I discuss the power of incremental approaches in Chapters 25-29 (pages 203-216) of Design for a Better World. Here are sources for more information.



In praise of incrementalism. A 48-minute podcast


What do Renaissance painting, civil-rights movements, and Olympic cycling have in common? In each case, huge breakthroughs came from taking tiny steps. In a world where everyone is looking for the next moonshot, we shouldn’t ignore the power of incrementalism.

Verdunity’s “Go Cultivate” series

Embracing Incrementalism – with Colleen Askew. A 62-minute podcast


Incremental improvement is a key element to the success of any place. The biggest projects, developments, and infrastructure also come with the biggest collection of dangers and places that something can go wrong. Starting from the bottom and working to solve an immediate need in the most effective way possible can also solve big problems over time, we just need to embrace that way of thinking. Kevin and Colleen Askew discuss just this (and more).


Ordered historically by date

Lindblom, C. E. (1959). The science of ‘muddling through’. Public Administration Review, 19, 79–88. https://faculty.washington.edu/mccurdy/SciencePolicy/Lindblom%20Muddling%20Through.pdf.

Lindblom, C. E. (1979). Still muddling, not yet through. Public Administration Review, 39, 517-526. http://www.sietmanagement.fr/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Lindblom1979.pdf.

Flach, J. M. (2012). Complexity: Learning to muddle through. Cognition, Technology & Work, 14 (3), 187-197. http://psych-scholar.wright.edu/flach/files/flach_muddling_2012.pdf.

Bendor, J. (2015). Incrementalism: Dead yet flourishing. Public Administration Review, 75 (2), 194-205. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/puar.12333

Norman, D., & Stappers, P. J. (2016). Designx: Complex sociotechnical systems. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 1, 83-106. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S240587261530037X.

(NOTE: The above URL points to both the DesignX paper and the discussion pieces that follow by John Flach, Jeremy Myerson, and Peter Jones (which are, in turn, followed by a response by Norman and Stappers). This commentary adds considerable depth to the discussion, and I highly recommend it. Note that all the discussants also appear in various sections of the DBW book.

Hayes, M. (2022). Incrementalism and public policy-making. Oxford Research Encyclopedias: Politics. Retrieved 2022-03-23, from https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.133

When Incrementalism Fails:



A massive, expensive irrigation project in hot, sunny southwestern United States.


Construction of the CAP system began in 1973 and was completed 20 years later at a cost of more than $4 billion. The result is an engineering marvel.

(The article treats the project as a great success.)

Muddling through in innovation — On incremental failure in developing an engine


Researchers often use Lindblom’s concept of “muddling through” to explain how complex and incremental processes can lead to satisfactory results even without the systematic application of “management”. However, this tendency to look for positive outcomes from muddling might be limiting, as this tends to ignore muddling that ends in failure. This article aims to extend the work following Lindblom by studying the failure of an innovation in engine technology. The key argument is that by paying more attention to failures, business research can develop a more complete theory of muddling through, and this article uses the case of how a new engine for lawnmowers incrementally failed to become an innovation as an illustration. In this, the term “sliding” is introduced to clarify the role of incrementalism in the processual study of business failure.

Yet Another Failed Project (They didn’t read this book)


Kenya’s Turkana learns from failed fish project

Aid workers blame several factors: poor consultation with communities, a lack of monitoring progress, Turkana’s economic remoteness, a pastoral way of life unsuited to fishing and a diplomatic row between Norway and ex-president Daniel arap Moi.

Read the story: It is a typical story of all the many things that went wrong.