Remember playing with an Etch-a-Sketch when you were a kid and directing a stylus to create a line drawing? Fast-forward to 21st-century technology and the Theory Garden of Richard Boland ’63, Professor of Information Systems at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. Boland and an associate have developed the software tool to quickly draw diagrams of theories and demonstrate the effect of causal relationships.
“The software is about taking representations or drawings of a system’s elements and relationships that are too complex for the human mind to follow,” Boland says. According to the website www.theorygarden.com, the software can construct theories of complex systems and simulate behavior. It can demonstrate how a change in one element of a system creates a pattern of changes in other elements. The software constructs models without the need for writing equations.
Boland, who is committed to strengthening the skills of complex reasoning, served as chairman of Information Systems at CWRU from 1994–2001 and is a fellow at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. He has lectured around the world and has been a visiting professor at the University of California, Los Angeles; Cambridge; Gothenburg University; and Oxford University. Before joining the CWRU faculty in 1989, Boland was professor of accountancy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for 13 years. He also is founder and editor of Information and Organization and is on the editorial boards of several prestigious journals in his field. He holds a bachelor’s degree and an M.B.A. from Northwestern University and a Ph.D. from CWRU. Boland teaches in the university’s executive doctorate in management program, guiding students through a one-year qualitative research project. He also teaches a research seminar for undergraduates on systems thinking.
An avid sailor, the Gilmour graduate says, “I am like most sailors; it is something I always wish I were doing.” He and his wife, Nora, have a lake cabin in Idaho “with the elk, moose, eagles, and the occasional bear at the front door.” They founded the Hannah Boland Pediatric Renal Fund at the Cleveland Clinic to aid chronic renal pediatric patients after their daughter Hannah died in 1992. The fund makes it possible for children with chronic illnesses to engage in normal childhood experiences. Their daughter Kate is a veterinarian and is working on her Ph.D.
In 2003, Boland received Gilmour’s Alumni of the Year Award for his service to the school’s academic affairs and Alumni Reunion committees. He believes that his Gilmour education has had a lifelong effect on him – from the social and political thinkers like John Locke to whom he was exposed by Brother Richard Sitar, C.S.C., to the importance of revising one’s writing emphasized by Brother Ivo Regan, C.S.C. “While I don’t remember every word the Brothers said,” Boland admits, “they had a way of getting to the core with ideas that become a part of the mental apparatus you could use.”