Over the holidays, I was catching up with a friend when the topic of “The Big Picture” came up. During his year-end performance assessment he was told that he “needs to step back and begin to think about the bigger picture.” Open to interpretation, my friend asked me what I thought this loaded sentence meant. Where I do even begin?
Notably, I do feel that thinking about the bigger picture is a very important skill but that doesn’t mean the details should be overlooked. So, why are each important and how does someone balance the two? Let me start by noting that many people believe that people fall into one of two categories – the “big picture” thinkers and the “detail-oriented” thinkers. The big picture thinkers are often strategic, visionary and creative where the detail-oriented thinkers are precise and conscientious. Some say that the big-picture thinker can lack discipline and that the detail-oriented thinker can lack perspective.
Is one better than the other? No, definitely not. However, is it okay to be one over the other? Of course! I find it perplexing when I’m told an individual’s key to success and core development is to “focus on the bigger picture.” Let’s put on our “detailed-thinker” hat and discuss this a little further…
If you are detail-oriented, you are likely being told to think big picture. Whereas the big picture thinker is being told to spend time understanding the detail or understanding the data behind making a decision. In order to be an effective advisor, my stance is that you need to be able to switch between “big picture” mode and “detail-oriented” mode seamlessly, recognizing what the situation needs from you. Imagine a boardroom of executives with a traditional mix of these two types of thinkers; while each of these executives naturally leans towards one way of thinking, they are able to move between the two for the betterment of the team, company, etc. They are able to rely on each other for the different perspectives needed to be successful. This blend of personalities creates the best ideas AND ensures the vision can be executed. Think Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Yes, the visionary in this case is well-known, but only with the help of his longtime friend who could build a real product to support the vision. Alas, they were both extremely critical in the successes of the company some refer to as “The California Fruit Company” aka Apple.
How many times have you heard that managers are out of touch with the reality of their employees and, to the contrary, how many times have managers expressed that the staff members do not understand the strategies that keep the business running. I know this will sound astonishing, but it is that balance that keeps the business running, is it not? The advantage of having employees with strengths in both areas helps foster the development of advanced skills and position a team for success, given that they respect each other’s opinions and also that there is leadership in place to guide them forward.
- Do you know if you tend to think “big picture” or “detail oriented”?
- Do you know how your colleagues, peers or business partners think relative to you?
- Do you know how to value the different opinions that each perspective brings forward?
If the answer is “no” to any of the above, the next time you see or hear “The individual needs to think bigger picture” or “The individual needs to better understand the data or details before making a decision”, try focusing on how to position them to understand HOW to think differently and build the ability to think more “detail-oriented” or “bigger picture.”