In business, try hard to focus on the objectives of the project and much less on the details of each task. Things will work out… generally.
This is a very famous question posed by Benoit Mandelbrot, who is generally credited with developing the term fractal, or fractional dimension. There’s a nice write up of this problem on Wikipedia, and to attempt to give some reference, the title is from an article published by Mandelbrot in Science in 1967.
Here’s my take on the setup, probably reflecting my geologist view of things. From space, the coastline could be 1250km. If you were on a walking tour of the English coast, especially depending on how many pubs you stopped at along the way, that same coastline could expand considerably, say (just to make up a number) to 2500km. But if you are an ant walking up and down each grain of sand, that same coastline disappears into infinity.
From a business perspective, this creates a problem… or an opportunity. If no matter how much we plan, if no matter how carefully we dot all the i’s – if that is all for naught because of the hidden variables, how can we ever move forward on a project?
Here’s a question. If you were in an airplane, is it likely that you and others could agree on when you were flying over Britain? The answer is yes. Even though we just went through the reality that “Britain” is not quite as firm as one might have perceived, we can all somehow agree on what Britain is.
A different take – When I’m in another state or country and someone says where do you live, I answer “Atlanta”. But when I’m home in Atlanta, that same question gets the answer, “Decatur”. I didn’t move. It’s just that the level of detail available to a local is quite a bit more refined than someone less familiar with the concept of Atlanta.
Depending on how much of this you’ve read, you might be able to see why my experience with the number line and what’s happening between 0 and 1 was so upsetting. If we can always ask just one more question – Is it 1, or if I zoom in a bit, is it actually 1.1 or maybe 0.9? Or if I go further, is it really 1.01 or maybe 0.91?
So when it comes to business, I have an old saying – Project efficiency versus task efficiency. Each task may be a little rough, a little grainy, full of unexpected details. But if you can keep your eye on the project outcome, things will tend to move in that direction. Sort of like herding cats. Don’t try to define the small things too tightly. You can certainly get to Atlanta. Once there, you can figure out where Decatur is. In fact, if the devil truly is in the details, don’t go looking for the devil!!