The Whole Thing

One of the ways to understand something is to break it down into its smallest divisible parts. By breaking something down, whether it is a business, a concept or a model for a new way of doing something, we are able to more readily digest the information before us. Often, I have used the phrase “deconstruct to reconstruct” in terms of attempting to master a new concept. When ideas or pieces of information are small and manageable, they are more easily understood. But there is more to understanding than that.

I have no doubt that taking things apart and separating them into component parts is a valuable exercise in learning and understanding. And, when we break things down we may learn to construct new things from the pieces we have separated out.

However, to truly gain an understanding of something it is not enough to deconstruct it to reconstruct it. Understanding components is important, but remembering that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts is an equally compelling part of the comprehension puzzle.

That being said, an exercise in understanding should have at least two phases. In phase one, we can go about the business of separating something into the smallest divisible components that we can, in order to have a ready way of more easily digesting information. Yet, in phase two, we should step back, at least metaphorically, and observe the whole thing. It is in this phase that we remind ourselves not to miss the forest for the trees.

It is important to understand things and the pieces that compose them. At the same time, it is critical that we gain a big picture understanding of what we are looking at, so that we have a firm understanding of how everything works together.

Things are like symphonies. There is an array of instruments playing – they are the components – that work in unison to create the glorious whole thing, in this case the thing being a symphony. As near perfect as any given instrument is played, success is based on how well the symphony is played as a whole.

Learn the instruments and what they do, yet always understand and enjoy the resulting symphony. Take in the big picture. Grasp the whole thing.

Image courtesy of [coward_lion] /

*Authors note: You might see this column pop up online in a newspaper, under the name Both Sides. I am publishing this column here first at For a bunch of years, I have been writing newspaper columns. Since my columns have received a good response on CYInterview, I thought I would share it with you. Hope you enjoy.

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