October  2009     Edition 54
None, One, Two, Many

Many Tens of Thousands of years ago

, humans didn’t have a mathematics system, but they did count … at least to two!   There is evidence from cave drawings and the like, that people had words or expressions for the numbers Zero (None), One, and Two.  More than two and the word, or expression, was “Many”.

Today, we have a wealth of higher level mathematics

, but we still use this simple numbering system more often than you would imagine, although we’ve evolved and now go up to three!

For example;

We use “single” or “mono” for one; “a couple”, or “pair”, or “bi“ for two; “a few”, or “tri”, for three; and then we move into the world of “Many”.  We start by using terms such as “bunch”, “group”, and “several”.  When we think the number is a lot, we use terms like; “a ton”, “a lot”, “a whole mess of”, “a crowd”, “a flock”, “a herd”, and when we think the number is very large, we say “tremendous”, or “humongous”, etc.   We use Mono (one), Bi (two), and then Poly (many), such as in monogamous, bigamous, polygamous, or monochrome, bichrome, and polychrome.

So what does this have to do with Thinking?

   Do we use “0,1,2,3, Many” as a way of shorthand, or because we don’t know the actual count, or do not want to be precise, or is there something else?

Is it possible that we jump from “3” to “Many”

as a way to generalize a situation?  Once generalized, it is often easier to grasp the entire situation to form a solution.   For example; If you get a customer call with a problem, you deal with that specific issue.  If a few customers call with a problem, you may deal with each one separately.  However if “a lot” of customers call, or a “tremendous amount” of customers call with the same problem, you would probably deal with the solution in a different way.

Apply this when discussing solutions.

   Is the problem a single issue, or will it repeat twice, or maybe three times, or is this a “many” situation.    You may have heard the term used during solution discussions as “That’s a one-off”.  This implies that it’s a special situation that won’t repeat, or might just a “few” times.  Great debates occur over “one offs”, as we sometimes are unsure if it truly is a “few” or “many”.   If you implement a “one off” solution in a “Many” situation, it is often a weak and incomplete solution and has to be redone.  If you implement a general solution for a single incident, then it is often overkill and expensive.

The Takeaway:
  When reviewing situations and getting clear, ask if this is a 1, 2, 3 or Many.  Understanding the possible repeatability of the situation can go a long way in understanding and weighing the pros and cons for different solutions and their subsequent implementation

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