“Pan metron ariston” (παν μέτρον άριστον) is a quote in ancient Greek which was coined by Kleovoulos o Lindios in the 6th century B.C. and means “everything in moderation”. Some believe that the original quote was “Metron Ariston” which means “moderation is best”. Whatever the quote, ancient Greeks believed that you should live your life choosing the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as much as possible.
Talking about extremes, I have always been fascinated by continua, I think it’s because of the order they bring to chaos and complexity. Almost every ideology or idea that matters in life, can be expressed on a continuum. A continuum has two extremes — let’s think of them as black and white with many shades of grey in between.
Here are two more official continuum definitions which are quite similar:
- “a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, but the extremes are quite distinct.”
- “something that changes in character gradually or in very slight stages without any clear dividing points: it’s not ‘left-wing or right-wing’ — political opinion is a long continuum”
(Collins English Dictionary)
I do not consider myself qualified to improve on wisdom that transcended centuries (26 centuries since Lindios said “ everything in moderation”) but I do have an opinion about quotes that include the words “ everything” or “nothing”, “always” or “never”; incidentally these two pairs of opposite words can be the extremes of two continua; very few things are absolute, this is why the quote “everything in moderation… including moderation” by Oscar Wilde is genius.
There is no doubt that being an extremist has mainly negative connotations: a fascist, a racist, a sexist, a religious fanatic, a communist… There are also some other examples like “feminist” or “atheist” that would create a debate with certain groups — as to whether they have negative connotations — that I am cowardly avoiding to mention at this time (see how I did this :)?).
Let’s first review a few random continua to familiarise ourselves on what they could look like, and after that we will go ahead and discuss the usefulness of looking at an issue through the lens of a continuum. Take the eating continuum below for example, isn’t it amazing how many types of diets there are? It has an impressive 13 elements in addition to the 2 extremes; a total of 15 elements. Kangatarian (I bet you can guess what these people eat :)) is the one that cracks me up with cannibal being a close second! I am also intrigued by how vegetarians managed to be the mean nowadays, they have come quite far from being an extreme in the not too distant past. And in case you are not familiar with ahimsa fruitarians, they only eat fruit that falls off a tree and they call pulling a carrot from the earth murder!
The God continuum with probabilities on God’s existence is not as harmless as the eating one; it is one that has been the basis for so many debates, civilised and uncivilised — and when I say uncivilised I mean the killing type if you think of the Crusaders (even though in their case it was more of a “my God is better than yours” rather than about its existence).
The selfishness continuum comes straight out of the Vedanta Treatise, a Hindu approach to life.
The colour coding means red is bad and green is good for most people.
Disclaimer: this does not always represent the author’s opinion. We will discuss more the groupings or segments of continua in the next chapter.
The continuum below communicates a thesis of mine that most people disagree with. I believe that being a patriot is the beginning of a proverbial “slippery slope”. It could progressively lead to someone becoming a nationalist and then a jingoist which is what you have to be to vote for Brexit or for someone like Trump.
The nationalism continuum can be integrated with the selfishness one at the point of loves all humans which is another way to say world citizen. One can then make interesting connections and draw conclusions about love and nationalism.
Those of you who have read other articles of mine may be wondering what all this has to do with market research, social intelligence, customer insights etc. Well the nice thing about continua is that you can conjure one out of nothing about almost anything. Case in point, digital transformation is something closer to home for a company with a name like DigitalMR; MR stands for Market Research, not Mister as some mistakenly call it. But I digress… if you replace physical with ‘brick & mortar’ then this continuum becomes about retail, and if you replace it with ‘analogue’ it could be about equipment.
For market research, physical could mean in-person or telephone interviews, whilst digital means online surveys or unsolicited opinions found on social media using social listening tools.
Nothing easier than creating a 5 point continuum. The one below is about ways of gathering the opinions of customers and other stakeholders. Asking questions refers to surveys and focus group discussions whilst listening refers to unsolicited posts of people online. The discipline of harvesting these posts and analysing them is what we call social intelligence and it is mainly based on machine learning models that annotate posts for topics and sentiment in an automated way.
Groups, Segments and Types of Continua
When you take some time to absorb the 6 examples shared above, you will realise that not all continua are created equal.
Here are some ways to differentiate continua; for some:
- both extremes are bad (ahimsa fruitarian AND cannibal)
- both extremes are acceptable (asking AND listening)
- one extreme is really bad the other is really good (fascist Vs world citizen)
- the mean is a combination of the extremes (asking & listening)
- the mean is just a standalone option that has nothing to do with the extremes (vegetarian)
So what are they good for? They are philosophical tools that can help organise thought, clear the fog, visualise relationships, pinpoint and explain movements and trends.
Living life on the “Mean”
Ancient Greeks believed that you should live your life choosing the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as much as possible. Is this a good principle to follow? If we consider the various types of continua described in the previous chapter sometimes the best choice is to adopt one of the extremes, other times it is indeed the mean like our ancient progenitors preached.
Thinking about moderation, can one be too much of a world citizen or too loving for all creatures?
When a continuum describes progress over time it is more likely that the most recent extreme is the best place to be. Even so, living it in moderation is probably a sound piece of advice.
I do subscribe to the notion that life is not black or white, it is mostly grey. Most of our lives are lived in the grey, only very few of us live on the extremes, sometimes by choice, but mostly not. Extremists must always be on edge, as opposed to leading a happy life, laid back, going with the flow, accepting the things they cannot control. Do let me know how you feel about continua and “pan metron ariston”@Digitalmr_CEO or via email.
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Originally published at https://www.digital-mr.com.