What It Means to See the Bigger Picture (And Why It Matters)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 22, 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.

When making decisions, it's important to consider all potential outcomes to choose what option to pursue. Thinking about all possibilities with consideration for the larger perspective may help you determine the right choice. Learning how to think about this perspective may help you improve your decision-making skills, which may also help with other important workplace skills. In this article, we define what it means to see the bigger picture, discuss some benefits of thinking about the bigger picture, compare detail-oriented and big-picture thinking, outline how to think about the bigger picture, and share examples of big-picture thinking.

What does it mean to see the bigger picture?

Having the ability to see the bigger picture enables you to assess the potential effects of your choices in a broader sense, rather than focusing on minor details. It helps you understand how your choices may impact an entire project or your employer instead of how they may impact that specific task, person, or other smaller-scale option. It's an important decision-making skill that may help you succeed in other professional areas, such as setting actionable goals, creating realistic timelines, working efficiently, and managing your stress.

Seeing the larger picture can be useful for a variety of professionals. It's possible to apply this type of thinking in different ways, depending on your own responsibilities and authority at work. Some types of roles that may benefit from big-picture thinking include:

  • client-facing

  • entry-level

  • leadership

  • managerial

  • supervisory

Related: How to Be an Effective Decision Maker (With Steps and Tips)

Benefits of considering the bigger picture

It's important to consider the bigger picture to better understand how daily tasks relate to bigger goals or long-term plans. This provides more context for your work, helping you understand its importance, and enables you to set achievable goals. Your goals may become more specific, and you may have a better idea of how to best achieve them.

Some other potential benefits of big-picture thinking include:

  • identifying relationships between projects and organizational goals

  • facilitating more successful problem-solving plans

  • addressing overarching workplace challenges instead of small details

  • improving workplace relationships

  • encouraging openness to new ideas and alternative perspectives

  • providing larger context to set specific, realistic goals

  • reducing stress levels at work to improve mental health at work

  • creating a framework to resolve concerns objectively

  • fostering more effective time management for better project planning

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

Detail-oriented thinking vs. big-picture thinking

Detail-oriented thinking and big-picture thinking are both useful strategies for handling workplace challenges. Here are some ways these methods of thinking differ to help you determine which may be best to use:

Context

Detail-oriented thinking typically emphasizes focusing on a specific aspect of a project, while big-picture thinking may target the entire project or the project as it relates to company goals. For example, a big-picture thinker at an automotive company might think about ensuring a finished vehicle's crash test results meet company safety standards. In comparison, a detail-oriented thinker may focus on conducting crash tests and collecting the results.

Related: How to Be More Detail-Oriented (With Definition and Resume Tips)

Time period

Big-picture thinkers frequently consider the long-term effects of a project, while detail-oriented thinkers focus on short-term priorities. For example, at a fashion design company, a big-picture thinker might predict the next year's industry trends based on best-selling clothes from the current year. In contrast, a detail-oriented thinker may dedicate time to creating garments based on current trends for an upcoming fashion show.

Mindset

While detail-oriented thinkers may strive to achieve the highest quality product within a specific time period, big-picture thinkers focus on meeting quality standards and moving on with production. For example, a big-picture-oriented teacher may structure lesson plans based on standardized tests with the goal of increasing scores and helping students get into their preferred colleges. In contrast, a detail-oriented teacher might expand standardized lessons to include interesting activities or extra information.

How to consider the bigger picture at work

Follow the steps to develop skills for big-picture thinking in your professional life:

1. Form habits that promote big-picture thinking

Aim to move away from habits you may have that limit big-picture thinking. This may help you better focus on the larger context of your work. Some thought patterns to develop that may be helpful with this include:

  • Quality over perfectionism: Rather than attempting to complete any duties at work perfectly, big-picture thinkers often consider the overall priorities of an organization. For example, if a client values high production, a big-picture thinker might strive to complete a high-quality product within the time allotted.

  • Setting worthwhile goals: To ensure you're setting effective goals, consider what's a priority in the larger context. For example, if an organization is launching a new service, a big-picture thinker may set goals that contribute to promoting that new service.

  • Delegating duties: Big-picture thinkers often delegate tasks that may distract them from taking a broader perspective. For example, a manager might focus on interviewing new employees while delegating scheduling, writing interview questions, onboarding, and training responsibilities.

Related: Setting Goals to Improve Your Career

2. Try making organized lists

Create a list of what you want to complete at work. Add items freely, then review and categorize the list to help you remember the larger perspective. Some categories to use may include:

  • high to low priority responsibilities

  • short-term and long-term duties

  • daily, weekly, and monthly targets

  • project goals

If your category lists are longer than three bullet points, add subcategories based on the order of importance. To help you determine which duty is the highest priority, consider a specific deliverable you're aiming for and who might expect it. For example, you can schedule a meeting with a client to present a product, then determine what to do to prepare for the meeting. For feedback about how to best organize priorities for your job, consider sharing your goals with a supervisor.

Related: How to Create a To-Do List and Manage One Effectively

3. Chat with a coworker

Speak with your teammates to help discover new perspectives, which may be helpful for considering the bigger picture. Informal conversation, including asking questions, giving honest answers, and providing friendly suggestions, can help you strategize about how best to approach a project. This collaboration may also motivate teammates to offer further support and guidance as you're completing the project, as well as provide them with a sense of satisfaction when you succeed.

4. Reserve time for reflection

Allow yourself time to relax and think about the project so you can best make decisions based on the big picture. This can be helpful for avoiding acting on short-term conditions, such as emotions, distractions, time pressure, or fatigue. Some methods to help you reflect and think about the larger perspective include:

  • meditating

  • journaling

  • going for a walk

  • talking with a friend or family member

Related: Reflective Questions for Career and Life Improvement

Examples of bigger-picture thinking

Consider these examples to help you think about the bigger picture at work:

Example of big-picture thinking when working with a client

Here's an example of how you may use big-picture thinking in a client-facing job:

Marshall is a graphic designer at a marketing agency, and he works with clients directly. He's creating a dozen new potential logos for a new client, and he schedules a meeting with the client to discuss more about the project. He researches the company before the meeting, and he uses the time to ask more about their goals for the logo and brand, design preferences, and timeline to visualize the bigger picture. Marshall uses these guidelines to create a dozen options before the deadline for the client to review.

Example of big-picture thinking as an entry-level employee

Consider this example of how an entry-level employee may use big-picture thinking:

Danisha recently started a new job as a junior sales representative at a software company. She creates a list of her daily responsibilities, such as cold-calling potential new customers, responding to e-mails, researching new leads, and preparing new contracts. She categorizes her responsibilities based on importance and uses this to plan her workday. Danisha then focuses on the most important tasks, helping her achieve her sales goals and gain new clients for the company.

Example of big-picture thinking as a manager

Review this example of how a manager might apply big-picture thinking:

Sloane owns and manages a bookstore. She asks each of her employees about the challenges they deal with at work, what books customers often ask about, and ways they feel she might improve the store. Sloane uses this information to plan future orders and develop ways to improve daily operations. This helps her increase her sales and employee morale because they feel listened to and valued.

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