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I have read the question English equivalent of the Greek “When Muhammad does not go to the mountain…”? and it is neither an answer to this question, nor are there any answers to the question posed there. I'm looking for an alternative (not an English equivalent) that captures the enormity of the challenge.

I’m trying to title a talk about bringing people to a very complex and immovable problem (moving compute workloads to Exabyte sized datasets). I know the quote “if you cannot bring the mountain to Muhammad, you must bring Muhammad to the mountain” is from Francis Bacon and not pejorative, I worry about the connotations for people reading it without context.

Is there an alternative which similarly implies bringing much smaller people to an enormous “thing” to do their work?

One thing about the great discussion and suggestions so far is they frame it focusing on the size of the problem - I'm looking for ALSO the movement of people.

One that kind of popped in my head was "Leading the Israelites through the Desert to the Promise Land" (why are there so many religious themed ones?) is PRETTY close as well. Is the movement of a person/people TO the problem (especially in that they may be stuck where they are) that gets at the core of what I'm looking for.

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  • To me the phrase has a more specific meaning than just a very difficult task: it implies a major change in approach that involves transforming the problem to something less onerous. Is this specifically what you mean, or do you just want something meaning a very tough problem? (In the latter case you might reference e.g. the labours of Hercules or Sisyphus; in the former case there are various business-school anecdotes about how seemingly-insoluble problems were solved.)
    – Stuart F
    Oct 8, 2022 at 12:02
  • Ah, no the former. I'm looking for a fundamental change :) That's really insightful lemme think about that. Something like "Getting Away from Designing a Faster Horse: ..."
    – aronchick
    Oct 8, 2022 at 20:22
  • "Once more unto the breach, dear friends!"
    – user888379
    Oct 8, 2022 at 23:37
  • “If you invent a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” The problem of catching mice is widely acknowledged to be difficult and everlasting.
    – user205876
    Oct 12, 2022 at 7:24

2 Answers 2

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Crossing the Rubicon

This expression refers to the river Rubicon, which needed to be crossed, in order for an important objective to be achieved in a battle.

It also marked Caesar's invasion of Italy, from which there was no turning back.

I think it suits your needs because:

  • It was a difficult and complex challenge
  • Many people were involved
  • It had to be carefully orchestrsted
  • Achieving the objective had significant benefits on those involved and also on the wider audience
  • not achieving it would have dire consequences
  • once crossed, there was no turning back

'Crossing the Rubicon' normally means 'taking an irrevocable decision' but I feel it could be a suitable metaphor for your talk.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_Rubicon

Other possibilities could include any sort of 'quest', like:

  • Slaying the dragon (many stories exist including George and the Dragon)
  • Jason and the golden fleece
  • Slay the Behemoth, or Leviathan (mythical 'great beasts', a good metaphor for a 'big database'.)

If you look up 'heroic quests mythology' you'll find lots of ideas - this book at the link goes from the voyages of Odysseus to the hunt for the Holy Grail and has lots of heroes:

https://www.amazon.com/Legendary-Quests-Mythological-Journeys-Adventures/dp/1861478658

You could also choose more modern heroes, real people who faced a challenge, and achieved 'a quest'.

https://www.twinkl.co.id/resources/home-key-stage-1-subjects/history/history-significant-individuals

In order to 'bring many people' to 'an enormous thing' to do their work, I suggest you present the whole thing as 'an heroic quest'.

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You may use variations on finding a needle in the haystack. You can entice with a very well defined needle in an admittedly large haystack. You can empathize that they face a very large haystack. Your powers of persuasion may be tested but this would put them to good use.

I was told my job would be finding a needle in a haystack. I replied that it was not my first haystack.

At the end you may remind them of something that Muhammad certainly knew, "How do you eat an elephant?" Answer:"One bight at a time."

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