Published On: Wed, Mar 29th, 2017

Muddling through

Jacob Gelt DekkerWhen asked about his general policy in WW II, Churchill answered that he followed the K.M.T policy.

“And what Sir, may that K.M.T-policy be?” asked the visiting general.

“It is this,” replied Churchill to: “Keep Muddling Through.”

Muddle through, according to Webster, is to achieve a degree of success without much planning or effort.

A fresh start and a clean slate may sound heroic amongst salon revolutionaries, but these paper fantasies never materialize without high drama and bloodshed. Black and white solutions apply better in theory, in a textbook setting than in practice.  The real world is complicated, volatile and far from textbook examples.

The society always comes with baggage, a lot of baggage.  The art of administrators and politicians is to shuffle the cards to everybody’s advantage. Stiff orthodoxy leads only to tyranny, slavery, and terror. Joseph Stalin sent 40 million factory workers and party members to the Gulags (1929-53) when their industrial output did not match his theoretical Five-Year Plans. Mao killed 55 million during the Cultural Revolution  ( the 1970's) because they did not fit his ideals of the Revolution.

Ideology, whether it is Communism or Jihadism, does not know a strategy of muddling through, it only knows one standard way, often a horror to humanity, at any and all costs.

Muddling through is a sound strategy in many circumstances, one that works.

Business schools may not teach the muddling through approach since it cannot easily be grasped in rules, regulations, and formulations. Muddling through is often looked down upon as an inferior strategy, especially for companies and countries. Investors and bankers demand business plans with a high degree of detail. Politicians in coalition governments work for months on a minutely detailed executive agreement before they start governing. Hands-on muddling through is what they fear most.

By contrast, entrepreneurs tend to be experts at muddling through. They can cope with significant uncertainties in their work while retaining a sense of confidence and a feel for priorities.

Next to muddling through comes incrementalism.

Incrementalism is adding to a project many small incremental steps instead of a few large jumps. In public policy, incrementalism can quietly build a new world, as if a Revolution had taken place, often stronger and with less trauma.

Muddling through and Incrementalism, are the two most powerful tools of the modern manager in our complex global society, in companies and governments.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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