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Are you trying to boil the ocean?

Boil the Ocean

Boil The Ocean

Big ideas are terrific. There’s no harm in thinking big. Acting prematurely on these ideas is the problem. Many visionaries move from start to finish in their minds quickly and skip many of the steps in between necessary for execution. That’s how they wind up trying to boil the ocean.

Are you trying to boil the ocean with your team, department, or organization? Do you move from vision to completion without building a plan of execution to determine if you are taking on more than your organization has resources to complete?

Don’t let ambition or ego keep you from focusing on your vision, mission, and objectives. Let those guide you. They’ll keep you from over-reaching and under-planning.

The Term

“‘Boil the ocean’ is an idiomatic phrase that can have a few related meanings. One is that it is obviously impossible to boil

boil the ocean


the ocean. Where would you start? Thus boil the ocean can refer to an impossible task — something so complicated it’s hard to know where to begin.

Another definition of boil the ocean is used in business and tends to relate to projects that are hugely complex, perhaps overly so. The idea of boiling the whole ocean means that you are concerned with a minutia of fine details. This may mean that you’re being thorough or it could mean that you have made something so complex you can never accomplish your goals.

There are few potential origins of this phrase. One is typically credited to Will Rogers. When asked how the US should handle the problem of German U-boats, during World War I, Rogers recommended that the ocean be boiled. A reporter asking the question supposedly followed up by inquiring how this could be done. To which Rogers replied: ‘I’m just the idea man.’ Others attribute the phrase to Mark Twain.” – WiseGeek

About the Author

Gary Cohen is a highly-skilled Executive Coach, Leadership Author, Trainer, and International Keynote Speaker. His clients range from entrepreneurial CEOs of the nation’s fastest-growing companies to executives of global 100 companies. He differentiates himself from traditional (psycho/therapeutic) executive coaches by bringing a vast amount of business experience as a former Founder / President of one the Nation’s Fastest growing companies. He is the author of Just Ask Leadership: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions (McGraw Hill). Gary B. Cohen Full Bio

  • Mark Ritchie

    Great post, thank you.

  • Ken Clark

    Reminded me of the Edwin Land quote: “If you dream of something worth doing and then simply go to work on it
    and don’t think anything of personalities, or emotional conflicts, or of
    money, or of family distractions; it is amazing how quickly you get
    through those 5,000 steps.” So I guess we are looking for a plan that will boil the ocean in 5000 steps. 

    • Gary B Cohen

      Ken, If you could send that in PDF I will circulate it by tomorrow! (smile)

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