. He contrasts this with the unicorn qualities, which include imagination, poetry, liveliness, flair, the role of the unexpected, the ability to make discoveries by a sudden leap of intuition into the dark, and all those things which we might term horizontal thinking and relationships. Priestley’s conclusion was that Britain had downgraded the importance of the unicorn and was in danger of allowing the lion too much scope.

The purpose of this paper is to apply this conception to our own discipline and to make a plea for the admission of more unicorn qualities into our research, for, as Ackoff has reminded us, O.R. is in danger of becoming too respectable and too establishment oriented.

I recorded this podcast with my regular podcast partner Richard Garrett, a star OR undergraduate at VCU. We recorded this podcast in May (when we say “this month” in the podcast, we are referring to May). I sincerely apologize for taking so long to produce this podcast episode. I have another episode in the works that will be available on Friday. I am happy to say that Richard is now in the PhD program in Decision Sciences and Engineering Systems at RPI. It has been a pleasure to record podcasts and to do research with him. I am thrilled that he has moved on to bigger and more exciting things.


Rivett, P. (1981). In Praise of Unicorns, The Journal of the Operational Research Society , 32(12), 1051-1059.

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