The Downfall of Big Picture Thinking

As a leader you probably love to dream big. You have grand dreams of where your ministry or business will end up.

The creation of these ideas are exhilarating. They bring you to life.

You’re a big picture thinker.

What is big picture thinking? It’s when you are able to formulate an image of the end result. You can see where you want to go. The image is crystal clear.

Thinking big is a great skill to have. It allows us to get creative and give a great vision to our team.

Yet we’re often prone to being blindsided by the details. I know I am.

I love to have grandiose plans. A master vision of where I want to be. It comes easy to me.

The problem is I can’t see the small details. The individual steps that must be taken.

It’s the reverse of the saying “They can’t see the forest for the trees.” I can’t see the “trees from the forest.”

We often plough so much energy into the big picture, we forget the pixels.
Silvia Cartwright

Are any of you like that? I hope I’m not alone.

Thankfully there’s a few things you can do to avoid this leadership pitfall.

1. Partner with a detail person: They may not be able to see the forest for the trees but they can see the trees in the forest. The details are crystal clear and they can guide you towards the steps you need to take. Don’t neglect these detail people! They can be your greatest asset.

2. Break down the big picture: Examine the dream you have. Take time to look for what steps will be needed to accomplish it. Work back from the end to the beginning. Doing it this way can be much easier than trying to go from beginning to end.

3. Create lists: Lists can help you with idea 2. It allows you to write it out and see the details. Pay close attention and give your best in figuring out the steps you need to take. Also, create lists for items that you will need to reach the big picture: Money, equipment, time, etc…

Big picture thinking is awesome. We all need to get to the point where we can see it. But you can’t fall into the trap of missing the details.

Take time to step back from the big picture and see the trees. Each one is a detail that must be completed.

When you’re seeing the details and taking steps to accomplish the tasks, your big picture will come together.

Details create the big picture.
Sanford I. Weill

Question: What do you miss when you’re only looking at the big picture? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Love this Joe, cos am a big picture person myself.

    I find that when am too big-picture focused, i tend to miss out on all the fun and life of the process – which means i miss out a whole lot of living!  Big picture thinkers can get into this trap of thinking that ‘accomplishing the big picture” is what a great life is all about. But i’ve come to discover that most of life is found between the connecting dots- the process.
    Great food for thought this morning! Thanks!

    • I love that you’ve discovered life is about the process and connecting the dots. It’s the journey that we need to enjoy, not the destination.

  • One thing Brendon Burchard talked a lot about was strategy. He said that if you don’t have a strategy for what you’re doind, it’s not a real business. He actually advocates sitting down for a week and planning out the entire strategy for where you want to go, it’s what seperates the successful business from everybody else.

    I like where you’re going with this post!

    • Wow, Brendon has quite the idea. His process surely separates the successful from the unsuccessful.

      Have you shifted anything in your business since hearing the message?

  • jeff

    I’m unmotivated, because I don’t see the small steps.  In fact, I don’t even have a goal, because I am in denial.  My stated “goal” is actually more modest than what my heart is telling me my real desired goal is.  So, for the fear of embracing the goal, I do not plan for it, but merely hit at it haphazardly from time to time.  Rather, from your suggestion, I can perhaps work backwards, from the detailed goal — and not stop there — down to the detailed beginning steps.

    •  Jeff, go for it! Work backwards and see if that helps create a vision of what you need to do. I think it will and you’ll create a terrific strategy.

  • Unfortunately, I’m almost plagued by the “pixels” so to speak. I see too many details sometimes and it will often distract from the big picture. I have to be careful to dream big but not get too caught up in making every meticulous detail perfect before executing. 

    •  Geek speak. Gotta love it Dustin. (-;

      You’re right in that there can be an issue with being too focused on the little things to accomplish the goal. Do you think there’s a middle ground somewhere?

      • There is… but it’s a constant teetering act for me… perfect balance, in my case, is just not possible– and I think that’s okay.

  • Ha, yes. I’m a big picture thinker too! I remember one specific time in college group (I, being one of the leaders) had a huge grandiose plan of how we were going to travel to NY to hang out and visit with one of our sister churches during a music festival. One of the leaders said, “We can’t do that!” I asked, “Why not?” She began listing all the things we’d have to do to prepare “Who’s going to drive the vans? Someone with a special license needs to drive, how are we going to feed the kids on the way there? How much is gas going to cost? Where are we going to sleep? How will we keep our food properly stored?” This was my first known/head-on collision with a detail expert. I was exasperated with her questions and completely dropped my idea. In hindsight, I really appreciate the value she added. If we had been willing to work together on that idea, we could have had a very well-planned and FUN trip!

    We need people who are not like us in our lives. I’m learning this more every day. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t still drive me crazy at times, but I now recognize the value of a well-rounded team.

    • Amazing how head on collisions with detail people can ruin the vision, if we let it. It sounds like you’ve learned from that lesson. Too bad you weren’t able to take that trip.

      • Yes, I am definitely learning to appreciate others’ talents 🙂 

  • I like to look at the big picture, not just in my writing, but also in world issues.  In writing I have to consider details, too, or I’d never complete the story.  I let the story develop in my mind, roll the details round until they’re right.  In world issues I struggle with details.  Too many facts become confusing.

    • That’s true about the writing. Also, if you never looked at the details the stories would probably be pretty boring. It’s the little things that give a story its pizzazz.

  • it could feel like you move on too quick to another project if you fail to forget the pixels in your dream 🙂 great stuff Joe!

    • Thanks David. Following the pixels is a great way to mark the journey. You’re able to see how far you’ve come and where you’re going. How are you doing this in your life?

  • Joseph Illingworth

    I’m stumbling upon this post several years after its inception, but perhaps at the perfect time for my own needs. The big picture rules my life, it exalts me in one moment as I mentally embody the leader in this world I want to become, and then brings me crashing to my knees as I feel paralyzed by inaction and procrastination. At times in my life I am able to see the Pixels, to live among them, and in those moments I feel most alive, as if I can see life ripple around me as each moment is given life – a stark contrast to being stuck seeing the big picture: No longer is this embodiment of my dreams a shining beacon of timeless greatness, but rather a two-dimensional banner on the wall I feebly reach out to as I slip into the smothering grasp of death and nothingness. When I’m among the pixels, I believe I am focused on the direction instead of the destination. Among the pixels there is no doubt, no anxiety, no fear of anything during or after this life. There is only strength in my legs, pride in my chest, and a knowing smile in my eyes that soars through time and space like an eagle in the canyons. I’m looking for a way to hold onto that, but I don’t know if I have the faith in myself, and if
    my procrastination continues then I cannot see how I will gain it back. My approach
    is this: Do the Hard Things First. For me it’s helped my mind easily find the
    next task and has helped me actually enjoy the things I had so much difficulty
    accomplishing before. It worked for me once, but I was interrupted by life. In
    the morning I will embark on it again, and I highly recommend it for Big
    Picture thinkers looking to feel the dirt between their fingers instead of just
    grasping for the Pie in the Sky.