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How to learn to see the big picture

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Business tips
Friday, September 06, 2013


01.18.13 Blog JobSkillsI was recently asked:

How does one develop an ability to “see the big-picture?”

The feedback from my performance review is that while I am competent, I ‘miss the forest for the trees’. Working on this is crucial for me to get into executive ranks.

What advice do you have for me to sharpen my big-picture skills?

How to Learn to See the Big Picture

You’re trying to develop a skill, a way of thinking and seeing.

The most effective way to do that seems to be, to do it for a focused period of time — every few days. Like learning a foreign language or a musical instrument, you’re trying to build new brain circuits. For that you need attention and repetition.

Here’s my suggestion.

First Make some Educated Guesses

Before each (say) weekly staff meeting, take a big sheet of paper and create a grid of rows and columns. Along one axis, put departments or interest groups around the firm (plus maybe customers and vendors). And, add one for “the whole firm.” Along the other axis, put the topics being brought up at the meeting.

In the intersections you’ve created, try to make some educated guesses — and write a few words that will capture the spirit of how that particular department VIEWS or IS IMPACTED BY that topic.

Next, Check Your Work

Now, during the meeting, see if those stakeholders do in fact have the views, or face the impacts, that you guessed.

Mark down their actual responses next to your guesses.

This technique provides you with three things:

  1. Regularity — it’s weekly, so you get regular practice.
  2. Self-testing — a proven study technique, you’re guessing and then checking.
  3. Artifacts — you can look back at earlier attempts and see if you’re getting better over time.

Bonus fourth value:

  • Other people will notice you as you see things from their perspective. They’ll be impressed.

Book Suggestions

My colleague Mark Hurwich suggests:

Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors

Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling

Tom Cox is a Beaverton consultant, author and speaker. He coaches CEOs on how to boost performance by building workplace trust.



+1 #1 Retired CEOGuest 2013-09-25 10:59:21
I used to define the roles of all the people reporting to me as 80% running their department and 20% looking at their department from (my) a CEO perspective. Whenever they were going to do something that seemed like a good idea from a their department perspective but seemed like maybe it wasn't as good from a CEO perspective, we should talk about it before acting on it. I was trying to force all managers to see a bigger picture.
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