Muddling, revisited

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

I spent some time reading back through my archives for stuff I’ve written about process. I thought the following nugget from Chris Corrigan and thought I’d repeat it. (I can’t find it on Chris’s archive for some reason)

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 like that fingering of the pitfall of tying the people to the plan.

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