Which do people prefer? – “Whack-a-mole” or “Big picture” thinking”

It occurs to me that there are two approaches to problem solving. – “Whack-a-mole” or “Big Picture”.

In the “whack-a-mole” approach focus is on immediate problems as they pop-up. But we can solve one problem only to see it appear again and again.

The “big picture” approach tries to understand what it is the problem behind the problem and what can be done to prevent it. But sometimes we miss the immediate crisis.

When a person is bleeding or starving there is no time to to puzzle out what could have been done to prevent this. On the other hand, we are doomed to play “whack-a-mole” because we do not look at the big picture and root causes of the problem.

Now before we go any further, let me be clear! Images do not always capture the whole story. And, although often presented as either/or, the operative word should not be “or” but “AND” (sometimes referred to the Vincentian “and”). We need to address immediate needs as they pop-up. But we must also seek an understanding of the “big” picture” of why the same problems keep popping up.

We need to address immediate needs as they pop-up. But we must also seek to understand the “big” picture” of why the same problems keep popping up.

Pope Francis uses both methods

Pope Francis is certainly aware of problems that that pop up all over. Looking out his window he can catalog so many problems clamoring for his attention.

And, with so many problems he is criticized by those who feel he is not addressing their problem the way they would like him to.

Personally, I must admit that one of the things I like about Pope Francis is that he helps me see the “big picture”.

He draws our attention to the big picture in two of his major writings  – Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si. He describes the interrelatedness of so many problems with the insight that they are all manifestations of a “throwaway culture” or a “culture of waste” rooted in individualism and “me first”. He draws our attention to the loss of awareness of solidarity of being “our brother’s keeper” and that we live in God’s house, the created world. In both, he calls for personal conversion.

Vincent’s approach to problem solving

I see many similarities with Vincent’s approach” to solving problems.

Vincent taught us it is not either spiritual poverty or material poverty.  True, he raised and distributed the equivalent of millions of dollars to address specific problems such as starvation. At the same time, he addressed the spiritual poverty of his day by going from parish to parish preaching missions.

I have only late in my life come to appreciate how he addressed root causes of the specific problems that pop up.

Instinctively he addressed he formation of the clergy by identifying and inspiring parish clergy and, eventually being instrumental in forming a network of seminaries to form dedicated clergy to pick up where his missions left off.

Instinctively he realized that laity, especially women, were an untapped resource He creatively found a way to get around the ecclesiastical restriction of his day. He organized laity for the needed charitable work in what we called “Confraternities” With the Daughters of Charity he found a creative way to make it possible for women to dedicate their lives to the service of those in need in a way that had not been open to them before.


  • Am I a “whack-a-mole” person by nature or a “big picture” person?
  • How do I handle my frustrations playing “whack-a-mole” or working for clarity about a bigger vision.?
  • Do I ever ask what is the problem behind the problem and miss the problem right in front of me?