No, I Can't Give You a High-Level Overview

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Just tell me what the next steps are!

Can you summarise it in five bullet points?

I just need a high level overview!

Sounds familiar? If you are not the one who is often asked these sorts of questions, maybe you are the one who is constantly running out of patience with a bunch of seemingly incoherent, rambling idiots who never manage to put their thoughts together.

Let me explain. We simply can’t do it, yet. But we want to. We do really want to be concise and help you. It just turns out that it is a hell of a lot more work than you think.

When you see those final, crispy, in-your-face one sliders that you love so much, you have no idea how content had to be first outlined, written, rewritten—or redrawn in the case of pictures—reshuffled, many times over, for most of it to then finally be discarded.

Your love for the final result creates a vicious cycle in which once you get used to the abridged version, you never want the mouthful again. Except that the abridged version comes from the unabridged version. Under pressure, though, the first bits that we can share with you can only possibly come from the latter, not the former, of course.

Ernie: I thought you were trying to explain something to me; I am more confused now. Can you just get to the point, please?

Believe me. I am trying. Bear with me.

First, we normally don’t really know what we want to say. Is it that our thought process is not clear? Maybe. Is our vocabulary lacking in range? Absolutely. But the fundamental thing is that we are knowledge workers precisely for these reasons. We need to write it, draw it, code it, before we actually know what is that we are thinking in the first place. Only when the content of our minds is manifest on paper, or on pixels, we are able, retroactively, to find out what the thought process actually was.

So you are confessing that most of the time you haven’t really got a clue as to what you are talking about!

Indeed. But this is just the first problem. I’m not over yet. The second issue is that many of us suffer from inductive thinking. We need to see a number of small examples to figure out what the big picture is. We can only go from specific to general, rather than from general to specific. In other words, we need to make many small observations before the pattern emerges to make a generalisation. Only then we are ready to provide you that crispy, to-the-point summary that you so much like and that you would rather have every single time—without fail.

So you’re telling me that you are sick in the brain and can’t get me what we need so I shouldn’t be dealing with more people with this induction stove problem.

It is inductive (the opposite of deductive) reasoning by the way. Given that this is nothing to do with cooking, I feel obliged to give you an example.

Let’s suppose that you want to buy a zoo and you send me over to the one you’ve chosen so that I prepare a report for you about my findings. Except that you give me half an hour to roam about the zoo, and another half an hour to write one slide summary as to what animals it has, what is the site like, etc.

I give you a big chunky 300 word paragraph in 12pt font starting with:

“When I first entered the zoo I saw a huge signboard saying City Zoo, except that the letter Z was missing, and after that there was a gravel path that led me to…”

You scream. You want it summarised in five bullet points; which I quickly put together as follows:

  • Big signboard with letter Z missing
  • Gravel path
  • One yellow lion
  • Baboon, big rat or some sort of furry creature
  • It was raining

You are disappointed. We fight. But I convince you to let me get back to the zoo and send you the summary the next morning. When you check your email, second thing in the morning—first is having your latte macchiato from Costa, served in a non-recyclable cup—you get this:

  • 45 Mammals
  • 15 Reptiles
  • 23 Birds
  • 50 acre park with the only Thai restaurant in the east side of the city
  • Only zoo in the country to feature the unique Silver Pied Peafowl

You are delighted. You wonder why you have to complain to get people to do things correctly all the time.

Next time you ask me something similar, you will have remembered the result, but would have forgotten that I had to ask you for more time. A lot more time. A full extra day actually.

See son, in today’s world, being able to produce quality results in record time is of the essence…

Here we go again. It just went over your head. Everything I just said…

Why did you just say? I’m not following. Can you summarise please?