Develop a big-picture mindset.

Mark Planet Shakers

“Where success is concerned, people are not measured in inches, or pounds, or college degrees, or family background; they are measured by the size of their thinking.” —DAVID SCHWARTZ

Big-picture thinking can benefit any person in any profession. When somebody like Jack Welch tells a GE employee that the ongoing relationship with the customer is more important than the sale of an individual product, he’s reminding them of the big picture. When two parents are fed up with potty training, poor grades, or fender-benders, and one reminds the other that the current difficult time is only a temporary season, then they benefit from thinking big picture. Real estate developer Donald Trump quipped, “You have to think anyway, so why not think big?” Big-picture thinking brings wholeness and maturity to a person’s thinking. It brings perspective. It’s like making the frame of a picture bigger, in the process expanding not only what you can see, but what you are able to do. Spend time with big-picture thinkers, and you will find that they:

Learn Continually Big-picture thinkers are never satisfied with what they already know. They are always visiting new places, reading new books, meeting new people, learning new skills. And because of that practice, they often are able to connect the unconnected. They are lifelong learners. To help me maintain a learner’s attitude, I spend a few moments every morning thinking about my learning opportunities for the day. As I review my calendar and to-do list—knowing whom I will meet that day, what I will read, which meetings I will attend—I note where I am most likely to learn something. Then I mentally cue myself to look attentively for something that will improve me in that situation. If you desire to keep learning, I want to encourage you to examine your day and look for opportunities to learn.

Listen Intentionally An excellent way to broaden your experience is to listen to someone who has expertise in an area where you don’t. I search for such opportunities. One year I spoke to about 900 coaches and scouts at the Senior Bowl, where graduating football players participated in their last college game. I had the opportunity, along with my son-in-law, Steve Miller, to have dinner with NFL head coaches Dave Wannstedt and Butch Davis. It’s not often that you get such an opportunity, so I asked them questions about teamwork and spent a lot of time listening to them. At the end of the evening, as Steve and I were walking to our car, he said to me, “John, I bet you asked those coaches a hundred questions tonight.” “If I’m going to learn and grow,” I replied, “I must know what questions to ask and know how to apply the answers to my life. Listening has taught me a lot more than talking.” When you meet with people, it’s good to have an agenda so that you can learn. It’s a great way to partner with people who can do things you can’t. Big-picture thinkers recognize that they don’t know lots of things. They frequently ask penetrating questions to enlarge their understanding and thinking. If you want to become a better big-picture thinker, then become a good listener.

Look Expansively Writer Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Many an object is not seen, though it falls within the range of our visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our intellectual ray.” Human beings habitually see their own world first. For example, when people arrive at a leadership conference put on by my company, they want to know where they’re going to park, whether they will be able to get a good (and comfortable) seat, whether the speaker will be “on,” and if the breaks will be spaced right. When I arrive to speak at the same conference, I want to know that the lighting is good, the sound equipment is operating effectively, whether the speaker’s platform will be close enough to the people, etc. Who you are determines what you see—and how you think. Big-picture thinkers realize there is a world out there besides their own, and they make an effort to get outside of themselves and see other people’s worlds through their eyes. It’s hard to see the picture while inside the frame. To see how others see, you must first find out how they think. Becoming a good listener certainly helps with that. So does getting over your personal agenda and trying to take the other person’s perspective.

Live Completely French essayist Michel Eyquem de Montaigne wrote, “The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them; a man may live long yet live very little.” The truth is that you can spend your life any way you want, but you can spend it only once. Becoming a big-picture thinker can help you to live with wholeness, to live a very fulfilling life. People who see the big picture expand their experience because they expand their world. As a result, they accomplish more than narrow-minded people. And they experience fewer unwanted surprises, too, because they are more likely to see the many components involved in any given situation: issues, people, relationships, timing, and values. They are also, therefore, usually more tolerant of other people and their thinking.

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