“Muddling through”

Chris Rodgers has written a couple of related posts on management as “muddling through” and the “beautiful ugly truth” of management. As usual I find myself nodding in agreement.

I’ve been thinking lately about the status we play when we use different kinds of language.  In management there’s a tendency to favour high status language because it sounds more important. This creates the kind of jargon most of us secretly dislike. So on the whole, I’m in favour of more of the lower status language. In my own line of work I often realise there’s a lot of muddling through or “making it up as I go along”.

But supposedly low status language carries its own baggage too.

I may think by saying I make it up as I go along, I am merely being honest and not making myself seem too important. However, it can be interpreted as suggesting more than this.. perhaps suggesting I am just carefree, or flippant, or disrespectful of the participants and what is at stake. When I am muddling through as a facilitator, I hope I am not just being casual, but doing something sensible and considered in the light of all the information I am receiving.

It’s a tricky business, describing what you do…


1 thought on ““Muddling through”

  1. Chris Rodgers

    Thanks, Johnnie.

    You’re right about the language, of course. And “muddling through” is an uncomfortable phrase for many people to say out loud – even if they recognize that that’s what they’re doing in practice. In the diagram accompanying the “beautiful, ugly truth” post, what I’ve labelled “Act 2” recognizes the pressure on people to construct a rational explanation of what they’ve been doing, given the dominant management discourse that still equates leading with being ‘in control’, etc.

    This is one of the reasons why I identified “acting politically” as an important attribute of skilful leadership in Informal Coalitions. At the same time, I believe it’s important to ‘keep chipping away’ at the myths that disfigure our understanding of organizational dynamics and leadership practice – as you clearly do yourself.

    As regards your commentary on your own facilitation, I would suggest that this is part of what I describe as “muddling through with purpose, courage, and skill”.

    Cheers, Chris


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