When I was thinking about a name for this blog, logical incrementalism sprang to mind and wouldn’t go away, despite being a challenge to say and spell. The term comes from the decision-making literature. In the 1950s Charles Lindblom suggested that minor decisions in organisations tend to be disjointed, not related to each other or to an overall strategy – decision-makers tend to ‘muddle through’. JB Quinn, 20 years later, thought that incremental decisions could be logical and integrated within a strategy. Whether Lindblom or Quinn or both are right depends on what you think is logical.
Incrementalism isn’t confined to decision-making. It applies to all systems. An extra proton creates a new element, a tiny change in genetic material gives an organism a better chance of survival, a small price increase moves a business from the red to the black. Each incremental change makes some future changes more likely or inevitable, and makes others less likely or impossible, so all incremental change has an inbuilt logic to it, even if it isn’t obvious. And all incremental change has logical outcomes, even if these are sometimes unpredictable because the system is complex.
I’m interested in systems – biological, social, economic… When people think about a system, they often focus on its content (what does what) rather than its form (why things happen how they do). What’s interesting about the form of systems is that regardless of their content, systems have many features in common. Commercial companies behave in similar ways to organisms competing in an ecosystem; hooks catch hold of things, whether the hook is on a seed casing or an industrial fastener. In this blog, I plan to explore the form of systems and how features of systems impact on everyday life. Thank you for reading.
Lindblom, CE (1959). The Science of ‘Muddling Through’. Public Administration Review, 19, 79-88.
Quinn, JB (1978). Strategic Change: ‘Logical Incrementalism’. Sloan Management Review, 20, 7-19.