Big picture thinkers can have a very hard time finding their place in the professional world. If you feel stuck at work, or in your business, you might be a big picture thinker trying to do the work of a detail-oriented person. Let’s look at what constitutes a “big picture” thinker.
A big picture thinker likes to tackle big, complex, ideas: you might enjoy creating systematic solutions to organizational projects, for example, or to design strategy.
A big picture thinker loves to brainstorm, is a visionary, and has lots of ideas on how to create new companies or programs.
A big picture thinker can be messy or “all over the place,” or forgetful. You think so fast and get excited about all the possibilities that you forget the next task needed to go from point A to point B. That’s because you are already thinking about getting to Z!
A big picture thinker hates to deal with lots of little details, repetitive tasks, and minutiae. Being an executive assistant is a job from hell in any big picture thinker’s book.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, this sounds great! But why would I ever feel stuck if I am creative, visionary, someone capable of seeing patterns and build systems? Well, unfortunately, a lot of us grow up thinking we have to learn to do those more detail oriented jobs first, before we can tackle more complex stuff. And most professions’ entry-level jobs are very suitable for detail-oriented people but an absolute disaster for big picture thinkers.
Let me give you a very simple example from my own experience. When I was in college studying photography, I got a job assisting a studio photographer. I was still buying into the idea that I had to work my way up. All I had to do for him were very detailed tasks, for example, I had to put slides in the correct filing folder. Sounds easy, right? Well, for me it was really, really hard. First of all, I was bored to death, but then as I was trying to do the work, my mind would start to question the system: why is this category separate from that? What if a slide could be into two categories, which one should I choose? And why is this system designed this way anyway, could it be improved? What if we categorized by year instead of topics, by client instead of product, etc. In short, I was terrible at this job: I was slow, bored, confused, questioning everything. My boss was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met and tried really hard to work with me. But finally he just had to let me go. I felt crushed, and a total failure. If I couldn’t do the little stuff, how could I possibly “work my way up”?
Just a few years later, I really, really needed a job, and a friend told me they were hiring an Italian teacher at a local elementary school. I needed the money, and I thought, why not, I’ll try. And I got the job! As soon as I started, I realized I was now in charge of teaching 200 students, in 3 separate grades, alongside 11 teachers, and there was no curriculum, no one had ever built a system for this. I had to build it all. I had to figure out what to teach first, how to teach it, how to appeal to different learners, how to match the energy and discipline of every classroom and more. It sounds way harder than filing slides, right? Wrong. For me this was exciting, challenging, fun, and I could do it really well. Yes, some of it required me to be detailed oriented – and I would often forget the little stuff, like make sure to include detailed instruction with the 3rd grade homework. But because this was a big picture type of job that required me to create systems and complex, creative programs, I excelled at it. This was the moment I realized I am a big picture thinker. And I have embraced it ever since then.
If you feel stuck, and consistently fail to excel at what you do, consider that you might need to try something much, much bigger. Imagine being a big picture thinker vs. a detailed oriented person as two ends of a spectrum – and then try to figure out where you fit on that spectrum.
Most big picture thinkers are literally unable to “work their way up.” We need to jump to a higher level, start our own businesses, or find an organization, like the school I taught at, that will give us a chance, because they recognize our natural abilities. The best big picture thinkers I know work for themselves, or are leaders at their organizations, or struggled really hard at the beginning of their careers, and after repeatedly failing, get enough years of experience under their belts to jump to yet another company but this time they are given the space and title to work on complex and creative projects.
Are you wondering if you can become a detailed oriented person if you are not? I am afraid the answer is No. Although you can stretch your tolerance for detail-oriented work, this is one of the very few innate traits you are stuck with. So learn to love yourself and embrace it 🙂 By the way, detail-oriented people are as valuable as big picture thinkers and make excellent leaders as well – just of a different type. Stay tuned for a blog post just for you if you are a detail-oriented person 🙂
One more thought: if your family is very concerned with success, you might also experience a lot of pressure and be told you always change your mind, can’t keep a job, don’t try hard enough, are spacey, etc. Believe me, it is not you, they just have no idea how your mind works. I have a wonderful friend with an IQ close to a genius. He is an amazing visionary, but can’t figure out how to pack his suitcase. Some people, seeing the great stuff he can come up with, mistake his lack of ability when it comes to more detailed work as laziness, or accuse him of not trying hard enough. He struggled for years as an employee, being given tasks that were not suitable for his talents. Finally, he took the leap and was able to become the head of a small organization. And you know what? He’s achieving amazing results, because now he can delegate those detail-oriented tasks to people who love to do them, while he focuses on what he is really good at: big picture thinking, vision, and leadership.
Take a good look at what you are good at and love to do, and then compare it with what you struggle with professionally. Could you be a big picture thinker stuck in a job for detail-oriented people?
If you are in Los Angeles, join me on April 26 for a live panel discussion and interactive talk about what to look for in a career as a big-picture thinker. The event is offered as a gift to all who attend, but RSVP is required.