Broad Brush Thinking

Broad Brush Thinking

I have cleared 15 ton bags of garden rubbish from my garden in the last month.  Not that the garden was a jungle, it is just a large garden, consisting of three lawns, around 35 trees, 4 shrubberies, a large scale rockery and what seems like a mile of mixed hedging.


Occasionally over the years, my friends, whom as I have mentioned are all male, have stopped by to help, which invariably causes great merriment as their ideas about gardening are somewhat different scale to a person trying to manage a large house and garden without spending money on contractors.


The flatulent pedant, as he is known in my memory, recounted a tale of a two week war with his mother about a weed on his 4 square metre patio before he saw my garden.  Another ex took a full afternoon to present me with a square metre of perfectly weeded rosebed, and another likes to tell me that I should pave the lot.  It always makes me laugh, this variety of approaches to life and thought.


Obviously, dealing with something on this scale when you have limited time, you have to organise your time effectively.  At one point I was working 6 days a week at the bank, researching for the government, and conducting corporate interviews by phone whilst decorating and taking care of this garden, all with no assistance and a great deal of criticism from the rest of the family.  Any spare time was spent making lists of things to do, their level of urgency, and the likely time of paint or varnish drying so that I could then schedule hoovering, mowing or chopping whilst waiting for other things to be ready to progress.  In fact, the Sheep in Wolf’s clothing collection was started whilst I was conducting research from home, since the interviews were by telephone, nobody could see that I was sewing whilst working, hence my time was used productively.


You learn a lot about strategy from all this.  Many people have the luxury of never having to learn about strategy, time management or having to accept a margin of error they would never consider if they did not have this level of workload.


So, to get to the point, debating detail is not effective for a broad brush thinker, who is likely to be more interested in the overall structure of the problem.  A broad brush thinker is likely to become a large scale strategist, whereas a ‘devil in the detail’ expert is what you require when you have already determined the shape of the problem at hand.


It hugely surprised me, when I was working on a (personal) three dimensional economic project in 2009 or so, that the economists I wanted to involve in the problem did not understand what I was talking about.  After much messing around, I finally found a physicist in France who understood exactly what I was saying, who told me that basically I was a car designer, trying to explain myself to a crew of mechanics who wanted to know the specifics of the problem.  I desisted with the project at that point, since I felt it unlikely that I would find a crew willing to spend months experimenting to achieve something on my say-so.  Such is the problem of the broad brush thinker.  We have great ideas, but without the means to carry them out via a team of detail mechanics, we may not be much use. When it comes to tackling improbably large projects however, we are exactly what is required for the job.


It struck me last week or so, when despite the screamingly awful Leave Campaign in the UK, I felt very concerned for poor Boris, that I now recognise and resonate with other broad brushers without even realising it.  (Wolfe was a broad brusher too.) I wonder how many more I can find, if I look around?  And will my own capacity for grand strategy ever achieve anything useful or be given an opportunity for useful endeavour? So far it seems to have done little for me apart from ensuring that I become extremely bored with small problems and making sure my parents’ family is taken care of.


I cannot help the way I think, any more than someone who imagines that their love of following rules or sticking to tradition despite the disadvantages can help the way they think.  I get a lot more done, and require less in the way of help, especially in situations where the way forward is not always clear.  This does not mean that you end up with a precise result, but you do get a result.


It all comes down to approach, your ability to prioritise, your willingness to get the job done.  A detail oriented person is fabulous when you approach the end of a task, but they are as useful as a chocolate fireguard when you are creating something new.  You cannot add the bells and whistles before you have something to hang them on.


So, before you create your masterwork, always draw the sketch.  Before you add the embellishments, create the scheme.  Before you list the tasks, determine the problem. All of this takes careful thought and a willingness to stretch and bend your reality.  Once you have done all that, then you will have a good idea how to present the tasklist in order to solve the problem.



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