Gestalt for Dummies
January 12, 2007 4:18 PM   Subscribe

English, non-cliched way to say gestalt/forest for the trees/see the big picture?

I'm a marketing writer. About once a month I find myself struggling to find another way to say gestalt.

Visually, we can imply it. But verbally, how do I support the idea of seeing the whole from the parts? Yes, I've hit the forest for the trees, seeing the big picture, but those are both tired cliches as well as about just seeing how it comes together, rather than discovering something richer/deeper within the combination of details.

Either literally or metaphorically, how do I say "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" in a less trite way?
posted by Gucky to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Emergence or Emergent properties
posted by Osmanthus at 4:32 PM on January 12, 2007

posted by furtive at 4:35 PM on January 12, 2007

"Emergent" is nice, but it captures more the dynamism of the totality than the totality as such, unless you know its technical, systematics sense. The problem can be broken down further. Is the image perspectival for the target audience? Do they currently see something one way that you would like them to see another way? What are the obstacles to that shift in perception? What can you do with images rather than words (I know you're the writer, but maybe you can play tricks with typography?). In Marxist political theory there is a useful theoretical concept of "totalization" (and a corrolary notion, "overdetermination," which emphasizes the dynamic rather than encompassing quality of the whole political economy). There are probably more modern proverbs than "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," though that is a very pithy and efficient philosophical statement that brooks little semantic challenge. E.O. Wilson coined a term for the unity of the sciences, "consilience" (he wrote a book with that name). And one sees "convergence" used in technology discourses to name the phenomenon of technologies coming together to create new categories of utility.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:55 PM on January 12, 2007

Unfortunately, the design is already implying what it can, but I need to make images of automata diagrams make sense (to a non scientific audience). (They're being inspired by the Emergence stuff right now though.)

We're talking looking at a whole bunch of data and being able to see patterns that help them do something with them. A data point magic eye 3-d thing, if you will. We're trying to sell them the idea of looking beyond an Excel spread sheet.

It's more than analysis and I've played with synthesis, but it's like finding a complex and elaborate pattern in seemingly random data points. Also, it's to a fairly layman/non-techy audience, so I need to make it simple.
posted by Gucky at 5:15 PM on January 12, 2007

"Holistic" is a good adjective to use in conjuction with another word to get around "gestalt", as in "holistic view of your data". You've got to be able to have an audience who won't get tangled in "holistic medicine", but if they can get past "gestalt pyschiatry" then they're probably cool and the gang.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 5:22 PM on January 12, 2007

posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:33 PM on January 12, 2007

Not sure if they're any less trite, but some other metaphors you could play with:

* Putting the puzzle pieces together

* Orchestras or arias or other musical metaphors - listening to the violin bit and the piano bit and the vocal bit separately is not as good as hearing them all at the same time (or hearing individual notes at random times vs. hearing the entire work); maybe your company then becomes the conductor?

* Cooking - flavors playing off each other and highlighting certain tastes that wouldn't be apparent without the spices or other ingredients

* A good meal in general - the food, atmosphere, company, wine all work together to create a unique experience

* Love - you fall in love with the entirety of your partner, not just bits of him or her

* Sports greatness, maybe? The idea that Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or Babe Ruth or whoever cannot be analyzed in terms of stats; the analysis must also include their enthusiasm, grace, and other intangibles that make up the whole person.

* Raising kids, or watching them grow up -- you wouldn't want to look just at a scrapbook of discrete moments, you want to see their entire lives in order to experience them as human beings.

I know some of these are a bit awkward, or might be a stretch. Just meant as a brainstorming start.
posted by occhiblu at 5:59 PM on January 12, 2007

Another idea is the "Picture from the Pixels"
You show a bunch of dots and show a bunch of diffent way to connect them together in a dot-to-dot fashion making stick figure patterns. Then zoom out to show that its not a dot-to-dot at all, its actually a photograph of a human face, and the dots are actually halftone/dither dots that are not connected by lines at all, but they form a coherent image nonetheless when viewed from the proper perspective.
posted by Osmanthus at 6:01 PM on January 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Picture from the pixels" is great. Thanks for that. A genuinely visual metaphor.
posted by unSane at 6:18 PM on January 12, 2007

As a person who sees and criticizes a lot of advertising -- don't tell me that it is, show me that it is. That designation is up to me, not you, the advertiser. Telling me that it is, is also telling me that you don't trust my own assertions or you don't think I'm smart enough to know the difference between crap and cromulent. Don't make any statements that refer to the broad picture of a product being greater that the pieces that comprise it. Your brilliant description of its pieces will make that absurdly obvious without having to say so.
posted by Quarter Pincher at 7:47 PM on January 12, 2007

Don't tell me that it is, show me that it is.

As someone who teaches advertising, you're preaching to the choir. I've got the sign "Show, Don't Tell" up in our work area.

They don't make the pieces, they don't make the final deliverable. They make a process that fits in between. Also, it's for the corporate brand, not any one of their products. Basically, it's a headache. But I appreciate your righteous indignation. I guarantee you won't have to read the end results of what I'm creating. It's not an ad, it's explanation of a marketing strategy.

Picture from the Pixels
We're using a different design approach, but that's a lovely phrase for getting at what they do, particularly in applications that can't use the elaborate end of the design that's being created. Thank you.

And the stress of deadlines made the word "holistic" fall right out of my head. I think there are places where the design feels hard enough edged that it wouldn't go new agey.

And thanks everyone. I've got lots to write and between me and the design staff, there's nothing wasted here. It makes working the weekend a little more pleasurable.
posted by Gucky at 10:41 AM on January 13, 2007

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