Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Details, Action, And Progress

One of the things I am painfully reminded off, time and time again, is that I am not nearly the detail person I need to be.

To be fair, I have never been a detail person.  When I was young, the patience of building models well was beyond me.  I would do okay for the first part, but eventually get impatient or bored and rush to finish something; thus most of my plane and tank models ended up with less than well fit parts and glue marks that probably appeared on no actual real scale production model.

This aversion to details has followed me in many things and throughout my whole life.  Oddly enough, it not necessarily an aversion to facts:  I have somehow love to dwell in the minutiae of some items - most historical - and will happily memorize reginal lists or key battles or the history of empires.  But in most things, at best I seem to apply the peanut butter sandwich approach:  one or two quick swipes on the bread and then to eating, whether on not the bread is fully covered or the peanut butter is even.

This works okay for peanut butter sandwiches.  It does not, however, find application in every area of life.

I can always argue - and do - that the opposite is no better. There are some people that are so detail oriented that progress seems to be very difficult for them.  Wanting to get everything right, they are almost paralyzed to move forward when the details are not in place - as opposed to someone like me,  who will happily plough ahead on the road, catching the "Sharp Curve Ahead" sign out of the corner of my eye right as I hit the corner.

There is a balance, of course - but I am very far away from anything resembling that balance.  

Part of it, I suppose, is this reluctance to commit that has been dogging me most of my life.  A larger part of it, though, is that I mistake action for progress.

Moving forward to me is action.  Moving on to the next thing to move forward, to get things done. In point of fact, that is not the way that progress is made.  What happens in unrestrained action is that I continue to do something and do something and do something until it more or less comes together, after six or eight or ten tries - and at that, often a marginal product at best.

Progress is different.  Progress does require not just action, but knowledge and application - knowledge of the finer things and the patience and ability to check of those things as one moves forward.  It is going line by line even though one has completed the form a hundred times, or understanding the subtle difference between levels and speed of kata, or running one's stiches true even if one slows down in the sewing.

Progress is often slower than unrestrained action.  But the results of progress are often far more memorable than those of action.  All great works of art, all great buildings, all great products - these are the products of progress, of attention to some level of detail (while keeping a view of the big picture, of course) sufficient to ensure that greatness, not mediocrity is the result.

I am not as detail oriented as  I should be.  But I am at least at the point of realizing that action and progress are different in this context, and the context of the difference is spending the time on the details to truly get better, master, or make a better thing - not just to accomplish something and move on to the next.


  1. Anonymous2:45 AM

    I guess my attitude is 'good enough'. A CAD architectural draftsman, some of my coworkers are sticklers for computer layer accuracy. Dimensions on one layer, wall finishes on another, doors and windows on respective layers as well. Why - well, to be turned off from view should the occasion happen.

    The end user is the person using the drawings to construct the building. They don't care if these lines are drawn on appropriate layer and couldn't determine that from looking at the set of drawings.


    So I get complaints if my drawing has walls under a layer I forgot to switch to. Meh, so I forgot. Still same drawing.

    I relate to the content of your post - thank you for writing it.

    1. That tends to be my attitude as well - which, to be fair, works for some things. Where it does not work - and where the genesis of this article came from - was actually my work, where a high attention to detail is required due to the nature of the work (biopharmaceutical development - in my case as a project manager, lots and lots of paperwork). It is incredibly uninviting sometimes and I feel like I am plodding through it - right to the point the detail would have been needed. I am trying to learn to be better, at least there.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. You are quite correct when you say that "...attention to some level of detail (while keeping a view of the big picture, of course) sufficient to ensure that greatness, not mediocrity is the result."

    I'm still learning when I need to apply the Peanut Butter Technique and when to use much greater amounts of planning and analysis.
    Your analogy of sewing is a good one as we completed a long delayed sewing project this weekend.
    To accomplish the sewing job, I quit obsessing over the details, moved past "Analysis Paralysis" and now the job is done.

    Knowing exactly when to move past planning and into progress is a process that doesn't have clearly marked lines.

    Real mastery of some things is an ongoing process, and it's the rare person who pursues them to that level.

    Many folks seems to stop before they really begin by saying, "I can't do that because I have never done that."
    If that was true, nobody would have children!
    Another wrong statement is, "If I can do it, you can do it."
    It's not surprising that the truth is somewhere between the two extremes.

    1. John, I think in some ways the ability to apply one technique versus the other is one of the mark of a Master. They understand precisely when and where to apply the maximum attention and where "good enough" really is good enough.

      Analysis paralysis is real and to your point, sometimes just starting - even if it without all the information - can be the most freeing thing in the world. Yes, you do not have all the information (and likely not the best of products for a first attempt), but at least one can point to taking action, which is almost never a bad thing".

      More often than not, our self limitations - especially if not directly physically related - are more in our minds than in reality.

  3. I guess I would fall under the detail oriented label. I know because I would be insisting that all the things be on the correct layers even if they appear the same on the drawing that the previous poster mentioned. I also enjoy building detailed models and such still to this day though I rarely do so anymore. I guess I like the focus that it takes which makes time pass and other problems in life diminish for a period of time. But, even with the attention to detail, I still could never produce the finish model that I was always desiring. Usually it was a poor paint finish on the exterior panels or a decal that ended up with bubbles behind it or a rip from me trying to remove said bubbles that always did the model in.

    Years ago, those models found their way back to me and I gave them to my girls to play with. The next day I swept up the various pieces and only with a little remorse, tossed them in the trash bin.

    1. Ed, knowing I what I know from your pictures and posting, that does not surprise me at all. And your output shows your attention to detail (and love of it).

      I think a few of my models are still at my parents' house. I will actually give them a look up when I am there this week.

  4. Nylon125:31 AM

    Well, with your aversion to details I would recommend NOT learning to reload at this point in life TB............. :)

    1. Nylon12, a man should know his limitations. Reloading sounds terribly useful and interesting and something I would most likely kill myself at pretty quickly. I will have to rely on others, at least in that regard.

  5. Man, this hit a lot of notes in my song. I really see that in my life. Analysis Paralysis. I still call that approach / avoidance. But AP may be the better term. Yesterday, I spent almost an hour trying to decide what type of wet room backer board to buy for a project. Finally, I looked at the clock and thought, "where'd the time go?" I saw a checkbox for "show in stock items only". After clicking that I quit looking and drove over and bought what they had. Only two choices, one of which was unsuitable. Doh!

    I tend to overthink, but, if there is any good from that, it's that I'm rarely at a loss for what to do if a challenge presents. Provided I can actually start the project. That is part of my brain stuff I've been learning about. Who knew my wiring made starting a project difficult. Or that stopping once an interesting project is started would be so hard.

    Finding out your proclivities is so important. And they change over time or after injury. Everything is in flux to one degree or another. If you can find a way to leverage your abilities to dovetail with your work, the effort reduces a little. And there is something to be said for that. Like using a lever and fulcrum to move a heavy load on rollers.

    Your thoughtfulness and ability to reason should give you good service as you work on the issue. You are gifted in your ability to tease out important information.

    1. STxAR, I know exactly what you mean: I have spent a great deal of time deciding things that make no difference when I ask the question "What is actually available and what am I trying to accomplish?" That is the real question that I so often avoid: if I can decide on what I mean to accomplish, I can decide on what I need to do. Or as Richard Machowitz, former Navy SEAL said, "Target determines weapons. Weapons determine movement".

      I tend to do the other thing: if I challenge presents itself I often struggle to understand what the next move/moves are. This is something I am working on.

      To your last point: I sometimes thing we choose our careers before we know our proclivities and thus we spend a great many years playing catch-up to match one with the other.

  6. Anonymous4:08 PM

    Analysis Paralysis are excellent words for being terrified of not being 'perfect'. Always developed in early childhood. Children should be born hold a guild to their traits. Heard about a lot of this from my child who has advanced degrees in this field. Parents give us something beyond what we could do or thought we couldn't do. Same outcome. Sure that you couldn't we often proved our self correct. My father at 8 handed me a paint brush and expected that I could paint the trim perfectly. I couldn't and got soundly yelled at. To this day won't do the trim except under complete duress. Most times we don't even remember causes. Friend of daughter had a girl who at 9 was 5'9". Instead of being concerned at the unusual growth, she expected, required her to do items that were more appropriate for a mid-teen. Think most of us suffer from "AP" in varying degrees.

    1. GL, I have the same experience: I am happy to try almost anything once but if I am expected to perform at the level of the accomplished and do not and am castigated for it, I will either never do it or only under protest. Why? Same reason: I will not do something that I will be actively mocked or criticized for.

  7. Not hold, but holding a guide not guild. Need to learn better proof reading skills.

    1. I have the same problem. Oh, that there was an "edit comment" button...

  8. So rarely comment anywhere and am clueless as to an "edit" button. Wow, who knew?

    1. In theory, what would be nice is the ability to go back and edit comments after the fact. Some bulletin board software offer this option. Blogger does not, although to be fair other platforms do not as well. I do think it would help fix the minor spelling issues I often make.


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