A metaphor of increments
September 19, 2016 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Hivemind, please help fill the hole in my mind. I know you're good at this:

There is an expression or idiom/metaphor that describes incrementalism (filling in small tiny pieces of a puzzle), in the same way that "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic" describes futile efforts in the face of failure. It does a good job of expressing how a plan or project focuses on the branches, rather than the trees or the forests.

It has fallen out of the sieve of my brain. Can you fill it in?
posted by Dashy to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
bikeshedding?
posted by cameradv at 1:03 PM on September 19, 2016


The bike shed metaphor as an example of Parkinson's law of triviality.
posted by Etrigan at 1:05 PM on September 19, 2016


It's not quite right, but "bird by bird," maybe? From Anne Lamott.
posted by that's candlepin at 1:05 PM on September 19, 2016


Yak Shaving?
posted by 4th number at 1:08 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


"When eating an elephant take one bite at a time." - General Creighton Abrams
posted by Etrigan at 1:09 PM on September 19, 2016


Is it intended to be a positive look at incrementalism? If so, "Eating the elephant one bite at a time" seems right.

Or is it intended to criticize the inefficiencies of the piecemeal approach?
posted by sparklemotion at 1:13 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


A camel is a horse designed by a committee ?
posted by pintapicasso at 1:22 PM on September 19, 2016


Well, "filling in tiny pieces of a puzzle" is itself a metaphor, as is "not seeing the forest for the trees."
posted by beagle at 1:26 PM on September 19, 2016


Just throwing out a bunch that are related to various degrees, in case one of these sparks your memory:

brick by brick
one grain of sand at a time
one step at a time
journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
penny wise
penny saved is a penny earned - and other Poor Richard type aphorisms?
take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves
the devil's in the details
nitty gritty
nuts and bolts
slow and steady wins the race
slowly but surely
sow the seeds
stitch in time saves nine
straw that breaks the camel's back
marathon not a sprint
the ant and the grasshopper (the value of hard work on small things ahead of time) - and other Aesop fables?
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:34 PM on September 19, 2016


"We're getting into the weeds," is what I usually say when a planning or reporting meeting is focusing too much on the tiny details. Some background and speculation about the phrase's meanings and origins is here.
posted by beagle at 1:51 PM on September 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


God is in the details
posted by Mchelly at 1:56 PM on September 19, 2016


The metaphor I'm looking for is a negative evaluation of the plan.
posted by Dashy at 2:11 PM on September 19, 2016


Penny-wise, pound foolish
Analysis paralysis
worm's eye-view
mouse's eye-view
Can't see beyond the end of your nose
posted by sparklemotion at 2:19 PM on September 19, 2016


Penny wise and pound foolish = paying too much attention to easy decisions that don't matter and neglecting difficult decisions that are important.
posted by aimedwander at 2:20 PM on September 19, 2016


The metaphor I'm looking for is a negative evaluation of the plan
So, the plan is not a good plan because the planners have focused too much on the details and not on the big picture or the goal?
posted by beagle at 2:36 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's Can't see the forest for the trees, but you referenced that already
posted by Mchelly at 2:37 PM on September 19, 2016


in the weeds
nit-picking
bean counting
wild goose chase
gone down a rabbithole
missing the big picture
need to take a bird's eye view
bailing the ocean with a teacup
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:40 PM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Death by a thousand papercuts.
posted by forforf at 4:56 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


What about The Big Rocks of Life by Steven Covey? If you fill up a jar with sand first, then there won't be space for the rocks. But if you put the rocks in first, then the sand has plenty of space to fill in around the rocks. And water has even more space.
posted by CathyG at 5:45 PM on September 19, 2016


The Dutch saying for this is "mierenneuken". (Ant f*cking, literally).

Splitting hairs?
posted by frumiousb at 7:35 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't know a pithy way of putting it, but the word that comes to mind is epicycles -- those apocryphal tweaks that were said to keep getting piled on to the geocentric model of the solar system as more misbehaving planetary motions were observed.
posted by rollick at 11:43 AM on September 20, 2016


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