On muddling through

More wisdom courtesy of Chris Corrigan.

I actually think that muddling through is not a correction to the conventional wisdom that stretegy and planning is the way to go. Muddling through has always been the way. The evidence is actually overwhelming. Show me something in the world, a finished process project thing or event, that was not the result of muddling through.

Strategy is figuring out which way to muddle. Good strategists are great muddlers. They seem to muddle in the direction of the resources or of the political will or of the greatest benefit to others.

Planning is fun, and very useful for the short term, like on the last half day of an Open Space. But planning that goes beyond “when will we talk again” or a simple to-do list needs to be aware that the muddle factor increases as the time frame increases. More importantly, and more seriously, planning that doesn’t take into account a muddle factor and that creates a complex, long term and fixed to-do list is both disempowering for people and largely ineffective. It ties people to the plan (rather than the other way around) and limits exposure to true sources of inspiration and innovation.

For a comprehensive set of data on the effectiveness of muddling, check out the Nobel Prize winners speeches. When you come to a Nobel Laureate that says that their accomplishment was the result of a great strategic plan, let me know.

I share this view. I think planning is given rather high status, whereas “muddling through” is seen as inferior. Planning and muddling through are not opposites; not a dilemma to be resolved – they are interdependent.

1 thought on “On muddling through

  1. Chris Corrigan

    Yes..and this is why developing the personal capacity to improvise well is as critical to successful planning and implementation as the ability to do needs analysis and environmental scans. If we accept muddling through as an organizing principle for planning processes, then we need to develop a whole series of personal and organizational practices to support it.


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