Big Picture Thinking

The parable goes that two men were each carrying a large load of bricks towards a construction site. When someone asked them each what they were doing, the first man replied simply, “I’m hauling a load of bricks.” The second man responded more enthusiastically. “I’m building a home.”

Unless you’re careful about keeping your perspective, the hectic IT world that we eat, live and breathe, can be like quicksand. The harder you try to get caught up and the more effort you put into it, the deeper you sink. Routine challenges range from being on call 24×7, to dealing with a never-ending stream of user problems, to juggling critical system issues. These are the quicksand that is part of your everyday life, continually pulling you down, often making you lose perspective of the big picture.

In most companies, especially in the IT department, there is always too much to be done. Particularly in fast-paced organizations, the situation (by culture or by design?) is that you have to accept that you will never be caught up, so it becomes more about prioritization and just-in-time delivery. There is always too much on your plate and far more than could reasonably be done, even if you worked 24 hours a day!

So, do you own your tasks or do your tasks own you? If it is the latter, then you may want to consider your perspective and try to focus on the big picture that the components build up into. It could be a goal such as completion of a project or closure of a sale, where the components are the processes or procedures, hardware, software, or even that emergency 3am trip into the office. Ultimately, they should all be driving your progress towards some core purpose; bricks in the home that you are building. If you have lost sight of that end-purpose or if the purpose has changed or gone missing, perhaps that task is not truly as important as you thought.

Keeping the big picture in mind can be enhanced by learning about and respecting your individual mentality. Are you mired in tasks, or do those tasks actually mean something? The answer lies in your perception, which is especially interesting because perception is subjective. Detailed-oriented people tend to think of project scale in terms of, “How could I establish the big picture without having the details?” while a big picture person would think, “How can I get to the details without knowing what the big picture is?” To some, details can be quicksand; you can easily get in too deep and it will eventually drown you. Other folks need details to assemble the pieces that make up that big picture. There is not a wrong way to go about it; rather it is more about understanding yourself and how you prefer to think, but maintaining a healthy perspective either way.

Is a big picture perspective the same as a detailed viewpoint, just a different way to look at the same thing? Unfortunately, perspective differences are not as simple as toh-may-toh, toh-mah-toh. Although the action is the same, the concept and motivation are completely different. Consequently, how you view all of these things can have a huge impact on your attitude (and perhaps your sanity.) It is all-too-easy to sink deeper into the quicksand, getting absorbed in (and overwhelmed by) the never-ending action items, tasks and support issues. If you can maintain a macro-view sight level however, you can develop a greater perspective and mindset as part of your daily strategy. Regardless of your thinking preference, don’t lose sight of the big picture. Are you simply carrying bricks or are you building a home?