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  • Writer's pictureMatt Oliver

Thursday Thoughts: Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good?

(Almost) every Thursday, we're going to be posting a brief blog thinking about aspects of campaigning. We’ll keep them short and snappy so you can read them in the time needed to brew the perfect cup of tea.


Common sayings are usually there for a reason, and that includes not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

One of the main takeaways of Professor Madhu Pai’s Steve Lawn Memorial Lecture was the concept of ‘radical incrementalism’ - the idea that when we don’t have a silver bullet, we still have an obligation to get stuck in, refining and expanding as things develop and advance.

Holding off on doing something because we think there’s a better solution around the corner, or because more data is needed for us to act with 100% confidence, is like driving with the handbrake on. It makes change someone else’s responsibility, and implicitly accepts the status quo.

Most great ideas happen after a few reasonable ideas have failed. The knowledge, relationships and systems needed to deliver great policy change can only develop when we learn from less great policy change.

Crucially, a failure to make even imperfect progress breeds distrust. If we can’t demonstrate that TB services will make the most of new tools, how will we convince developers to invest in making even better ones? How can we build new partnerships if our sector is perceived as dusty or siloed?

Radical incrementalism isn’t about running at a problem full pelt with your eyes closed. It just means that whatever the problem, you have to analyse the situation and take responsibility for change, make that first step, evaluate, and take a second. So, is there something on your to-do list that could do with a dose of radical incrementalism? I know there's a few on mine...


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