Are You a Big-picture Thinker or More Detail-oriented?

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We’ve all met brilliant people who can’t seem to keep track of their notes, their schedule … or their socks. The details seem almost like an afterthought they can’t be bothered with … getting in the way of progress.

… and equally brilliant people who get so caught up in the details of a task (crossing every t and dotting every i), they forget the purpose of the task they’re undertaking or have trouble switching gears or prioritizing.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, with a natural tendency toward one type of thinking or the other—details or big picture. “These different kinds of thinking have nothing to do with levels of intelligence or ability … and are equally valuable,” suggests Robert Sternberg, a psychologist at Tufts University for

strategic thinkingBut, as a society and a business world, we tend to value big-picture thinking more. Great homage is given to global thinking and its importance in business. We look up to visionary leaders who can keep an eye on the competition, the goal, the mission, the future. We admire great inventors and scattered, brave individuals who have big ideas and dream up new businesses.

build your detail-oriented thinkingBut in fact, these two types of individuals complement each other … with the detail people systematically planning and executing. Could our organizations run smoothly without the more task-oriented thinkers—the people who carefully monitor and analyze data, perfecting columns of numbers and results and making sure paychecks come out on time? After all, these thorough and exacting detail people often make it possible for visionaries to get a clear picture of … the big picture.

Both types of thinkers need the help of the other and should work to strengthen their weaker thinking predisposition—be it local or global.

Strengthening your weaknesses begins with self-reflection and knowing where your strengths lie. Check out this list of considerations by if you’re uncertain.

If you’re hoping to move up in your company, big-picture thinking is often seen as a desirable quality for leaders. They’re expected to have a broad awareness of the organization and the ability to see patterns in complex problems, recognize opportunities and threats and make strategic decisions.

Want to build your global thinking? Learn to listen more. Ask questions that will help you understand the “why,” suggests “Be genuinely curious and interested in other people, departments and your organization as a whole—what they’re doing and why it matters to them.”

  • Broaden your company view by keeping tabs on your competition, your customers, your industry. Consider these various perspectives.
  • Broaden your perspective and world view by keeping up on the news and putting yourself in positions to experience new things and people outside your normal circle
  • Have strategy conversations with your boss about your daily tasks. Understand the value to your organization, suggests Leslie Stevens-Huffman for Knowing the importance of specific assignments will help you prioritize.
  • Start distinguishing between the more and less important details. Consider how to streamline tasks and eliminate wasted time and effort. Suggest changes to streamline procedures when possible.

build your detail-oriented thinkingWant to improve your attention to detail? Many tasks take a practical, methodical approach—an approach that can be learned. If you’re more of a big-picture thinker, you might feel bogged down by all this busywork. But without some level of detail-oriented thinking, you can appear scattered, miss deadlines and react before considering all the information at hand.

  • Get organized. Create a plan and write it down suggests Lucas J. Meeker for Build checklists for yourself. If the tasks you’re undertaking are complicated, there are software programs that can help you track progress. If there’s a sequence, itemize the steps and stick to the schedule.
  • Embrace the routine. Chaos hurts progress. And many aspects of progress involve a routine set of steps. Put checks and balances in place to ensure successful completion of tasks.
  • Cut down on distractions around you. Don’t pick up your cell phone. Work in a quiet space on one task at a time (rather than multitasking).
  • Build relationships. Taking the time to get to know all the people involved in your projects is worth the effort. Find a way to remember their names as well as those of customers and vendors.
  • Take the time to make sure your communication is concrete, clear and courteous. You understand your own vision, but ensuring that others do too is key to getting them on board with your ideas.

Business professionals can benefit from both big-picture and detail-oriented thinking. But many of us tend to lean more toward one type of thinking or the other. Give some thought to where your strengths lie and build your weaker skills.


Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.