Incrementalism and the status quo

I was recently told that ‘the problem’ underlying my often strained relationship with the institution where I work is that I am a revolutionary working in an institution committed to incrementalism.

Perhaps, but I think it is important to note that the ‘revolutionary’ changes I have been advocating (for well over a decade) are transparency,  easy access to information and low barriers to communication, and movement away from a centralized and hierarchical structure toward a more collaborative and network based structure. These may have been revolutionary approaches a generation ago, but have long been standard best practices. Hearing my institutional leadership advocate for incremental change within the existing structure brings this quote from Einstein came to mind:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Incrementalism rooted in old and obsolete paradigms is really just another name for obstructionism. This cartoon is relevant here:







Incrementalism too often focuses on supporting the status quo. It depends on sustaining innovation and leaves the institution an easy target for being overwhelmed by external disruptive innovation and internal obsolescence. In the face of small problems and small challenges, small minds thinking comfortably small thoughts about minimal changes to the status quo makes sense. In today’s health care environment, incrementalism guarantees failure and revolution – or at least disruptive innovation  –  is by far the better choice.

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