Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Learn to take a long-term, big-picture view

  • Print

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


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 26, 2010 B11

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Coach Maurice talks controversial missed call late in Game 2

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005
  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project. Baby peregrine falcons. 21 days old. Three baby falcons. Born on ledge on roof of Radisson hotel on Portage Avenue. Project Coordinator Tracy Maconachie said that these are third generation falcons to call the hotel home. Maconachie banded the legs of the birds for future identification as seen on this adult bird swooping just metres above. June 16, 2004.

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google