Big Picture Thinking: Definition, How-to Guide, and Careers

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 20, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Employees in various fields collaborate with their teams using different thinking styles and strategies. Collaborating with many thinking styles can help teams create more thoughtful concepts for workplace projects and ideas. Learning more about developing your skills in a specific thinking style, like thinking big picture, can help give your team's projects a new perspective. In this article, we discuss big picture thinking is, explain how to develop your skills in the area, review strategies you can use, and explore different careers that may use this thinking style.

What is big picture thinking?

Big picture thinking refers to a thinking strategy that focuses on the entirety of a concept instead of each individual detail. People who think about the big picture can often see the long-term possibilities of a plan and the overall potential for success. While many people see this thinking style as the opposite of detail-oriented thinking, both styles can work together to help professionals create thorough plans and goals.

Related: 10 Interview Questions to Get You Thinking outside the Box

How to think about the big picture

Here's some advice on how to develop skills related to thinking about the big picture:

1. Establish goals

When trying to think about the big picture of a topic, it can be helpful to first set up your goals for that idea or project. Knowing your objectives ahead of time can help you more clearly identify or explore what you ultimately want to accomplish. For instance, when working on a project with your team while on the job, try to consider the potential long-term goals of that project, such as satisfying user needs or increasing profits. This can help you develop a better understanding of the project components and how they all contribute to the big picture.

Related: The 5 Principles of Goal-Setting Theory (With How-to Steps)

2. Create actionable steps

Determining concrete steps related to your projects and goals can also be a good way to increase your ability to think about the big picture. While both creative and critical thinking skills are vital to thinking about the big picture, actionable items allow you to put that thinking into practise. As an example, if a long-term goal is to improve employee retention at the business you work for, actionable steps might include implementing an internal training program and increasing benefits packages.

Related: How to Write an Action Plan to Help You Achieve Your Goals

3. Adapt your habits

Identify habits that affect your way of thinking and adapt them to help you see the overall possibilities of an idea rather than just the details. For example, you may have a habit of planning each step in a plan as soon as you create it, but you can adapt this habit to create larger goals in your plan and quickly determine what your team needs to do to complete the project. Adapting your habits in this way can help you focus on how a project may end instead of how you can accomplish each step.

Related: What Is Conceptual Thinking? (With Importance and Tips)

4. Consider different perspectives

Big picture thinkers often consider multiple perspectives when thinking about the long-term potential of a plan or project. Ask for opinions from your colleagues and try to think about how the plans you create can affect other professionals or diverse groups of potential customers. You can practise this by creating a list for each project you make and determining how your project may change or enhance people in various groups. Developing this skill may also help you communicate with business partners nationally and internationally to collaborate successfully and respectfully.

Related: 30 Types of Thought Processes to Adopt (With Importance)

5. Practise making broad concepts

Another way to develop skills related to thinking big picture is to practise making broad concepts from existing ideas. To do this, you can collect ideas you've seen recently, whether in your workplace or elsewhere, and try to narrow them down to their most basic forms. This helps you understand the overall view of a project, which can help you create your own board concepts later. Describing complicated concepts in simple terms allows you to notice the goal of those concepts more easily.

6. Use strategy games

Strategy games like chess and checkers help train your mind to see the big picture because they require players to think about every potential move to win against a skilled opponent. With these games, you can learn to look at projects with a specific goal in mind rather than just many small goals. These games can help you develop a clearer overview of projects and what those projects can accomplish for your team and company. In addition, they help you build your critical thinking, analytical, and problem-solving skills.

Professionals might also consider conducting team-based exercises that involve critical thinking skills. For instance, team members can pair off and perform various role-playing scenarios in which one partner pretends to be a client and the other tries to help them solve their customer concerns. These exercises can encourage professionals to think of novel approaches to handling customer issues that ultimately satisfy both parties.

Related: Differences between Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking

7. Maintain a journal

Keep a journal where you can track your progress related to thinking about the big picture. For instance, you can keep a log of the big picture exercises you did that week and how they went for you. This written record of big picture activities you've attempted can help serve as evidence of your progress toward reaching your long-term goals. A journal can also be a good place for free writing or other exercises that can prompt both your creative and critical thinking abilities.

Related: 7 Steps to Improve Your Creative Thinking Skills

Strategies for thinking of the big picture

Here's some advice that can help you improve your ability to think big picture:

Make time for new ideas

Schedule time in your day just to think about new ideas or explore existing ideas from different angles. While it can sometimes be challenging to find empty slots within a busy professional schedule, designated time free from distractions can be vital for creative and critical thinking. Purposefully blocking out time for thinking big picture can help ensure that you have enough mental energy to devote to building this set of skills.

Related: 10 Traits of Strategic Thinkers and Why They Matter

Learn from your experiences

Strive to find meaning or a lesson in every experience. Even if you don't quite meet expectations for a particular task, learning from your experiences can help you know how to improve for next time. This is a valuable big picture thinking skill because it helps you look at your potential errors as opportunities for future success.

Understand societal trends

Take the time to think about how each idea or project might potentially affect its target market, society, or even a global issue. Understanding the interconnections between various ideas and actions can help you critically and innovatively explore the causes and effects of diverse ideas, which can lead to better goals and actionable steps.

For instance, a manufacturing company might strive to minimize their environmental impact by reducing carbon emissions in part because sustainability is important to many consumers. This company's sustainability efforts can serve as tangible evidence of its commitment to thinking about the big picture of environmental issues rather than just its own businesses.

Foster open communication

When developing big picture ideas that relate to your team, encourage your team members to communicate openly with you about their thoughts. Having positive and frequent communication with team members can help all of you gain an in-depth understanding of each other's ideas. This type of open communication may also facilitate new ideas through your collaborative efforts. Strategies for fostering open communication among team members might include having meetings where everyone generates ideas together, regularly giving or receiving constructive feedback, and encouraging multiple communication channels, such as in person and an internal messaging system.

Jobs use this style of thinking

Most jobs can use thinking skills related to the big picture to create thorough plans, goals, and ideas for their workplace, but some use this thinking style more than others, including:

  • Marketing managers: Marketing managers oversee the operation of marketing departments and may think about the big picture to create marketing campaigns, establish positive public images for their clients, and examine their target audience for better advertising experiences.

  • Human resources specialists: A human resources specialist thinks about the big picture when they consider how a new employee fits into their company culture, what kind of training their employees need for success in the long-term, and how they can support their workplace.

  • Creative directors: Creative directors handle creative campaigns and brand creation for companies, so they may use this thinking style to determine the best creative direction for a company and consider whether a brand voice appeals to the right audience.

  • Supervisors and team leaders: Supervisors and team leaders in any field can see the big picture of how their employees are progressing, where those employees can improve, and how their team, branch, or department can better support the goals of the company.

  • Business executives: Business executives, like CEOs, think big picture to determine how and where to grow their businesses by examining national and international trends, analyzing their competition, and creating long-term goals for the success of their companies.

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