The Big Picture

A client asked me to facilitate her senior team’s big picture, strategic planning retreat. It was a $200 million company. They listed important issues on the whiteboard. Item #1? Replace the refrigerated water fountain with a ‘green’ ground-cooled fountain, to show commitment to the environment. Worthwhile? Maybe. But… strategy? big picture? Not even remotely.

We do this in our daily lives, too. A friend tied himself up in court for a year to win a few hundred dollars damages from a fender bender. Was he right? Sure. Was that a good use of his time? No way.

The Big Picture Guides Decisions

“The big picture” matters because it tells you how to spend your time. It guides decision making. If you’re starting a business to build a world-changing empire, that’s one thing. Creating a comfortable business that runs on four hours’ effort a day so you can have free time for friends and family is something different. Even when doing the same activity—building a business—a different big picture leads you to make different decisions in the day-to-day.

If you lose the big picture, you can go very far afield. I once had a client who had 60 employees. The company was bringing in a couple million a year, but it all went to salary for the employees. My client was sleeping on friends’ couches because he wasn’t paying himself a salary. He was living the “build an empire” big picture when what he wanted was a comfortable life. Linking his big picture and his day-to-day transformed his life. By closing his company and becoming a sole practitioner, his income and lifestyle became everything he wanted.

The big picture also gives you important information. If someone makes a bad decision, how you judge it depends on the big picture. If a money manager loses money after representing themselves as a knowledgable professional who manages risk, that mistake may be very bad, indeed. But if someone is carefully investing calculated amounts with the goal of teaching themselves investing, that same loss may be a very good thing. It’s a chance to learn that will help them make good decisions later. A big picture of “I’m guaranteeing your security” versus “I’m learning my craft” changes how we treat the outcomes.

Revisit Your Own Big Picture

Are you paying enough attention to the big pictures in your life? Next time you make a decision or form a judgment, stop and pause. Consider the big picture. If you’re making a decision, what is the reason for making that particular decision? Is there a big picture point of view that will make the decision easier or more obvious? “Should I take out a loan to buy this car?” It’s easy to believe this is a real decision … until you consider that you take the subway to work, you have no need to drive, and you just like the mental image of how you’d look in a cool, sporty convertible. At least in my life, a big picture of “I want to be cool” versus “I need a car to survive in my daily life” makes the decision obvious: no loan, on any terms.

When you make a snap judgment, it’s also a good time to revisit the big picture. “She’s a poor employee because she missed three days of work last week.” If your big picture is “I want compliant workers,” you’d be tempted to give her a pink slip. But if your big picture is “I want skilled employees who do a great job,” you might dig deeper to find out she’s completing her masters degree, coping with finals, and her extra skills are already showing up in the form of high-quality work.

Spend time on a regular basis to revisit your big picture. You may find it guides you towards not only towards a better decision, but towards a wise decision as well.

Are You Forgetting The Big Picture?

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