You are probably familiar with the saying – can’t see the forest from the trees. Maybe you have used it when referring to someone else’s thinking or actions, or perhaps you even recognised it about yourself.
If you're interested in making better life decisions, understanding and considering the big picture is an essential skill.
Some people are naturally oriented toward focusing on the details, and some tend to focus on the big picture instead.
Are you a big picture or details thinker?
Many detail thinkers focus on the immediate next steps they need to take based on the facts, numbers and what they see right in front of them. They might see the smaller tasks that need to take place and the potential problems along the way that is hard to spot from a big picture perspective.
Big picture thinkers, on the other hand, don’t look at specific details. They will look at concepts and ideas and consider what steps need to be taken to reach the big goal. They will hold their vision in mind and think about how they can bring it to life.
Even if you incline toward one of the two, you can cultivate both kinds of thinking.
The hurdle in your way to making better decisions
You might get immersed in the details when you go about your busy life. You might get so focused on what is right in front of you at this exact moment that you will forget to take a moment to step back and look at the situation from a bird's eye view.
As a result, when you are busy rushing ahead, you might decide on your next steps without realising the full implications of these actions.
People often get buried deep in the details, so much so that they focus on the wrong thing and make a less than ideal decision.
To avoid such situations, you need to remember to move between the two perspectives – the close-up and the big picture. You need to learn the skills of zooming in and zooming out.
When you zoom out, suddenly, you see things you couldn’t see before. When you look from afar, you can properly observe and gain insights into the situation.
When you use a wider lens, you can better understand the priorities and what comes in the way of achieving your goals. When you Zoom out, you change your focus and can see things from a strategic point of view. A big picture view helps one understand what is important and how to correct the course when needed. You are in a better position to understand what might make things better.
Taking the time to step back enables you to explore these questions-
Is the path I am taking still leads me to my destination?
Do I need to change course?
How do the small parts work together as a whole?
Am I still focusing on the top/right priorities?
What is not necessary?
What do I need to change to improve things?
Only when we see the big picture can we clearly identify opportunities for improvement and ensure we are still on the right path.
The time you take to zoom out will benefit you greatly. You won’t lose time; you will save time and be in a much better position to make better decisions.
Think about zooming out as slowing down to move faster.
I know it might sound counterintuitive, but rushing can result in losing time (and maybe other resources such as money, effort etc.), and slowing can result in saving time.
It’s how you make better decisions
Details and big picture thinking are different types of thinking that complement each other. They are both critical, and both have a time and a place.
So how can you develop these thinking skills?
To develop your big thinking skills:
Write down the high level of what you want to achieve or do. (don’t even think about the small details on how to make it happen)
Challenge yourself to think bigger. How can you make this concept, idea or plan bigger? How can it be more impactful?
Seek different perspectives and diverse opinions and consider all of them
Explore abstract concepts (for example, explore the concepts of culture, language, meta-thinking, emotions, art, storytelling, and philosophy)
Develop your strategic thinking (you can play strategic games)
Explore global issues
Consider how your actions are impacting the whole world
Get into the habit of allocating time to think and reflect
To develop your details thinking skills:
Ask many questions to get to the fine details
Validate and remove all assumptions
Create a detailed step-by-step plan on how to bring ideas to life
Practice writing recipes that are clear and easy to follow
Come up with all the problems, roadblocks and obstacles that may come in the way of implementing a plan
Pay attention to the little things
Check and edit your work
Learn to be organised
And how to know when to switch between the two?
Get into the habit of using both types of thinking when solving problems. You can start by zooming in, taking in the details and then zoom out to see the big picture. Make a decision after you have zoomed out enough that you can clearly see the vision, path, impact, strategy and priorities.
Want to help children develop these thinking skills?
Here is an example of how you can do so-
Let the child explore a tree leaf. Ask them to zoom into the details-
What is the shape of the leaf?
What are the colours?
What is the meaning of having such a colour?
Ask the child about the veins of the leaf. What is the purpose of these veins?
Then ask – how is the leaf connected to the tree? What are the relationships between the leaf and the tree?
Then help the child zoom out even further and explore the tree itself-
What does a tree do?
How does a tree support other lives?
How does a tree support humans?
Help the child see the connections between different living things. Open their eyes to how we are all interlinked and impacting each other.
For example- the tree provides oxygen. We can’t live without oxygen. The tree provides fruit, shelter, and building materials. Look at the tree as its own ecosystem.
Then zoom out even further. Explore the forest. You can continue to zoom out and, every time, look at the bigger picture and how things are connected.
You can continue to zoom out until you see planet earth from space.
Want to develop your big picture thinking skills further?
This type of thinking goes hand in hand with creative thinking.
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