single-minded

single-minded: having only one purpose, goal, or interest; focused on one thing; having one driving purpose or resolve. First known use 1836.

Synonyms: bent (on or upon), bound, decisive, do-or-die, firm, hell-bent (on or upon), intent, purposeful, resolute, resolved, set. Antonyms: faltering, hesitant, indecisive, irresolute, undetermined, unresolved, vacillating, wavering, weak-kneed.

In American thinking to be single-minded is always positive. It means to be wholly focused. 

Always positive?

Imagination and Focus

„You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.“ Mark Twain

„Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.“ Alexander Graham Bell 

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.“ Steve Jobs

„I don’t focus on what I’m up against. I focus on my goals and I try to ignore the rest.“ Venus Williams

„My approach to every game was to try to erase the games that were before and try to focus on the game at hand.“ Cal Ripken, Jr.

The importance of focus

In his TedEd talk Richard St. John quotes successfull people in order to stress the importance of focus:

James Cameron, producer of Titatnic and Avatar, two of the highest-grossing films of all time: „You’ve got to be super focused like a laser to get anthying worthwhile done. When I did Avatar I was focused for four years.“

Larry Page, co-founder of Google: „You should focus on one important goal and you need to be single-minded about it.“

Jaymie Matthews, astrophysicist and mission scientist, „Focus is the key word for our success. We pulled this off on a tight budget and short time line because we did one thing exceptionally well.“

Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza: „A fanatical focus on doing one thing well.“

Bill Gates: „If you want to be a great software company, you have to be only a software company. You can’t dabble in other things.“

“philosophical“

philosophical: of, relating to, or based on philosophy; having a calm attitude toward a difficult or unpleasant situation; characterized by the attitude of a philosopher; calm or unflinching in the face of trouble, defeat, or loss.

„They got into a philosophical debate about what it means for something to be natural.“ And „He’s trying to be philosophical about their decision since he knows he can’t change it.“ First known use 14th century.

Synonyms: abstract, logical, metaphysical, profound, rational, thoughtful. Also: calm, composed, deep, learned, resigned, stoic, serene, temperate. (MerriamWebster)

Being philosophical in the American context if often considered to be detached, abstract, impractical, unpragmatic, even arrogant.

WBS

WBS stands for work breakdown structure. Wikipedia defines it as: „A hierarchical and incremental decomposition of the project into phases, deliverables and work packages. It is a tree structure, which shows a subdivision of effort required to achieve an objective; for example a program, project, and contract.

In a project, the WBS is developed by starting with the end objective and successively subdividing it into manageable components in terms of size, duration, and responsibility (e.g., systems, subsystems, components, tasks, subtasks, and work packages) which include all steps necessary to achieve the objective.“

Wikipedia goes on to claim that WBS was developed by the United States Department of Defense and was introduced by the U.S. Navy in 1957 to support the development of the Polaris missile program.

Breaking down complexity into its component parts in order to focus on what is truly critical is hardly a development of any human organization of the 20th Century. Surely it is has been fundamental to human thinking for quite some time.

Entangling Alliances

As a nation-state, in their international relations, Americans warn against becoming involved in complexity. Thomas Paine (1737-1809) – an English-American political theorist-activist, author, and revolutionary – instilled non-interventionist ideas into the politics of the American colonies.

His work Common Sense (1776) argued in favor of avoiding alliances with foreign powers and influenced the Second Continental Congress to avoid forming an alliance with France.

George Washington’s farewell address restated Paine’s maxim: “The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation.

Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.“

Thomas Jefferson extended Paine’s ideas in his inaugural address on March 4, 1801: “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

In 1823, President James Monroe articulated what would become the Monroe Doctrine: “In the wars of the European powers, in matters relating to themselves, we have never taken part, nor does it comport with our policy, so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded, or seriously menaced that we resent injuries, or make preparations for our defense.“

Best Ideas are Simplest

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.” Albert Einstein

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs

“The greatest ideas are the simplest.” William Golding, Lord of the Flies

“A little simplification would be the first step toward rational living.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Avoid philosophical discussion

Americans do not engage in a discussion about the essence of a decision to be made. If a discussion does takes place about the decision in and of itself, however, it is strictly for the purpose of defining who and/or what is to be served by making a good decision.

Americans invest less time on identifying how a particular decision fits into the broader picture. Their approach to all decisions is primarily motived by pragmatism. Decisions lead to actions, which in turn lead to further decisions to be made. Americans avoid getting weighted down in what they view as over-analysis. Forward movement is of priority.

English Composition

Americans learn as early as in grammar school to break down complexity. They are taught in English Composition to formulate short, simple and clear sentences ordered in a logical sequence. Good composition avoids sentences with complex grammatical twists and turns. Simplicity and clarity are the goals.

Complexity: The state of quality of being intricate or complicated; a factor involved in a complicated process of situation.

Grammatical twists and turns: Convoluted structures in the English language that often obscure meaning for the reader: 

“Although the blue whale has been protected for over thirty years and its numbers are increasing, especially in the North Pacific, where whale hunting has been banned, it is still at risk of extinction as its habitat is being polluted by waste from oil tankers and its main food, the plankton, is being killed off by harmful rays from the sun, which can penetrate the earth’s atmosphere because there is a huge whole in the ozone layer over Antarctica.”

Ernest Hemingway, considered to be one of America’s greatest writers, shied away from convolution in grammar and style. He never used big words or complicated sentences, yet he succeeded in painting vivid images. Overly sophisticated does not necessarily equate to good writing.

Scope Creep

Scope creep is when a task or project grows beyond its original intent, requiring more people, time and money than originally planned. It is typically a result of poor task definition, change control or internal communication. A precisely defined decision limits scope creep.

Scope: The extent of the area or subject matter that something deals with or to which it is relevant; the opportunity or possibility to do or deal with something.

Creep: To move slowly and carefully, especially in order to avoid being heard or noticed; moving very slowly at a steady pace; occur or develop gradually and almost imperceptibly; increase slowly but steadily in number or amount. Old English crēopan, meaning to “move with the body close to the ground”. Of Germanic origin; related to Dutch kruipen.

According to Economic Recovery Measures, Financial Rescues Have Only Temporary Impact by Kathy Ruffing and James R. Horney from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Bush-era tax cuts and its extension during the Obama presidency, in addition to the deficit-financed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, account for “almost half of the $18 trillion in debt that, under current policies, the nation will owe by 2019.” Deficit-creep.

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