Work Traits

Big Picture Thinking

Big picture thinking is helpful for tasks that don’t require concrete specifics, such as visioning and brainstorming.
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What is big picture thinking?

Big picture thinking means you thrive when you’re given an overview or a broader vision of what needs to be accomplished. And while you know that details are important, you’d much prefer to keep your focus zoomed out and deal with things at a higher level. Too many specifics, and your eyes start to glaze over. 

When starting new projects, you don’t need concrete details. In fact, you don’t want them. You need a basic understanding at a macro level, and that’s more than enough for you to start making progress.

On a team, you’re looked to as the visionary who’s able to think quickly and rapidly move between different ideas and concepts because you don’t get bogged down in the finer points.

We call it: Breadth

Your level of motivation for abstract, macro, global, big picture thinking and communication.

Maturity is many things. It is the ability to base a judgment on the big picture, the long haul.

Ann Landers

Leaders who had big picture thinking

Paul Keating

Paul Keating

Paul Keating was Australia’s 24th prime minister, and like nearly every political figure, he was controversial. However, he was known for his charisma and his big ideas for transforming Australia’s economy.

In fact, a biography of Keating is titled “The Big-Picture Leader.” In the synopsis, author Troy Bramston says that Keating “saw political leadership as the combination of courage and imagination, a belief that powered his public career and helps explain his extraordinary triumphs and crushing lows.”

While some might believe that politics doesn’t leave room for creativity or innovation, Keating proved that isn’t the case.

Sheryl Sandberg

Beyond being the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg is also a pioneer for women in business and equality in the workplace. 

In a speech at the Harvard Business School Class Day Celebration, Sandberg highlighted some of the most essential qualities for leadership and placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of looking at the bigger picture. 

As tragic and unexpected as it was, Sandberg actually points to the death of her husband as a defining moment in her ability to get a broader perspective.  “I am a bigger-picture manager because I’ve lived through something that’s a big picture,” she said in an interview with Wired.

Sheryl Sandberg
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Alexander Hamilton

The life and story of Alexander Hamilton has become seemingly public knowledge after the smash success of the musical “Hamilton.”

An immigrant from the Caribbean, Hamilton was known for being hungry for power and influence. He also had plenty of big ideas, with many claiming he had his head in the clouds.

However, Hamilton wasn’t one to back down. From stabilizing the economy to shaping foreign policy, Hamilton’s broader view allowed him to have a hand in numerous accomplishments that molded America’s future.

The benefits of big picture thinking

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Because you maintain a bird’s-eye perspective, you’re often able to see patterns, trends, and how different things are connected that your teammates focused only on details may not spot.

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You don’t limit yourself with specifics — at least not right away. That means you have the wiggle room you need to come up with your most creative ideas.

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There’s no other way to put it: You think big. While some people (especially those with a passion for details) think your ideas are off the wall, your limitless perspective pushes you to come up with ambitious ideas.

The blind spots of big picture thinking

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You get excited by possibilities and opportunities, but constant motion can make it look like you’re bouncing from project to project without following through.

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Saying ‘yes’

Your eye for the broader vision means you have the tendency to say “yes” and occasionally take on more than you can handle, because without understanding the details you may underestimate how much work is involved.

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Thinking outside of the box is great, but there are still finer details (from budgets to timelines) that need to be honored at work. Failing to monitor those specifics can mean some of your ideas are unrealistic.

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How to build big picture thinking

1) Set aside brainstorming time.

In order to strengthen your big picture thinking, you need to give yourself time to...well, think. 

You have a lot on your plate and it’s tough to leave some open space for creative thought. Schedule in some dedicated time for brainstorming and innovating. Even if it’s only an hour each week, it will help you zoom out and not get lost in the minutiae of your day-to-day.

2) Let go of your perfectionist tendencies.

Sometimes done is better than perfect, and people who stay focused on the big picture can recognize when something is good enough and doesn’t need continual fine-tuning.

Challenge yourself to stop obsessing over the details. If you’re still struggling to let things go, have a friend or trusted colleague take a peek at your work. They’ll be able to tell you if what you have is acceptable as it is (without any more refining).

3) Start delegating.

One way to get a broader view is to delegate tasks. This forces you to relinquish some control and allow other people to handle various aspects of a project or process.

It’ll be a bit of a learning curve, and it might even be a little uncomfortable at first. But, by not taking responsibility for every single detail, you’ll be able to maintain a less narrow perspective of the work.

4) Ask questions.

While big picture thinkers don’t wrestle over all of the intricacies and technicalities, that doesn’t mean they accept things at face value. In order to have an understanding of the broader implications, you need to ask some questions — whether you’re asking them of yourself or other people. 

What are the potential impacts of this decision? Who else will be affected? How does it support the bigger business goals? Questions like that can help you keep your eye on any important context.

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