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Seeing the Big Picture

Sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes, we don’t even try, and sadly, sometimes we don’t even know.

I am talking about the Big Picture here. In organizations, especially large ones, we focus on the specialized work we do, and learn to do it better and better, or faster, or more effectively, but do we do in consonance or even cognizance of the larger goal in the organization? Quite often, not. The gap lies as much with organizations as with us. However these impact motivation, buy in, intent and innovation to a great extent, so we should be doing something about it.

I was watching a TEDX talk, ‘Thrive in Chaos’ by Capt Raghu Raman where he used the NSG Commando situation on 26/11 and general military preparedness as an example. Look at the big picture out here – it’s very different from what we see in our largely business and corporate lives. It’s about lives, security, the nation and death. We too prepare, we are ready he says, but our mistakes are neither correctible or cheap. ‘Our mistakes’, he said somberly ‘come home in body bags’. We don’t just have a bad quarter that we can address and correct in the next one, the widows we make stay widows through their life. Chilling words perhaps, but look at the equally chilling reality that drives commanders to take the best care and the greatest output from their team. The Big Picture is too compelling for them to do otherwise.

My proposition is simple. Perhaps we aren’t the Military dealing in life, national security and death but organizations still owe it to themselves and their teams to present and paint the Big Picture, create a buy in, again and again. Team members also owe it to themselves to lift their daily lives, their eyes and heads to keep focused on the larger objective, the more inspirational large Sistine chapel that they are part of drawing. We focus heavily on developing leadership and that is fantastic. A leadership quality might be seeing the bigger picture, but it’s equally important to ensure that the leader can help others share that vision. Peter Senge puts it well: the responsibility of a leader is not just to share a vision but to build a shared vision.

An organization with an assembly line approach fails both its employees and stakeholders. Whether it is the youngest person or the most experienced, leveraging on their creativity, ideas and energy to add, even transform the big picture seems the logical thing to do. Whether we make widgets, part of NASA, ink paper or run a janitorial service, how are we changing the world, and what is the impact that each of the smallest parts of this whole to create the difference? When that happens , the thought process , the sharing of ideas, even the dreaming up of those ideas come from a place of larger impact and when the organization creates a smooth flow to allow themselves to listen and leverage innovation and ideation across the organization , great things happen. And we all want great things, don’t we?

Let me share a story I love. It’s a tried and tested story you’ve heard before, but it is still a powerful one that doesn’t lose any flavor in its retelling. ‘One day a traveler, walking along a lane, came across 3 stonecutters working in a quarry. Each was busy cutting a block of stone. Interested to find out what they were working on, he asked the first stonecutter what he was doing. “I am cutting a stone!” Still no wiser the traveler turned to the second stonecutter and asked him what he was doing. “I am cutting this block of stone to make sure that it’s square, and its dimensions are uniform, so that it will fit exactly in its place in a wall.” A bit closer to finding out what the stonecutters were working on but still unclear, the traveler turned to the third stonecutter. He seemed to be the happiest of the three and when asked what he was doing replied: “I am building a cathedral.” ‘

What set the third stonecutter apart? An article in the Happy Manager summarizes that

  • Knowing not just how and what to do, but knowing why.

  • Viewing the whole and not just its parts.

  • Seeing a vision, a sense of the bigger picture.

  • Having the ability to see significance in work, beyond the obvious.

  • Understanding that a legacy will live on, whether in the stone of a cathedral, or in the impact made on other people.

It is not just organizations that have the charter, it is individuals too. We spend over 60% our lives at work so making that time as fulfilling as possible is worth the effort. Research increasingly shows that being a rounded, more complex person can make us happier, both at work and in our personal lives. ‘Learning to look beyond the obvious, to see the bigger picture, can be a big step towards that happiness but does leadership require something else?’ We need to ask about the big picture, knock on leadership’s door to extricate and filter it down, if only to make our daily lives and striving more meaningful. Career consultant Sherridan Hughes notes, “People who can see the big picture make the best general and senior managers. They are able to see the connections and to coordinate and consider overall policies and strategies. They do not become overwhelmed or sidetracked by detail and they multi-task well.”

As a search consultant, I look at my big picture. I have chosen to transform organizations, help them achieve their goals, enabled individuals to change the way business perform and think , and through almost every single search , I feel I have changed the world. And that’s how I do my job so passionately and well. Charles Handy in his book The Hungry Spirit says “Cathedrals are incredible testaments to human endeavor. It is not only their grandeur or splendor, but the thought that they often took more than fifty years to build. Those who designed them, those who first worked on them, knew for certain that they would never see them finished. They knew only that they were creating something glorious which would stand for centuries, long after their own names had been forgotten…..We may not need any more cathedrals but we do need cathedral thinkers, people who can think beyond their own lifetimes.”

It’s time to look up today, look to the sky and see where your work will, or should be.


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