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6 big picture thinking strategies that you'll actually use

July 29, 2022 - 17 min read

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What is big picture thinking? 

An example of big picture thinking

5 benefits of looking at the big picture

4 ways to embrace big picture thinking

6 exercises to develop big picture thinking

“Big-picture thinkers broaden their outlook by striving to learn from every experience. They don't rest on their successes, they learn from them.”

John C. Maxwell, author, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership 

More than ever, organizations are looking ahead to the future with a close lens and keen strategies. This type of big-picture thinking is imperative to the success of any company. It's part of building mental fitness

After all, our world is in a constant state of change. With much of the future unknown and uncertain, companies (and people) need to stay agile and think strategically about what’s to come ahead. In fact, half of us feel unable to plan for the future. 

At BetterUp, we’ve studied what this type of thinking looks like in the workplace. To be a future-minded organization means that you’re both pragmatic and optimistic. You look ahead to find the upside and possibility of opportunity. You have confidence in your ability to take action and influence outcomes. 

But you also make space to be reactive. Your organization knows that the future isn’t set in stone. To look at the bigger picture ahead, you know that you need to make space for reflection in case things don’t go as planned. 

Because if there’s anything we’ve learned in the last couple of years, things don’t always go as planned. Even the best-laid plans are disrupted. After all, external factors like the global pandemic, a fluctuating market, and political unrest all play a role. 

In this post, you’ll learn how to adopt habits to become a big-picture thinker. Find out how strategic thinking can keep your organization a step ahead — and be better prepared to pivot when needed. 

What is big picture thinking? 

First, let’s understand what we mean by big picture thinking. 

These types of thinking skills aren’t inherently natural to us. Like any other sort of skill or muscle, it takes practice to start thinking with a big picture view. Let’s look at some examples of big picture thinking — and why it’s worth investing in building a future-mindedness in your workplace. 

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An example of big picture thinking

Let’s take a step back to look at some examples of big-picture thinking in the workplace. You could potentially use this example as a thinking strategy with your team members. 

Lucy is a director in a technology company. As an HR leader, Lucy has a breadth of experience in human resources management. Her team is responsible for making sure that employees are well taken care of. 

Throughout the pandemic, Lucy and her team have wrestled quite a few challenges to help make sure employees are a top priority. When the pandemic first hit, Lucy was challenged with leading the COVID-19 workstream to help pivot to remote work. She and her team needed to form guidelines and policies around COVID-19

She was tasked with looking into employee benefits and resources to offer employees in response to the pandemic. She was also asked to think about the future of work strategy and present it to the senior leadership team. 

Lucy’s initial future work strategy incorporated a return-to-office approach. Lucy's company previously required employees to work from the office. She knew it was a top priority for leadership to have employees return to the office. 

But Lucy kept up-to-date on industry trends and research. She found that employees preferred working from home. But more importantly, she learned employees wanted the flexibility to make decisions about how (and where) they work. Companies agreed, with 83% of employers saying the shift to remote work has been successful

She also kept a pulse on the job market and climate outside of the corporate world. With employees leaving in droves during the Great Resignation, Lucy pivoted her strategy. She also realized that while the job market is still competitive, the company would need to retain and continue to develop its top talent. After all, the company was tightening its budgets. 

Lucy stayed agile and adopted the skills of a future-minded leader. Her strategy included a detail-oriented, employee-driven approach to returning to the office. Instead of requiring employees to work in the office, Lucy proposed an employee-centric approach. Let employees pick and choose how they want to work. Accommodate employees for hybrid work environments and invest in professional development opportunities. 

Lucy also proposed initiatives like virtual team activities, team offsites, and “in-office” connection days to help keep social connections strong. The leadership team saw Lucy’s strategy as an inclusive, culture and people-first approach. They agreed to implement Lucy’s strategy thanks her to big thinking. 

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5 benefits of looking at the big picture

Thinking about the big picture has its benefits. Let’s talk through five benefits of looking at the big picture. 

  • It helps organizations stay resilient in the face of change and adversity. Big picture thinking helps you build a cushion of resiliency amid change. When things throw you for a loop, your big-picture thinking can help you adapt with ease. 
  • It keeps companies agile (especially during challenging times). Agility is more important than ever with change as a constant. Especially when change becomes more complex, big-picture thinking keeps your company agile. 
  • It helps improve your bottom line. Adopting strategic thinking helps improve your organizational performance. When organizations are future-minded, your overall performance benefits, too. 
  • It creates a culture of imagination and creativity. At BetterUp, we value zest, playfulness, and imagination. When you’re able to weave strategic thinking into your company culture, your employees benefit. 
  • It can increase your organization’s ability to adopt strategic foresight. Strategic foresight is the ability to look ahead and provide insight into what might happen in the future. This future-minded decision-making helps your organization stay ahead of the curve. 

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4 ways to embrace big picture thinking

If you’re looking for specific actions to take to help embrace big picture thinking, try these four tactics. 

Build future-minded skills 

We know the future isn’t clear. And that’s OK. Organizations everywhere are navigating the same uncertainty and unknown. In fact, 63% of Americans say they’re stressed about the unknown

But your workforce doesn’t have to feel like it’s navigating the unknown alone or without support. Creating future-minded leaders in your company will help keep your workforce agile, healthy, and engaged.

Our data shows that future-minded leaders report increased team agility, team performance, innovation, and resiliency. We also know that 82% of people have significant room for improvement in at least one area of future-minded leadership skills.

How are you building your leaders’ problem-solving skills? In what ways can you keep big picture thinking top of mind for your organization? 

Practice imagination 

At BetterUp, we have a set of high-impact behaviors that help guide what we do (and how we do it). One of my personal favorite high-impact behaviors is called practice imagination. 

The idea? Well, every idea is a good one. You can think outside of the box and propose new projects that may seem unattainable. You can pitch big-picture initiatives that might seem impossible to pull off. 

But here’s the surprising thing: you’ll surprise yourself with what you’ll come up with. And with a bedrock of psychological safety, trust, and inclusive leadership, your ideas might even come to fruition. 

Invest in your employees’ professional development 

Employees want career development opportunities. Without a vision for what their future could look like in your organization, you risk losing your top talent. 

Make an investment in your employees’ development. Are you investing in virtual coaching for your employees? What upskilling opportunities do you have available? Are you encouraging your employees to invest in their own professional development? 

At BetterUp, we know the value of learning opportunities. In addition to our own coaching and personal development, BetterUp gives us a yearly stipend for learning. I’m able to use my stipend for workshops that support my passions, like writing. 

Provide coaching 

Strategic thinkers are people with growth mindsets. Companies that adopt a growth mindset and invest in coaching have seen the benefits first-hand. And with access to virtual coaching, you can tap into the full potential of your workforce. Your employees (and your bottom line) will reap the benefits. 

At BetterUp, we partnered with a publicly traded cloud technology company to support its sales goals. As part of this partnership, we provided a group of sales leaders with personalized Sales Performance coaching. The goal? To help unlock their capabilities (including strategic and big-picture thinking) to drive revenue. 

We took a close look at the performance of those sales managers who were provided with coaching versus those that were uncoached. The results speak for themselves. Teams of coached sales managers saw an 11% boost in reaching sales goals versus non-coached teams.

Ultimately, this translated to an additional $10 million in total bookings per team. Coached sales leaders saw a 60% increase in the number of their direct reports who achieved quota.

By dedicating time every week to their Sales Performance Coach, sales managers experienced significant Whole Person growth. They saw 24% gains in productivity and focus, as well as a 16% gain in strategic planning.

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6 exercises to develop big picture thinking

Like most skills, big picture thinking takes practice. Here are six exercises to help develop your big picture thinking skills. 

1. Start with reflection 

It’s hard to know where to go if you don’t know where you’re starting from. If you’re striving to become a big picture person, the first step is to press pause. 

Take some time to reflect on your current thinking strategies. What’s your approach to solving problems? Are you adopting a future-minded approach when it comes to thinking about the future? What are your team needs and how can a big picture lens help? What are your strengths? What are your opportunities for growth? 

2. Ditch perfectionism 

Detail-oriented people, you may not like this one. But your perfectionism is getting in the way of you becoming a big picture person. 

If the perfectionist inside of you is clinging to the perfect plan, you’re probably not able to look past the short-term. Challenge yourself to let go of things. 

3. Think about other perspectives 

Part of being a big picture thinker is considering other perspectives. Of course, we live in a world where plenty of people have plenty of opinions. And sometimes, that can be overwhelming. 

But if you take the time to think about the counterargument or try to understand another point of view, it can help. Take some time to think about perspectives that differ from your own. 

4. Use mind mapping as a tool

It helps to write things out. 

If you’re interested in journaling, this could be a good way to spill your big pictures onto paper. Mind mapping helps you articulate what you’re thinking into tangible goals, actions, or ideas. 

5. Ask yourself the tough questions

Think about your audience or the counterargument to your big-picture ideas. What are the higher-level tough questions you might receive? What questions can you anticipate that might challenge your strategic thinking? 

Take a minute to do some brainstorming and ask yourself the tough questions. You’ll be better equipped to navigate those challenges — and it might even shift your thinking. 

6. Stay focused on your purpose

As a creative myself, thinking up big ideas is a lot of fun for me. But sometimes, as they say, the dreamers can get lost in the clouds. 

Stay focused on your purpose to make sure you’re staying on track with your goals. Remind yourself what problems you’re hoping to solve and root down in your purpose. 

Make sure your workforce understands the purpose behind their work, too. With purpose as your North Star and a coach as your guide, you can unlock your workforce’s full potential. 

Start thinking big 

With BetterUp, you can start thinking big. Access to virtual coaching can help tap into your strategic thinking skills. By doing so, your organization can drive growth, development, and better business performance. 

Together, we can help your workforce start to adopt strategic leadership skills. With the help of a coach, your employees can be prepared for a better (and brighter) tomorrow.  

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Published July 29, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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