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Logical Incrementalism…with a twist!

I missed church again today. As an act of contrition, I am blogging through my guilt and talking to God quietly in my basement with Sweet Liza, my German Shepherd, by my side (her feet are now twitching…she must be dreaming about bunnies or squirrels). She has her pink bandanna on; it is going to be a good day.

Anyway, many, many years ago I took a class at Dartmouth’s Tuck School from a renowned professor in strategic management, James Brian Quinn (aka “JBQ”). Dr. Quinn, an economist, drove the stake of genuine fear into our hearts via the only required second-year MBA class: Business Planning (believe it or not, we called it “BP”).

For the past 20 or so years, I have been practicing the principle of mutiplication, or, in economics principles, the “multiplier effect”. That is, I have taken some of the same fearful strategic planning curricula and tactics so well crafted by JBQ and have been “sharing” them with my students at Kalamazoo College. What a delight!
I often wish I had been sufficiently bold and knowledegable back at Dartmouth to approach JBQ and “chat” about some of his stuff. In particular, I would love to pick his brain regarding logical incrementalism. I have tried to read his book, Strategies for Change: Logical Incrementalism, a number of times. But like my days at Tuck, I have never been able to digest fully the entire text. I get impatient with it, and because of my impatience, I have never captured the fullness of JBQ’s masterful mind…maybe this week. I just noticed for the first time in almost 30 years that he actually signed my book with the inscription “Best Personal Wishes”. I like that, particularly the “Personal” part. It must be an omen to crack the cover and go back to being a student.
A number of strategic planning academics have said that JBQ was on the cutting edge of strategic thinking in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and he laid the groundwork for a number of great strategic works that would follow, including Michael Porter’s Competitive Advantage and Jim Collins’s Good to Great writings.

Let’s see if this week’s reading supports my thinking from class nearly 30 years ago. In my mind, I formed the idea that JBQ’s theory of strategic management and more particularly logical incrementalism was like a sailing craft that sets out on a mission with a well-defined, well-articulated destination.

There are certain things that are known: 1) the craft, 2) the crew, 3) the port of embarkation (i.e., where it is starting from, and 4) the port of debarkation (i.e., the destiny).

But what the sailing effort doesn’t know are a number of both exogenous and endogenous effects that will significantly affect the successful outcome of the mission. Exogenously, there may be bad winds, no wind, treacherous winds and storms, uncooperative currents, pirates, and even icebergs. Endogenously, the crew may get sick, the boat may spring a leak, the sails may tear, the engine may quit working, and so on. In essence, the elements of the trip are, for the most part, unknown. And to a large degree, the success of the trip depends on planning for eventualities and the moment-by-moment decisions the captain makes to further the effort to the destination. This moment-by-moment, event-by-event decision-making model to reach successfully the destination is Logical Incrementalism.

In Psalms 199:105,David, the young dude who took out thegiant, sings: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Walking lamps do not put out millions of candles of light — probably about one candle’s worth. It is just enough to see where the next step on the path will take you. Don’t look too far ahead; it is just darkness, andyou might trip and fall. If you look to where the light is shining, just in front of your feet, and you proceed on the path by faith, you will make it to your destination.

I wonder if JBQ didn’t borrow his management theory from the Old Testament’s King David…maybe if I read JBQ’s entire book, I will find out.

Happy Father’s Day!

1 comment (Add your own)

1. Bridgett wrote:
I love your use of analogies– way to tie it all together. Well done.

Thu, January 12, 2012 @ 4:44 AM

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