After my last editorial, I received an email with the simple question: How would you define Incrementalism as used in your article? So I dusted off my book notes and pulled out the explanation that I use in a book that I have been writing. The example used is absurd, but designed to make a lasting impression.
I have made a few changes so that it reads better as a standalone article, but for the most part it is as first written two years ago. Here goes:
Let’s do a little experiment together. This can be a learning experience for your children also. For the experiment, you will need a large stuffed animal that can remain upright when moved; make sure there are no moving parts that can make noise. You will also need a clear fishing line strong enough to pull the toy, while remaining invisible.
Locate a room in your house where you can comfortably sit and watch TV. Have another family member tie the fishing line to the stuffed animal and place it where you can just barely see it in your peripheral vision. The family member will then hide behind your chair where they can pull on the string.
Turn on the TV and just enjoy your program, let’s say American Idol. Now, here is the exciting part; have the other person pull on the string ever so slightly. Change up the frequency and distance pulled every time. Let’s say we move the animal an average of 1 inch every 5 to ten minutes. Can you feel the excitement building?
You get engrossed in tonight’s program and are enjoying your evening. Wait! Did you just see a movement? You turn and look at the animal. It is sitting still, just where you last saw it. Back to Idol. Simon is making a cute remark and you laugh. Ahh, the finer things in life!
Another movement? You turn and look. Same spot you think, your eyes must be playing tricks on you. Back to Idol, wow, that last singer was great. Too bad I got distracted.
Four hours later (it was an Idol marathon), you look at the animal and confusion sets in. I thought it was farther away from me you say to yourself. At this point the experiment is complete and the other person can come out from behind the chair. They have a smug look of satisfaction on their face because they knew they had moved the animal closer to you without you realizing it.
A waste of two people’s evening? Maybe. However, the person in the chair will be perplexed. The animal moved closer; that he knows. But how could it have gotten that close while he was paying attention and fully aware of the surroundings? Could it have anything to with Paula’s outfit, or maybe just the great selection of entertainment that night?
Let’s put this stupid example into perspective. We go about our active lives; work, eat, sleep, relax and talk with the family, then repeat. Weeks turn into months, then into years. We are so busy with our schedule, our careers, our families, that we really don’t pay attention to the small stuff happening around us.
One morning we wake up and check out myWTFblog.com on the computer. There is a story about high school football coaches being disciplined by a school district in Tennessee for bowing their heads out of respect while the students say a prayer before the game. WTF? you say to yourself. How can this happen in a country like ours.
Now you understand the incredible destructive power of incrementalism. Things have changed slowly around you for years, and by design. You could have stopped it at any time, but you were so busy with life that you did not bother since it was such a minor movement.
At this point, you have read 645 words; only two were truly important for you to remember. Those two words? By design.
Jack Woodward, 9/26/2011
You can email Jack at Jack@myWTFblog.com