Think big and small...

Big Picture or fine details?

“Black Box Thinking”, by Matthew Syed, is a book about success. At its heart is the idea that for most success there must have been failure. And often multiple times. And maybe the word “failure” should be shorn of its current negative meaning. He lists a project where a team made and discarded 449 different high-pressure nozzles before reaching a perfect model. 449 failures or 449 learning experiences?

Chapter 9 of Black Box Thinking is about “marginal gains”, where large/complex/difficult challenges are broken down into small parts. These parts are analysed and modified, made better. Then all the parts are brought back together to obtain outstanding performance.

On page 205, he refers to an ongoing debate about whether big thinking – “new conceptual terrain/transforming the world” or marginal gains/working on small things, is better, before concluding: “The simple answer, however, is that it has to be both. At the level of the system and, increasingly, at the level of the organisation, success is about developing the capacity to thinking big and small, to be both imaginative and disciplined, to immerse oneself in the minutiae of a problem and to stand beyond it in order to glimpse the wider vista.”

That’s a bit like fitness and health, especially if you don’t have it. Firstly, you must be able to imagine yourself in a different place (fitness/health wise) – to stand beyond and glimpse the wider vista. Then you must break down the parts that are essential to reaching that place, to analyse the parts, make them better, change if they are not working, and have the discipline to keep plodding away at it.

Learn from your mistakes. Success can then come in inspirational leaps or by just pure determination.