The Art of Muddling Through

charles lindblom, art of muddling through, s.c. rhyne, the reporter and the girl, stuck in a rut

So for all of my political science, political theory, and governance fans; the title of this post is from a very popular article written in 1959, by Professor Emeritus Charles Lindblom of Yale University. I had the pleasure of reading the work this week, which was one of the earliest pieces on the theory of incrementalism in policy.

Obviously, this theory brought a lot of criticism; I mean who would want to think of key decision-makers in our government not really having a “big-picture or goal”, but rather taking “baby steps” decisions when needed.

Hence, this title could also refer to decision-makers literally buried waste-deep in problems, issues, concerns, and ‘fires’ that the bright light at the end of the tunnel is nonexistent; and thus one is waddling through this deep mud, with only the thoughts of staying afloat and not stepping on any sharp objects or mines.

This sounds familiar.

Mr. Muddle, Muddling through, S.C. Rhyne, Charles Lindblom, incrementalism, starting over, goals

I had a goal to “change things” and perhaps jump-start my career by attending university and working in Europe. However, I’m starting to think that my “goal” was really the beginning of the mud patch and now I’m not sure if I can see the bright light. I just see a lot of muckiness in each and every direction and I’m not sure which way to waddle.

Yesterday marked one month since arriving at London-Heathrow, and although I have taken a lot of baby steps, I have repeatedly questioned whether I am working efficiently or taking the right steps to secure permanent employment and housing.  Or if I am effectively balancing my school and social life, because I may be falling into the same habits I had in New York.

I may have hoped to “glide through” some things, but now it seems that I am in for a long muddling; and while I hope to be strategic and insightful with each step I take, knowing me, this process will be more of an “art of spontaneous feelings” than a careful “scientific deduction of reason”. Thus, as the comic suggests, my mind and heart may be looking in separate directions, and therefore working in separate directions.

One of the pitfalls of “muddling through” that Lindblom fails to mention, is that one can easily get “stuck in a rut”.  Especially, when the effort to take these baby steps seem futile and the motivation to push forward dissipates. And this is certainly not where I (or most folks) want to end up.

So, have you ever been in a stage of your life where you felt like you were muddling through day-in and day-out?

Did you get through it, how? If you’re still muddling, how are you making it through?

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8 thoughts on “The Art of Muddling Through

  1. There’s a bad side to everything. As far as muddling through, the upside is that you keep options open, while a determined path leaves little wiggle room. I’m envious of your opportunities, and hope you can be prepared for the life-changing events that are bound to happen. Keep muddling, maybe think of it as soft-shoe dancing, on a tiny dance floor. Quite honestly, my whole life has been a sequence of derailed plans. That you’ve got this far is laudable. All too often baby steps are what happens as risk-management takes hold. Big change can mean big failure. The flip side to “two in the bush” is “none in the bush”. I’m so glad you posted this. The personal tinge is exhilarating. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I happen to be in a muddling phase right now. It doesn’t necessarily feel good but my faith tells me that decisions I have made lately concerning my career were overdue and necessary. Just not sure where I’m headed right now so I muddle on…. Making it through for me is having a level of optimism and faith that things are working out and very soon I will be on a platform more defined and embracing my destiny. If I think otherwise I will forever muddle and that’s not an option for me. Great post; thanks for sparking this conversation .😀

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Honestly, I feel like I’m muddling through every day of my life. We might have grand plans, but time and life may not permit us to carry out those plans in one fell swoop. Instead, we take little steps and muddle through.

    What helps me through it is thinking about this quote: Perfect is the enemy of good. Even though we’re not taking the giant strides we want, little steps are better than no steps at all. Besides, it’s in all those little steps that we learn life’s lessons.


    Liked by 2 people

  4. I am very grateful that you wrote this post and introduced the concept of incrementalism. I know the things which you describe very well myself, in particular at work. The modern concept of working in parallel on different “projects” leaves me very often completely unsatisfied, because one can not tell what is really important, and what is only carried along like a burden. I think it would be better (at least for me) to make regular reviews, wo find out which tasks should better be stopped, to get more ressources, time, and energy for the few tasks that are really promising. But instead, we start more and more projects, which initially look exciting, but we underestimate that in order to turn them into a successful story they would require a lot of attention. And at the end, the day has only 24 hours, and there is also the family, and friends and hobbies, which should not be completely neglected.

    Sometimes it occurs that in th event of an external catastrophy (such as an illness or if one get stucked somewhere in traffic disaster) one has a lot of free time available, and suddenly one can view its own personal situation clearer, because one sees all the commitments and duties from the outside. And then one thinks it would be reasonable to set priorities. But as soon as one is back in the “machinery”, one again feels obliged to do all the thinks at the same time. And if one starts working on one of them, there is an immediate feeling of guilt, because at the same time one neglects the 99 other projects.

    In your particular case I would say: What you are really doing very well is writing. Maybe you concentrate on this, rather than on academia. Or you try to do writing with full commitment, and the political science only as a cover. I think that writing talent is something more precious than an abstract science discipline.

    best regards

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HI Michael,
      I’m sorry for the delay in response. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I have been muddling through all this, but now it seems there is a light! I’m making headway, I hope I stay afloat until then. As for you, try to stay out of the machinery, or you’ll end up exhausting yourself with all 103 things to do in a 24 hour day.

      Liked by 1 person

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