Boil the Ocean - What it Means (2022 Guide)

What does boil the ocean mean? Have you ever heard the phrase "boil the ocean?" If you haven't, this article will explain what it means and why people say it. Also, you'll learn some examples of phrases that use the phrase, and how to use it properly. So, let's begin. What does "boil the ocean" mean? And what's the purpose behind it?

What does boil the ocean mean?

The phrase "boil the ocean" is a metaphor for undertaking a seemingly impossible task. The expression is meant to criticize a person's overly complex or incomprehensible approach to completing a task. In the case of a project, it can refer to the process of thoroughly completing a complex task. But what does boiling the ocean really mean? Let's explore its origins.

The term "boil the ocean" can refer to a concept that applies to many situations, ranging from project management to problem-solving. Boiling the ocean can also apply to goals and initiatives. When a team is tasked with finding cost savings, for instance, it may take a long time to narrow down all of the steps necessary to make progress. If the project team tries to do everything at once, the results may not be as impressive as expected.

In the case of seawater, boiling does not remove any of the salt. Seawater contains roughly three percent salt. As water vaporizes, the water becomes a gas, which makes it hotter. In Russia, scientists have found evidence of a strange "boiling" sea, as well as an unusual methane emission from the East Siberian Sea. Nevertheless, this phenomenon is unlikely to occur in our lifetimes.

idiomatic phrase boil the ocean

Why do people say boil the ocean?

While many professionals believe "boil the ocean" is outdated, others believe it is an effective approach for solving complex problems and saving resources. In a business context, the phrase is most applicable to large projects involving extensive work and thoroughness. Many critics say the phrase is inappropriate for small projects, as it implies that the task is too large for the company. In other cases, the phrase is appropriate for complicated problems, but it may not be appropriate for smaller ones.

One reason for the phrase's etymology is that it suggests an irresponsible or impossible task, and is generally meant to be critical of a person's lack of creativity or expertise. It also implies going overboard. A bucket will bail you out, but a spoon can dig an elephant's grave. It's important to understand the idiomatic meaning of "boil the ocean."

boiling the ocean came from world war I

Example phrases for boil the ocean

Boiling the ocean means to try and complete something in an unfeasible manner, to take things too far, or to go overboard. It's a term you may have heard in business settings, but you may not know exactly what it means. The expression can refer to anything that requires too much attention to detail. However, it also implies that something is too complicated. To avoid saying this in the workplace, you should try to learn the meaning behind it.

It sounds great, but you shouldn't use it in the workplace. You might sound a bit silly or uninspired, or you might be implying something that doesn't exist. The point is that you're not going to be able to complete the project unless you consider all the aspects of it. When you're working on a project, you want to make sure you have the right people and resources in place, so relying on clichés like "boil the ocean" isn't a good idea.

Example one

The general manager had his staff produce a seemingly unending stream of studies and analyses on the firm to present to a senior board member of a multinational manufacturer in preparation for the dignitary's visit. Senior executives had spent weeks crafting presentation after presentation. The stack of reports was about a foot high when it was done. The senior executive arrived and handled introductions before looking over all of the reports and said, "These are just excuses, and I'm not interested in hearing them. I'd like to ask you a few questions about your company now." The general manager had cooked the ocean in this case.

Example two

A significant chunk of each year was spent fine-tuning the three-year financial strategy at another international corporation. While having a long-term vision for a company has its benefits, attempting to reliably anticipate month-to-month expenditures and revenues far into the future in a world marked by change and uncertainty is akin to boiling the seas.

Example three

During a strategic planning session with a technology company's management team, participants spent days attempting to evaluate the plans of every rival in the market. As the days passed, it became clear that the rivals they were researching were either negligible or so far distant from what this smaller firm was doing that the exercise was a fruitless attempt at ocean boiling.

Example four

"With our customer satisfaction survey, Bob is attempting to boil the seas. In two days, he believes he can identify the top three customer satisfaction complaints for all of our products over the previous year, develop solutions, and deliver a presentation."

How to use the phrase boil the ocean

"Boil the ocean" is an idiomatic expression that refers to an impossible task or project. It describes an approach to a problem or task that is far too complicated or difficult. It can be used in both professional and social settings. A recent example is the massive blaze in the Gulf of Mexico caused by a ruptured pipeline. Pemex said a lightning storm caused the leak. But, is it a phrase you should use when faced with an impossible task?

The phrase "boil the ocean" has negative connotations and is used with a heightened sense of irony. It implies the impossibility of a task, and it is often used to focus a discussion that has gotten out of hand. Effective discussion management strategies help avoid the risk of boiling the ocean by framing problems in terms of boundaries and reining in attempts to expand the scope.

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author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), NCDA Certified Career Counselor (CCC), and general career expert. Patrick has completed the NACE Coaching Certification Program (CCP). And has been published as a career expert on Forbes, Glassdoor, American Express, Reader's Digest, LiveCareer, Zety, Yahoo,, SparkHire,,, FairyGodBoss,, St. Edwards University, NC State University,, Thrive Global,, Work It Daily, Workology, Career Guide, MyPerfectResume, College Career Life, The HR Digest, WorkWise, Career Cast, Elite Staffing, Women in HR, All About Careers, Upstart HR, The Street, Monster, The Ladders, Introvert Whisperer, and many more. Find him on LinkedIn.

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