When we’re working with organizations, we frequently hear people on the front lines make negative comments about decisions made from the top. “How could they be so stupid?”, “This is crazy!” etc. They see the impact the decisions have on their jobs, and sometimes it just doesn’t seem to make sense. A lot of times what is seen as resistance to change or a negative attitude in a workplace is really a lack of understanding of the ‘bigger picture.’

Conversely, we have worked with many senior executives struggling to understand why their programs and initiatives aren’t working. They develop a strategy and action plan that looks great on paper, but fails in the application. This is often the result of a failure to consider the ‘little picture”

Why do these things happen? It’s usually not that people are stupid, or lack vision. It’s simply a matter of perspective. Our views on the world around us are based on our personal vantage points and experiences. Someone living in downtown Manhattan, for instance, would be hard-pressed to comprehend life in the floating villages of Cambodia – just as the Cambodian would have little frame of reference for understanding life in downtown Manhattan.

Similarly, it might not be realistic to expect a company’s CEO to have a grasp on daily workload of each his (her) company’s employees. Nor, without exposure to all of the factors a CEO must take into account when making decisions, would it be fair to expect a front line employee to truly grasp the rationale of a CEO’s decision. It is for these very reasons that clear and free- flowing information throughout an organization is so important to its success.

On a more personal level, being able to see the Big Picture is critical to anyone’s success. It helps put things into perspective – which we then can use as a road map to achieving our goals. A broader scope gives us a better understanding of the implications of our actions, and allows us to look beyond the ‘what is’ to the ‘what could be.’ Being able to see the Little Picture, however, is equally important. Because the Big Picture is only truly understood when we have a grasp of all the little pictures that comprise it.

To see both the Big and Little pictures you need an open mind, and a willingness to constantly question your own views and opinions. You have to postpone placing value judgments on things until you have investigated, asked questions, and listened to the answers. Work on the assumption that the people around you have (from their perspective) sound reasons for the things they do, and then make an effort to understand those reasons.

Great people are often referred to as ‘visionaries.’ Failures are often called ‘dreamers.’ The difference between the two? Visionaries understand enough of the big and little pictures to actually make the dreams come true.

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