The Big Picture: Putting Your Career In (Holistic) Perspective
My big picture starts with a small backstory. And by the end of this blog, I hope you’ve got the ball rolling. So here goes…
Storytime: Way back in 2011-12 while I was making inroads in the Product Management space, I was introduced to this book called The Lean Startup by Eric Reis. It really was an alignment of stars of sorts as I discovered the ‘big picture’ concept, something the field definitely demands. Borrowing from the book, the concept is aimed at elevating goals to incorporate continuous improvement, identifying the big picture associated with each progressive phase, and using the continuous feedback loop to better engage end-users and relevant stakeholders. My product management story may have ended but the big picture is very much a part of my story to date. It’s been part of my career perspective at every turn to help me contextualise and take the next step - to think differently, to give myself an edge, and position myself to maximise my capabilities in order to make the most impact.
Now, let’s zoom out and get to the bigger picture (see what I did there?)
In the not-so-distant past, careers were thought to develop in a predictable and linear fashion. People looked for and accepted positions with anticipation of job security, expected promotions, and perhaps a few job changes to get ahead. Today, for better or worse, these assumptions no longer hold true. This is due to several factors including the rise of new technologies, changing economic circumstances, globalisation, and evolving social values. (Read more on the 5 Global Megatrends from my side here!) Modern career paths more closely resemble the journey of a roller coaster with plenty of twists and turns, rather than a steady linear progression (Take me or yourself as the biggest case in point). Hence, taking into account the ‘bigger picture’ or having a ‘holistic’ long-term view helps you to make choices with more confidence.
Here, the meaning of the 'holistic' as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is the “comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” In simple terms, holistic means considering the whole of a thing – not just the individual parts. “Take a step back”, “Look at the big picture”, “Think about it in the grand scheme of things". These snippets of advice can often feel like a waste of time - why invest in all that idealistic thinking when there’s just so much to actually get done? (Been there, felt that.)
Before I get to the other side, here’s a mid-article self-analysis time: Do you look at the detailed ins and outs of a project you’re working on? Or, do you tend to keep a bird’s eye view on things, and look to see how it connects to a broader plan?
An example closer home to drive the point home: The big picture of AttitudeMakeover
Defined by the 50 million creatives turning their passions into professions, the rise of the creator economy is at an all-time high. As this industry continues to grow, the forecast is for compounding annual growth rates in all forms of creator content. Not only are we heading straight toward new avenues for content creation, but the creative process itself is set to profoundly evolve. All these developments trend in one direction: easier content creation, more creators and takers, smarter tools, and new opportunities to build creator-community relationships. Amidst the changing business models and the future of work is you, looking to see and secure where you want to stand. And that’s exactly where AttitudeMakeover positions itself - next to you along this journey called ‘career’. That’s my big picture as we speak.
Now, how do we align the details in line with this? Countless daily tasks go into keeping things in order, running actionable outcomes, and moving toward the goal. I prioritise narrowing down my focus and determining what steps are possible in the immediate future. Next comes drawing up a timeline and clearly laying out how to move forward. From there, it’s about connecting the short-term actions with long-term outcomes. The driving force is an A1 team and a constant realisation that all that is being done adds up to something greater that’s been envisioned. Every big accomplishment starts with a small idea and efficient execution. Expanding on that innovation and maintaining profitability takes a thoughtful, forward-looking strategy where the decisions are based on extensive, relevant, quantitative information. Personally, staying flexible and preparing to adapt to changing priorities, unexpected setbacks or new directives from decision-makers prevents an initiative from getting bogged down in short-term issues.
The real deal
That’s the core of the big picture perspective right there. This is imperative to organisational (of any kind) success, especially for those in positions of leadership. The need to see broadly like this is important to establish perspective, and in turn judgement. Your judgement is based on how well you can keep the big picture view while executing your day-to-day tasks (detail-oriented).
When we get pulled in so many directions, with shifting priorities, and the never-ending pressure of productivity, it can be difficult to step back, take a big picture view and evaluate. However, the alternative is worse and not worth the risk. You may wake up one day and find that what was is now no longer relevant or efficient. When you take the time to look at the big picture it can cause a shift in perspective, modify your judgement, and ultimately change your focus and activity, either as an individual, team, or entire organisation. Getting a big picture perspective tends to reinforce the things that are important, subsequently, refocus your attention and align your true priorities.
Personally, I’ve come a long way from being a person who used to be caught in a frenzy every time something went (mildly) wrong. It’s not easy to encourage big picture thinking. It takes a ton of conscious effort and one saviour of a mental reminder that can do wonders is to ask yourself: “how will this matter to me in 5 days, 5 months, 5 years…” How do the various single pieces with which I’m involved fit into the grand scheme of things?
Yes, there’s more in it for the win…
What big picture thinking also does: It allows you to see opportunities for improvement. Makes a way to bring that big picture view to be communicated to the rest of the team and serves to reinforce the real reason for the activities you do daily. You see, the big picture and detail-oriented thinking are crucial and, in fact, complement each other. Like I stated earlier, as a product manager I learned that a fine balance between the two always works the best because everybody can talk big vision, mission, and strategy but it's impossible to succeed with just that. The art of getting things done is imperative backed by collaboration, delegation, and experimentation among others.
By thinking big, you can see how an obstacle impacts the big picture and how that can turn into an opportunity. Understanding how to see the big picture can help you prioritise effectively, set better goals, and improve time management. By developing a complete perspective of a situation, you can make decisions that drive long-term results, which can help you advance in your career. Not to mention: You think big. Your limitless perspective can push you to come up with ambitious ideas. While it can seem difficult to find the time in a busy calendar to set aside for big picture thinking, it can make a world of a difference to achieve what is possible in the present and the future.
In line with what I started out with, in our ever-changing world, this mindset/model enables and facilitates the flexibility and proactiveness we need. A holistic career plan is not a one-and-done deal. It will require constant updating on a continual basis throughout our lives. Rather than simply reacting to our circumstances and ticking things off the to-do list, we will be able to take full advantage of our abilities and resources to achieve our full potential.
On that note, here’s the start line (of thought)
“See what can be, not just what is.” David J. Schwartz in his book The Magic of Thinking Big. Seeing things from the big picture lens helps connect the dots from your actions/tasks to your big goal. I started with: ‘What am I trying to achieve?’ That’s exactly what could help you too and don’t forget to follow it up with:
What comes after the immediate step?
A few steps down the line, is it still aligned with where you are headed?
If you did this, can you think of any unintended consequences that might occur?
How close or far are your decisions from where you want to be?
Is everyone on your team on the same page?
How do you feel about the big picture itself?
Another pro tip (from personal experience, of course) for big picture thinking: ask yourself, ‘what is it that I’m not asking myself?’ No matter which field you belong to – an aspiring entrepreneur, someone who’s putting together a dream team, or polishing your leadership skills, big picture thinking needs to reign supreme on your career thinking cap. Anytime and everytime is a good time to put things into (the big picture) perspective. Have you started working on sharpening your big picture lens?
Here are some resources (podcasts) that helped me broaden my understanding of ‘the big picture’: