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How to See the Big Picture

Get tips on how to see the big picture instead of getting lost in the details.

By
Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #168

I'm working on a new startup these days, JobTacToe.com. When you work closely with a small group, you start to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and habits and weirdnesses. You also start dressing alike and speaking your own private language. I draw the line at matching tattoos, however.

The three of us all come from an engineering background, so you can imagine how tactful we are. "Morning Cat, that shirt looks awful. Polka dots? Really? Really?" And recently, my favorite was when one of my partners made the offhand remark, "Your biggest weakness is that you're way too hung up on perfectionism."

Do You Get Caught Up in Perfectionism?

Perfectionism? Me? Excuse me? First of all, maybe I am perfect, Miss Smartypants. Did you ever think of that? And she said it just because I wanted our graphics to look good. They had typed a phone number using periods to separate the area code instead of dashes. The period didn't line up correctly, so I was merely showing her how to adjust the spacing between the characters. True, Microsoft Word makes it difficult, so I simply bought Adobe Pagemaker plus a new set of fonts, went through all the tutorials, then reproduced our graphic. This time, however, I moved the period 3/72" closer to the left, and the phone number looked awesome!!

How the Details Can Get in the Way of the Big Picture

Ok, maybe Miss Smartypants was right. Maybe I got just a wee bit caught in the details. But isn't that a good thing? They say the Devil is in the details. Don't we owe it to future generations to find him and make him leave the details and go to Casablanca, instead? I think so. But when you're doing an exorcism in the details, you can lose sight of the big picture. You end up spending way too much time on things that don't matter.

I confess this has happened before. My last boss once told me, "You produce 95% quality! Sadly, our customers only care about 80% quality. You spend half your time getting from 85% to 95%. If you just settled for what they want, you'd already be exceeding expectations." I understand this, but I can't help myself. The details just have too strong a hold on my mind. I had to turn to Europa, the original big picture thinker, for advice.

How to See the Big Picture

Figure out what trigger you'll use to double-check whether you're lost in the details.

She started by explaining I need a trigger that reminds me to stop and check if I'm caught in the details. A trigger can be internal. When I start getting upset, for example, that can be a signal to myself that it's possible I'm caught in the details. When I raise my voice when discussing moving a period 3/72" to the left, for example, that can be my trigger. My trigger can also be when I buy a $600 piece of software so I can move that period 3/72". Or even just the feeling I get right before thinking, "I can do something about that period..."

A trigger can also be outside you. A fine trigger is when you make your daily to-do list. Since you're outlining what you'll get done that day, you'll have great raw data to know if you're caught in details. Or a trigger could be a certain time each day, or even a certain time each hour. Choose your trigger now!

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About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.