Muddling Through


Muddling Through Processes and Outcomes since Lindblom, Special issue of Journal of Business Research, Edited by Tim Wilson, Wes Johnston and Brian Low; Deadline 15 Sep 2009

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Muddling Through Processes and Outcomes since Lindblom

Call for Papers: Special Issue, Journal of Business Research; Deadline: 15 September 2009

Guest editors: Tim Wilson (Umeå University, Sweden), Wes Johnston (Georgia State University, USA), Brian Low (University of Western Sydney, Australia)

During his research career, Charles E. Lindblom discovered a rationalization that has far reaching implications for marketing, international business and policy decisions of a political nature. That is, there was a need for trial and analysis of interim results in order to successfully complete processes – Lindblom’s definition of scientific muddling or, as commonly referred to, just plain muddling. Incrementalism or disjointed incrementalism were added to the descriptions of the process in a reprise to his original article on its 20th anniversary (Lindblom, 1979).

The year 2009 will be the 50th anniversary of the seminal paper written by Lindblom. In that paper, he recognized an obvious fact that in formulating public policy, tendencies were not to use “rational-comprehensive” approaches but rather a “successive-limited comparison” practice. That is, as a practical matter it is quite impossible in complex problems to have clear objectives, explicit evaluations, comprehensive overviews and quantified values for mathematical analyses. Instead, value goals and empirical analyses are intertwined. This observation was a major advancement at that time. Fast forward to the 21st century where economies, industries, and markets are undergoing profound institutional, structural and policy transformation. The mix of environmental, business and political paradoxes and ambiguities makes it increasingly difficult for policy and business decision makers to develop clearly established goals formulate a set of alternatives and select the superior alternatives. Approaches, instead, tend to be remedial, serial and exploratory. The focus is on a firm knowledge of what they are moving toward (Braybrooke and Lindblom, 1963, 71 and 102). The “problem” is in fact a cluster of interlocking problems with interdependent solutions (Braybrooke and Lindblom, 1963, 54-55). In various portions of Lindblom’s seminal paper (1959), he has called this approach limited comparisons, the branch method, incremental method, and finally “muddling through” on the last page of the paper.

As practitioners, the “best” decisions are the ones that satisfies the stakeholders, shaped by the politics of propriety and awareness, in situations that are circuitous, complex, subtle and idiosyncratic (Braybrooke and Lindblom, 1963, 81). Skilful incrementalism trumps attempts at formal completeness, which always lapse. A productive course of muddling tends to improve strategic approaches. As educators who use simulations in their upper level courses, we will need to recognize that although we tend to teach the rational-comprehensive approach to treating decision making cases, simulations with their sequential need for decisions will require a scientific muddling approach. The papers for the special issue will deal to a large extent where scientific muddling has been applied in business, marketing (B2B, B2C, C2C), strategy and policy situations. We welcome manuscripts that are theoretically well – grounded with empirical insights that demonstrate the applicability of Lindblom’s treatise. Manuscripts should be submitted electronically on or before September 15, 2009, following the usual JBR guidelines for authors to Tim Wilson (


Braybrooke, D. and Lindblom, C. E. (1963). A Strategy of Decision: Policy Evaluation as a Social Process. New York: The Free Press.

Lindblom, C. E. (1959). The science of “muddling through.” Public Administration Review. 9(2), 79-88.

Lindblom, C. E. (1979). Still muddling, not yet through. Public Administration Review. 39(6), 517-526.