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Flexibility is the key to any career. Sometimes you will need to be thinking about the short term repercussions of your actions and sometimes the long term. Depending on the situation, you will need to clearly understand the “big picture” or the small. That said, many of us consistently focus on one over the other. These prejudices can limit our effectiveness by instantly branding us as a particular “type”. Those around us begin to discount our opinion because they believe that they already know our response is biased in one direction. Don’t fall victim to the big picture/small picture trap. Expand your thinking to allow for the best thoughts at the best time. Build a reputation for understanding both, so your co-workers and your managers will know you can see the whole picture and not just a fraction.
Personally, I tend to be a “big picture” thinker. I can see oncoming problems and benefits with a project long before those around me. Unfortunately, this means I often have to force myself to think about the immediate effects of the project and how we can start realizing benefits today, regardless of the future effects. I know this about myself, as you should too, so I can work to counteract my natural tendencies. Unfortunately, many people do not, even when they know they favor one view or the other. They tread the same ground with every project until those around them become so tired of their static viewpoint that they begin to ignore them.
That is, in fact, the biggest danger of one limiting viewpoint. If you consistently approach each project in the same fashion, with the same ideas, people will begin to tune you out. They will think they have heard all your arguments already and may even come to see you as an alarmist or obstructionist. “If we listened to Bob, we wouldn’t do anything at this company!” As you might imagine, once this occurs, your job, if not you entire career, may be on the line.
A wise thinker can see both sides of the equation and can provide insight into either of them.
Sure, you might see problems in the long run, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t move forward in the short term, building in protections to address those possible long term problems. Long term problems don’t necessarily make the project a “no go”, but the problems still need to be addressed in an on-going manner. I don’t want you to think that you have to ignore the big picture, only that you have to balance your understanding there with the needs of the short term. Neither one should be allowed to quash a project that could be instrumental to the company.
Short term and long term issues all add up to an effective whole. It is only when you address all the issues, even if your action item is to re-visit the issue later that you can be reasonably assured of a successful project. Of course, in your group of co-workers and managers, you will have those who primarily think on one side of the issue or the other. If you can think on both sides, though, you have the advantage, as you can address all the issues to the satisfaction of both camps and keep your project moving forward. If you develop a reputation for both the big picture and the small, you will gain the confidence of those around you. They will see that their concerns have been heard, even if you decide to act in one way or the other. They will see that you are truly “thinking” and not merely following your ingrained tendencies toward one side or the other.
What they may not realize, though, is this reputation is exactly the reason you may rise above them in the organization or already find yourself in a position of power. As with all the reputations we’ve discussed, those who do not cultivate them often do not understand the power they hold in their career. They may find themselves struggling in their career without every knowing the reason. This is one small reason I am writing this entire series. I want everyone to understand how important it is to cultivate these reputations and reinforce the competitive advantage they offer.
Can you see the big picture and the small? Do you cultivate your reputation as someone who can see both sides and offer constructive ideas to satisfy both sides of the equation? If you do, you will immediately begin to see effects in your career as those around you develop respect for both you and your ideas.