Lumpers And Splitters

When it comes to many aspects of life, people can be divided between lumpers and splitters. Lumpers are people who try to put things together, who see the connections between that which others view as disparate things. Splitters, on the other hand, are those who see the differences and nuances between those things that are often viewed as similar. Neither of these is purely a good or bad tendency. Both are in fact necessary to gain insights, although people seem better suited to engage in one or the other of these matters, I would suspect. It is vital in life both to be able to make appropriate comparisons in order to be able to apply things from one sphere of knowledge to another, and also to understand the connections that connect what seems separate to a common origin, as well as to understand differences that keep something from merely being just like another thing.

There are many areas where lumping and splitting makes for interesting comparisons. For example, when one deals with the area of languages, lumpers are the sorts of people who are drawing upon or trying to show connections between what are otherwise considered to be separate languages. So it is, for example, that language families are made by finding the linguistic connections that demonstrate common origin. Similarly, splitters help to determine if dialects are in fact languages, and provide skepticism to connections that are too loose or too far-fetched, forcing people to marshal better arguments for their cases of connection than they would otherwise feel it necessary to do. Similarly, splitters may also recognize that not all connections are genetic connections, but some of them involve areal interactions that may be worthy of investigation as well.

It is not only in matters of language where lumping and splitting are vital, but really in any area where one is seeking to deal with questions of identity. A lumper will tend to put people or things together in large boxes based on their set of common qualities. In contrast, a splitter will tend to individualize how they deal with people based on more minute and exacting sets of qualities that serve to differentiate people from each other. Neither of these tendencies is inherently better or worse–we need to engage in both of these tendencies simultaneously, to see how it is that things are alike and also how they are not alike, whether or not people appreciate being split in any way or lumped together with people they may not like to be associated with but are nevertheless fundamentally alike in important ways.

When we think of Pareto principles, we may better understand why both lumping and splitting are useful. If we know that 85% of our problems are caused by 15% of the people we have to deal with, we can both split them from others and lump them together to focus on their shared identity as troublemakers in our lives. Similarly, if we know that 80% of our sales come from 20% of our customers, then we can individualize our attention to these important customers who bring in the majority of our business to ensure that we are not missing opportunities to improve our relationship with them. In these cases we must determine what are the important aspects that drive us to lump things together, and those key aspects are well worth engaging in such practices. Similarly, we must understand in what situations it is most worth splitting up what we could easily be connected together.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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