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7 Examples of Incrementalism

Incrementalism is an approach to change that takes a large number of small steps as opposed to big leaps forward. The following are illustrative examples.

Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is the process of measuring results, improving and measuring again. This may be appealing to conservative and conflict-avoiding societies, firms, teams and individuals who prefer a slow and predictable rate of change. Continuous improvement also makes sense when you have a highly efficient system that is producing a great deal of value such that you don't want to risk disruption. This is also a reasonable approach to any risk sensitive pursuit such as changes that have implications for safety and security.


Agile is an approach to software development that creates releasable code in short work cycles known as sprints. In terms of methodology, this has similarities to continuous improvement. However, the culture surrounding agile is more aggressive and risk taking. Agile emerged as a way to get things in front of customers faster than traditional software development projects that involved long planning phases such that projects could run for many months and years before shipping any code.

Last Responsible Moment

Last responsible moment is a principle that suggests that decisions should not be made until they need to be made. This principle can also be applied to strategy and problem solving. The idea is that by addressing things too early you may miss out on new ideas and information. Also, early decisions, solutions and strategies may become irrelevant before they are required. For example, a 5 year plan that is completely out of date within 6 months.


A management style that is reactive such that risks are never addressed until they become problems. This is typically viewed as a poor practice that is inefficient.

Creeping Normality

Creeping normality is the observation that people may accept negative changes that occur slowly that they would never accept if they occurred all at once. For example, a city where air quality gets worse year after year may generate little political resistance as compared to a smog that suddenly appears and doesn't go away. Unscrupulous strategists could use the creeping normality phenomenon to impose negative change that would be resisted if it occurred more quickly.

Conflict Avoidance

Incremental advancement may be used to avoid conflict. For example, a manager may fund a $5 million dollar project over many years because adversaries would likely resist if the budget was requested all at once.

Tit for Tat

Tit for tat is a strategy or tactic that responds to the attacks of an adversary with equal counterattacks. This is done to stand your ground without escalating a conflict.
Overview: Incrementalism
An approach to change that takes a large number of small steps as opposed to big leaps forward.
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