Where would we be without big-picture thinkers? Likely living in a world without new inventions, original approaches or fresh, imaginative ways of doing things better.
Big-picture thinkers (BPTs for short) have specific attributes that make them especially effective as leaders. Both inspirational and influential in presenting their ideas, they have the ability to take a long-term view, size up the totality of a situation, and show how the future connects to the present. For the rest of their team, this can make the journey towards the final goal more meaningful.
In business and in life, you always want a BPT on your side. They keep everyone on target so the team doesn't get stuck in the mundane while helping chart unfamiliar waters.
About 25 per cent of the population is made up of BPTs, also known as global thinkers. The remaining majority of us are detail-oriented local thinkers who can execute the more practical aspects of the vision. (A slim margin of people happens to be both.) One is not better than the other, but they are different. Each type is important in keeping an organization innovative and highly functional, and each has its own unique strengths and weaknesses.
As workers, BPTs tend to overload themselves with new projects while overlooking finite but essential details that must be carried out to be successful in any one of them. At the same time, their task-focused counterparts are not particularly effective as leaders because they get too bogged down with small duties, micro-manage or are unable to delegate to others.
If only for the sake of being able to communicate and work well with one another, we need to cultivate both our global- and local-thinking preferences. Here are some ways to polish your creative-thinking ability in order to see the big picture:
Imagine the "what ifs?" When making a decision, seeking a solution to a problem or moving forward on a new idea, ask yourself and your team questions such as: What if we try it another way? How will this affect other departments? How will this benefit our customers? What could be the long-term implications of this choice?
Walk in someone else's shoes. Try to look at your organization or team objectively from the outside perspective of a customer, a prospective employee or even the competition. This will help you to see and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses as well as recognize potential opportunities.
Talk about your ideas. Many of us have a hard time expressing good ideas because taking that risk could mean rejection or embarrassment. But you never know when a little idea could be the next big thing. Next time you have a brainstorm, write it down, talk it over with someone you trust and get their feedback.
Exercise your strategic muscle. It's been said that games of strategy such as chess, which let you envision a sequence of progressive moves (and anticipate countermoves against your opponent), can help you practise foreseeing the long-term consequences of your actions.
Broaden your experience. Expand your perspective and the range of experiences from which you can glean ideas. Read more books, magazines and blogs. Talk to more people. Visit new places. Take a course or otherwise learn something you did not know before.
Let your mind wander. Studies show that people with imaginative minds do not let themselves become confined or defined by boring routines. Get away from your desk and take a walk, go outside for fresh air, listen to music, rejig your office space or do something that otherwise adds some variety, allows you to break concentration and lets you think outside the box.
Trust your intuition more. BPTs have developed their intuition to the point that they trust their gut instinct. When they get a hunch, they're usually right, but if they're not, they usually still act on it knowing they'll still get something out of it. Listen to what your intuition tells you and discover new possibilities.
Anyone can become a big-picture thinker. Even if it is underused or underdeveloped, we can each have the ability to analyze trends and take a long-term view. The key is not to let the little things get in your way and obscure the vision. Or, as Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk puts it, "The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up."
-- With reporting by Barbara Chabai
John McFerran, PhD, F.CHRP, is managing director of Boyden Global Executive Search. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.