The most successful businesses are those in which each team member’s natural abilities and skills are emphasized and incorporated into the business. No man is an island – we function and even thrive best when we work together and share skills and resources, and that’s both for business and for life in general.
Business success requires a range of thinking skills within the company – one of these is the ability to think big, or ‘big picture thinking.’ This article will explore what it means to be a big picture thinker and why this person is so essential in a company.
We’ll also take a look at another valuable thinker – the detail-oriented thinker. We’ll compare the two by exploring their characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. We’ll also offer some tips and advice on how to improve your big picture thinking skills.
Big Picture Synonym
Before discussing what a big picture thinker is, here are some synonyms of the term, big picture:
- master plan
- broad view
- plan of attack
- overall view
- overall perspective
- grand scheme
- plan of action
- the ins and outs
- overall situation
- whole picture
What is a big picture thinker?
Every company needs a big picture thinker (also known as a holistic thinker). This person loves to seek new ideas and solutions to the company’s problems. They are creative, think outside the box, and tackle complex problems and big ideas with vigor and excitement. They also possess the ability of strong foresight and anticipate potential issues and obstacles down the road.
Big picture thinkers brainstorm, get their creative minds working, and love to problem solve. However, this valuable skill is not always recognized in an individual. Sometimes, a big picture mindset person finds themselves working with roles and responsibilities more apt for a detail-oriented thinker (which we’ll explain later).
It’s often the case that detail-oriented jobs come first until a person can keep working their way up to a position in which their holistic thinking skills can shine. This is a significant obstacle for large picture thinkers who may not succeed with detail-oriented thinking and therefore never get the chance to use their skills.
Examples of big picture thinking
- Considering the long term viability of a project
- Keeping several factors in mind at once, such as resources, employee well-being, time management, etc.
- Anticipating and accurately predicting future trends
- Focusing on quality over perfection
- Thinking outside the box
- Focusing on big projects
What is the opposite of a big picture thinker?
The opposite of big picture thinking is detail-oriented thinking. Detail-oriented people, as the name suggests, think about things in great detail. They are as crucial to a business as a big picture thinker, but they generally take on different roles and responsibilities.
A big picture person will find a solution to a problem and work with all of the thinkers in a company to craft a plan. Once the detail-oriented thinkers understand the plan, they execute their ability to be meticulous and unforgiving with even the smallest of details. The detail-oriented person typically strives for perfection in any task and will dedicate a lot of time to getting things just right.
One type of thinking is not superior to another – both have their pros and cons. Typically, big picture thinkers struggle with detail-oriented tasks, while detail-oriented thinkers struggle to see the larger picture. In any company, a balance among employees between big picture thinking and detail orientation is a predictor of success.
The pros and cons of big picture thinking
Big picture thinking allows companies to anticipate future issues and take preventative measures against those issues today. Thinking outside the box – a big-picture skill – also will enable companies to gain an edge over their competitors. Essentially, big picture thinking leads to innovation.
One of the major cons to big picture thinking is experienced by the individual, not the company. Sometimes a big picture thinker’s ideas and suggestions can be lofty and radical, which means they’ll struggle to get people to follow them.
Risk-taking is an essential prerequisite for success, but naturally, companies don’t want to take too many risks. Some risks pay off well, but some are detrimental to the company’s health, so it’s wise to be cautious.
The pros of big picture thinking
‘In personal and professional life, when you look at events, incidences, conversations from a higher-level view, you will get a holistic idea about opportunities, growth potentials, and other benefits,’ writes S Ganesh Babu, business transformation coach and performance consultant.
Big picture thinking gives you freight that others can’t see. It makes a valuable commodity in business because you can consider future success and failure and steer the company in the right direction.
The cons of big picture thinking
Big picture thinkers often have a hard time focusing on the details. Their minds work fast, juggle several ideas at once, so maintaining attention and focus can be a challenge.
As valuable as people with big picture mindsets are, there is still a need for detailed orientation with any plan or strategy.
As such, and as we’ll explain further later, it’s essential for a big picture thinker in a managerial or executive role to effectively and wisely delegate the detailed work to those who are skilled in this particular skill.
How to be a big picture thinker
Some people have a natural tendency to see the bigger picture. Still, it’s also a skill that you can learn. Even if bigger picture thinking is one of your natural tendencies, you still need to practice and hone this skill to stay focused and sharp. Any skill left unused faces a risk of deteriorating.
Talent is the flower, and technique is what makes it blossom.
Often, we label each other as one thing or another, when in truth, we contain multitudes. In other words, you may have tendencies towards both big picture thinking and detail orientation.
As mentioned earlier, many bottom-of-the-ladder roles require more detail orientation than big picture thinking. So big picture thinkers typically find themselves having to learn a more specific thinking style before making effective use of their more universal approach.
If you’ve found yourself in a role that requires you to think bigger, to step back from the little details, and look at things from a broad perspective, you might be worried that you’re not a big picture thinker and that you won’t succeed in the role. Don’t let your nerves and self-doubt stop you from thriving in this role.
“What’s important now are the characteristics of the brain’s right hemisphere: artistry, empathy, inventiveness, big-picture thinking. These skills have become first among equals in a whole range of business fields.” – Daniel H. Pink.
You can learn how to see the big picture. It takes some unlearning and letting go of previously learned ways of thinking and may take some trial and error, but it’s entirely possible.
Further, if you’ve found yourself in this role, it may be that the person who hired you can sense within you a natural ability to see the bigger picture that you aren’t even entirely aware of.
Look at things from multiple perspectives
‘You have to think big to be big.’ – Claude Bristol
Develop the ability to step back from the task or problem at hand and shift your perspective. As a business, thinking in the big picture means considering your own goals, potential profits, and the company’s future as much it means putting yourself in your customer’s and prospects’ shoes, thinking about their concerns, their problems, and their preferences.
It means considering several implications to your campaign, such as your cultural sensitivity, your efficiency, and different ways to reach new leads and prospects.
Let go of perfection
Too much focus on the details of a plan or solution can distract you from the solution itself. Big picture thinkers are apt problem solvers but can get so frustrated, lost, or even confused among the details that it’s wise for such a person to understand the limits to this type of thinking.
Someone who strives for success might overestimate their abilities and think they can do everything at once, but such a thought is unrealistic and even unhealthy. If you’re a big picture thinker, focus on that skill and don’t try to over-exert yourself by trying to be a perfectionist. We work best in communities – no man is an island.
If you’re going to let go of perfection, it’s wise to have someone else around who will take care of it. Holistic thinkers and detail-oriented thinkers complement each other because their combined skills and effort keep a company growing successfully.
If you’re in a team management position and consider yourself a big picture thinker, learn how to effectively delegate authority among team members so that everyone can see the big picture and that the details are not neglected.
It’s easy to get lost in the excitement and passion of big ideas, but don’t forget to ground yourself in your team and learn about each team member as much as you can. Any good team is going to be one with a diverse skillset and several thinking types.
Get to know your team, learn about their strength and weaknesses, and listen to their ideas and concerns. The more familiar you become with the skills and strengths available to you as resources, the easier it will be to delegate authority and effectively achieve goals.
Roles suitable for a big picture thinker
Big picture thinkers are visionaries. Their ability to see past the everyday and into the possibilities of the future make them apt for problem-solving and leading companies in the right direction.
- Life coaching
- Brand management
- Creative director
Throughout your life, you might embrace and grow into different skills, abilities, and preferences regarding your job or career, and that’s great. You don’t have to commit to one career for the rest of your life. That may have been the case for older generations, but there are so many opportunities these days to upskill, grow, and shift gears to live your life in a way that works for you.
An important prerequisite for a smooth gear shift in life is to understand yourself well – your skills, strengths, limits, how you think, how you react, and things that can sway you. The more you learn about yourself, the easier it will be to find suitable opportunities to thrive. Whether you’re a big picture thinker, detail-oriented thinker, or somewhere in between, get to know your mind and be wise with how you apply it.