Big picture thinking: develop your innovation and ambition

a happy woman looking at the world using big picture thinking

Most cutting-edge innovations we enjoy today are the result of big picture thinking. For example, you may be reading this article from a smartphone. The development of this type of device is an example of big picture thinking. Rather than add more bells and whistles, Apple CEO Steve Jobs reimagined what a phone could be. He pictured a future in which phones could run any app. Under his leadership, Apple released the first iPhone in 2007.

As with Jobs, big picture thinking is common with business leaders. After selling his first business, Elon Musk stepped back to think about the three biggest challenges facing mankind. He decided it was renewable energy, electric vehicles, and spaceflight. This big picture thinking became the basis for Tesla, SpaceX, and his other ventures. Although now a controversial figure, there’s no denying that Musk’s ventures and creative ideas have changed the world.

In fact, Fingerprint for Success' research shows that big picture thinking is associated with successful entrepreneurs. But big picture thinking should not be limited to company executives like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. Everyone can benefit from practicing big picture thinking. By thinking at a high-level and for the long-term, you can succeed in business and in life.

Table of contents
What is big picture thinking?
Natural tendencies of big picture thinkers
The big benefits of big picture thinking
What are the blind spots of big picture thinking?
How do you know if you’re a big-picture thinker?
Can you be a big-picture and detail-oriented thinker?
How to develop big picture thinking skills: 5 effective strategies to try now
Looking at the big picture

What is big picture thinking?

Big picture thinking involves focusing on the overall vision and macro-level aspects of a project or decision. It is the ability to to envision broader, high-level plans for the long term. This approach looks beyond immediate concerns and strategize for the future.

Natural tendencies of big picture thinkers

Visionaries are big picture thinkers. If you're a big picture thinker, you excel when envisaging the overall picture of what needs to be done. When starting new projects, you focus on the macro level. Although you recognize that micro-level details are important, you prefer to stay away from these. You contribute the most by concentrating on high level matters.

Big picture thinking has roots in psychology, where it is known as a high-level construal. The “big picture” is achieved when a person creates psychological distance from a decision. This distance may be temporal, as in the case of long-term planning1. This distance may also be situational, as in the case of strategic planning around different possibilities. These big picture thinkers are able to see beyond the immediate and create a broader plan for the long term.

The big benefits of big picture thinking

According to F4S, entrepreneurs motivated by big picture thinking are more likely to experience venture success. These entrepreneurs are 30 to 48% more likely to think in broad terms. This means they prefer big chunks of macro-level information over detailed tasks.

Big picture thinking is important for all professionals, especially if you’re aiming to be a team leader. Big picture thinking improves your chances of success for several reasons. One, big picture thinkers are ambitious. You will undertake the bold moves that grow organizations. Two, big picture thinkers excel at pattern recognition. You will recognize the industry trends and relationships that colleagues overlook. This will lead to important business insights. Finally, big picture thinkers are innovative. You come up with product, service, and process ideas that can distinguish an organization.

The benefits of big picture thinking extend to the organization. When you think big, you are more likely to spot opportunities for improvement2. Perhaps complex processes can be streamlined, or a service can be delivered better. Big picture thinking is also inspiring. When working from moment to moment, it can be easy to forget about the greater purpose for your efforts. With big picture thinking, you can remind everyone of this larger aim. Communicating this larger purpose aligns everyone with the organization’s mission. This is where big picture thinking extends into influence. Those who think big and can communicate can motivate others to follow their action plans.

Some draw a direct link between big picture thinking and innovation.  Big picture thinkers imagine possibilities, including new products and services3. As pioneers, they can even create entirely new industries. While big picture thinking is crucial, it also must be balanced. You should strive to execute your business goals. You should make it a point to operationalize your bold plans. It’s equally important to focus on your people as much as your plan. Without leading, coaching, and mentoring your team, no ambitious plan will be achievable.

As with any skill, big picture thinkers are more suited for some jobs than others. The most obvious is an entrepreneur or leadership position which is built on big picture thinking. Brand managers, product designers, and software architects also excel in big picture thinking4. Additional possibilities include campaign manager, life coach, and even futurist5. These jobs may seem very different from one another, but they are all driven by big picture thinking.

Big picture thinkers are often less motivated in being detail-oriented. But these two traits are not at odds with one another. In fact, they are complimentary. By thinking big, you’re less likely to fret over the details that won’t matter in the long run. But some details are critical. The outcome of the entire project may rest on them. In this case, you should be able to switch into detail-oriented thinking. Doing so ensures the success of the project you came up with through big picture thinking.

Now if you're starting to wonder if you're a big picture thinker, that's where F4S can help. By taking the free assessment you'll uncover where you rank on big picture thinking and attention to detail.

This revolutionary assessment is based on more than 20 years of research and is more than 90% accurate. You'll uncover where you stand on a total of 48 motivational traits in comparison to top industry performers.

What are the blind spots of big picture thinking?

In the F4S framework, a blind spot is a motivation that a person may have too much or not enough of. Meaning, these could be areas in need of improvement. Or they may point to other areas of development that will lead to more balance - and ultimately, more success.

Here are some areas that might be blindspots for big picture thinkers:

Focus

Big picture thinkers are excited by bold ideas. The downside to this trait is that you may always be distracted by the next big thing. You may leave projects half-baked. You may be unable to execute a project to its full potential.

Realism

You are eager to take on the impossible. As a result, you may not always consider constraints, such as time, money, or manpower. Failing to think about these needs may make some projects impractical.

Spreading resources too thin

It is hard to turn down exciting projects. As a result, you may take on too much work. This may leave your efforts stretched thin. The quality of each project may suffer as a result of saying 'yes' to too many projects.

While these can be blind spots, they are also strengths! With F4S you can balance your talents and blindspots to build big picture success.

How do you know if you’re a big-picture thinker?

Based on F4S' evidence-based findings, people who think big picture thinking styles score high on the following:

Patterns

By looking at projects and challenges with a broader perspective, you're likely to see patterns, trends and connections that others might miss.

Innovation

In order to be innovative, you don't limit your thinking and allow yourself the space to envision the most creative solutions.

Ambition

You think outside the box and you think big. You're a trailblazer. No matter what the challenge, you'll use your long-term creative vision.

By now you probably already know if you’re a big picture thinker. But now you might be wondering how you compare to entrepreneurs and business leaders - and might want to find out about those sneaky blindspots. Plus, you can find out about all the 48 motivations.

Once you've taken the free assessment, you'll have a visual dashboard to help you delve deeper into your workplace preferences. It's a great tool for big picture thinking as you'll get an overview of how your motivation levels impact your energy, and focus. You can even learn about their impact on co-founders and other team members.

F4S dashboard reveals top 48 workplace motivations and big picture thinking
F4S Dashboard

Once you've seen your results, you can set a goal. Then Coach Marlee, the world’s first AI coach, will show your personalized insight and recommend the best coaching programs to ensure you meet your goal.

Personalized insights for your goal

Pioneering new things
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You like some variety, radical changes, doing new and different things in some of your work or business.

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Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
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With a little bit of development you can become more socially aware of yourself and others.

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Or jump straight into the Big Picture Thinking or Attention to Detail program. The virtual coaching program has a flexible schedule, takes 2 sessions per week for 8 weeks, and is accomplished through chatting with Marlee. And 90% of users complete their goal when they finish their coaching program!

Of the Big Picture Thinking program, one user said, “I learned how to chunk up and see the bigger picture before turning to the details.”
After taking the Attention to Detail program, one user said, “With the attention to detail program, I learned a whole new way to see and approach projects."

Can you be a big-picture and detail-oriented thinker?

It is possible to be both a big-picture and detail-oriented thinker. In fact, some argue that both types of thinking are necessary for career success in some positions, such as CEOs. In one article from Harvard Business Review, the author argued that there are pitfalls with each thinking type6.

Big picture thinkers may be so far removed from business operations that they don’t recognize looming threats. Detail-oriented people may create too many unnecessary systems and processes. The only way to mitigate these weaknesses is to be both. Strategic thinkers should be able to zoom in and zoom out of a situation as needed. That way, you can get the strengths of each way of thinking, while minimizing their blindspots.

One other way to ensure success in the workplace is to have a balanced team. By employing a diverse workforce, you can increase collaboration and ensure people are able to use their strengths to work towards a common goal.

How to develop big picture thinking skills: 5 effective strategies to try now

Fortunately, big picture thinking is a skill that you can consciously grow. Here are four effective strategies.

1. Set aside brainstorming time. While most people think of brainstorming as a group activity, it is often ideal to do it alone. Research has shown that introverted people produce the same amount of ideas on their own as extroverted people7. When they brainstorm together, however, they generate better quality ideas - and many more.

This illustrates the importance of who you brainstorm with. It should be people who offer strength in diversity. That way, you can shore up each other’s blindspots. When planning these sessions, it can be easy to put them off. After all, you may all have important individual tasks to attend to. But you should make a point to set aside blocks of time for brainstorming. Doing so increases the chance of following through. This "brain time" can be as little as one hour a week. Other business leaders take all the white space on their calendar as brainstorming time8. What matters is that you step back and get clarity of mind. This will help you come up with new ideas for your business.

2. Let go of your perfectionist tendencies. In job interviews, people are frequently asked for their greatest weakness. A common response from candidates is that they are perfectionists. They have high standards that they cannot let go of. Candidates give this response because they feel it makes them sound good. In actuality, perfectionism is a disadvantage in the workplace. While it can inspire you to produce strong work, it more often slows projects down. When a person is lost in a project’s minutiae, it is not moving forward. There may also be no meaningful gains from such behavior. For example, rewriting an executive summary for the ninth time may not make it noticeably better than the previous draft.

Nipping perfectionism in the bud is easier said than done. Fortunately there are three ways to stop perfectionism.

  • Recognize the opportunity cost - People should recognize the opportunity cost of perfectionism9. For example, redesigning a graphic in a deck will keep them from more important matters, such as preparing for the actual presentation. The recognition of opportunity cost can nudge people forward.
  • Ask for feedback - Feedback is important for two reasons. One, colleagues can provide constructive criticism when the work needs to be improved. Two, colleagues can also advise when work is good enough. When you get feedback that the work is adequate, you can more easily move on.
  • Calibrate your standards - Colleagues may not always be available for feedback. You should therefore learn to calibrate your standards to different contexts. For example, a presentation to international media may benefit from perfectionism. An internal presentation to your subordinates should be done much more promptly.

3. Start delegating - There are two common bad habits of managers. Some managers take on too much work. Due to hustle culture, they take pride in overworking themselves. Other managers may delegate tasks, but micromanage employees. Both of these traits are enemies of big picture thinking.

When you have too much on your plate or are you micromanaging employees, you are also concentrating on small details. Both of these habits will leave you with little time or energy to think about the big picture.

To gain the space for big picture thinking, managers must delegate and give people freedom to work. You can offload tasks to subordinates. You can also outsource tasks to suppliers. Letting go of tasks may be difficult, but once you see they are still done capably, you will be more comfortable doing so.

Through this delegation, you free up valuable head space. Now you can think of the big picture rather than get lost in the weeds. Your subordinates will gain experience by solving tasks on their own. And the team will benefit from your higher-level focus.

4. Ask questions - One simple way to step back from a situation is to ask questions. This will help business leaders reflect on a given problem or even the overall business. For example, you could ask, “How do I manage my time in the face of conflicting priorities?”10

Answering this all-important question honestly will help in several different ways. You will identify tasks that you are wasting too much time on. You will identify tasks that need to be prioritized. And you will identify tasks that you can delegate. All of these insights will contribute to big picture thinking about how you can best spend your time.

And that is just one question. Other high-level questions will yield more big picture insights. If you find questions are too open-ended, you can even use fill-in-the-blank frameworks. For example: This quarter, it is imperative our company does _______, in order to achieve _______ and _______ . Regularly completing these templates will help facilitate big picture thinking.

5. Start journaling or mind mapping - You may associate journaling and mind mapping as exercises we did as students. But these creative thinking tools have benefits in business. Journaling may help us think more clearly around big picture issues11. You can free-write by writing whatever comes to mind. Or you can write in response to a specific prompt. In either case, journaling will sharpen your thinking.

Mind mapping follows the same principle. It is a framework that can help you draw links between things you didn't know would be connected12. This may provide big picture insights into ways you can optimize your business.

Business leaders may feel silly carrying around a journal, or sketching out mind maps on paper. Both of these are also security risks. If your journal finds its way into the hands of a competitor, they will know your trade secrets. Fortunately, F4S offers a free digital journal entirely within the app, so your big picture insights stay yours. Miro, a collaborative whiteboard platform, is also a great tool for team brainstorming and mind mapping, especially for remote teams.

Looking at the big picture

Big picture thinking benefits everyone. This includes business executives and entrepreneurs as well as professionals of all levels. You may already be a big picture thinker, but you should not stop there. As with any skill, big picture thinking can be honed further. The strategies above are a good start. You can brainstorm, delegate, ask questions, journal, and let go of your perfectionist tendencies.

You can also start learning more about your style of thinking by taking our free assessment. Then you can decide which coaching program is for you. With the Big Picture Thinker program you can increase your innovation and become more ambitious.

If you are already confident in your big picture thinking, you may want to take the Attention to Detail program. Detail-oriented thinking is a strong complement to big picture thinking. The best leaders need to be able to zoom in and zoom out as the situation demands.

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  1. Ohio State University. (2018) How looking at the big picture can lead to better decisions. Available at: ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180713111931.htm
  2. Geldart, P. (2020) The Importance of Seeing the Big Picture. Available at: Entrepreneur. https://www.entrepreneur.com/leadership/the-importance-of-seeing-the-big-picture/349368
  3. Russo, D. (2022) Lead Through Change With Big Picture Thinking. Available at: Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2022/03/11/lead-through-change-with-big-picture-thinking/?sh=d5633fb67a69
  4. Indeed. (2022) 10 Visionary Jobs for People Who Think About the Big Picture. Available at: Indeed. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/big-picture-thinking-jobs
  5. Insider. (2012) Think Big: 7 Careers for Big-Picture People. Available at: Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/think-big-7-careers-for-big-picture-people-2012-7
  6. Kanter, R. M. (2011) Managing Yourself: Zoom In, Zoom Out. Available at: Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2011/03/managing-yourself-zoom-in-zoom-out
  7. Gregersen, H. (2018) Better Brainstorming. Available at: Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/03/better-brainstorming
  8. Rothaizer, J. (2019) Why Senior Leaders Need White Space In Their Calendars (And How To Make It Happen) Available at: Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2019/09/27/why-senior-leaders-need-white-space-in-their-calendars-and-how-to-make-it-happen/?sh=1cb3fc5546b3
  9. Knight, R. (2019) How to Manage Your Perfectionism. Available at: Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2019/04/how-to-manage-your-perfectionism
  10. Kruse, K. (2021) Does Your Team Understand The ‘Big Picture’? Ask 5 Questions To Find Out. Available at: Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2021/05/10/does-your-team-understand-the-big-picture-ask-5-questions-to-find-out/?sh=277bd7316132
  11. Hillyer, R. (2021) Journaling: A Powerful Tool For Your Business. Available at: Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2021/03/15/journaling-a-powerful-tool-for-your-business/?sh=bef37a37e9e7
  12. Entrepreneur. (2020) Discover the Benefits of Mind Mapping with This Top-Rated Tool. Available at: Entrepreneur. https://www.entrepreneur.com/science-technology/discover-the-benefits-of-mind-mapping-with-this-top-rated/349938

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