Step back and look at the bigger picture

We often get sucked into the details for our day-to-day life that we get lost. Stepping back and looking at the bigger picture is a truly helpful exercise. Big picture thinking is a common trait among successful leaders. Getting stuck, holding on too much on the details and refusing to see the bigger picture is a very common behavior.

I had the privilege the work with a few great leaders both in my corporate and consulting life. These people are always on a very fast career or business path. They have the ability to climb to 10,000 feet for a helicopter view of events and situations. Once they have a good grasp of the big picture, they also have the ability to deep dive to the process level.

The core of big picture thinking is learning and experience. They are ‘learning animals’. They do not merely go through life. They ‘learn’ their way through life. They experience it. They learn from the lowest to the highest ranking employees. It does not matter to them what the learning source is. They simply seek knowledge. They are also proactively learning as they go. They are not afraid of looking silly when asking questions. You cannot connect the dots of the bigger picture if you don’t have an idea where the dots are.

They are also courageous enough to take the lead or make tough decisions despite the uncertainty. They can only soak enough data points and knowledge. They come to a point that they have to take a decision or action from what they know.

They are also courageous enough to challenge the status quo. What may have worked five years ago may not necessarily be the best today. The answer “this has been the way we have been doing it for the last few years” irritates them.

They are curios enough to go outside the normal boundaries. They will seek what other areas their decisions will impact rather than whats obvious. They ask questions like “Who else will get affected by this decision? What other departments will be involved other than what is mentioned?”

Do you want a more successful career? Start practicing “big picture” thinking. It will bring you closer to your ‘big dreams’ and goals.

Strategic thinking for the rest of us

Strategies are applicable to both the corporate and our personal lives. Without strategies or a structured approach to planning, we might as well float around in the ocean of life. Floating and waiting where our company, career or personal life takes us.

There has got to be more to life than waiting for waves influencing our direction. Well, there is something better and it’s not limited to companies. From October all the way through December, most of our engagements are for facilitating Corporate Strategies. It is interesting that creation of Strategies is not a normal exercise for a lot of companies here in the Philippines. It is a very important exercise that a lot of our local companies do not practice or do not practice well.

The art of creating or modifying strategies is simply looking a few years down the road and asking what will our industry look like in 5-7 years?

Both in corporate strategy and personal life, we often forget to focus on growth. Company strategies and personal goals are half-baked if they are not rooted in growth somehow. When designing business plans or new products we need to take into account scalability. Can my product, service or business grow? Will there be room for growth or is there a limit to the product and service I provide? This goes the same with personal strategies. Am I planning to grow in the coming few years? It is a waste of time to plan to be in the same situation for the coming five years. That is boring and meaningless.

Agile programming has become a recent hit because it allows the company to keep development projects moving forward. Parts of the application are being programmed or coded then it is immediately tested. The traditional “waterfall” approach was to write thousands upon thousands of programming codes before the system actually hits testing phase. This usually takes weeks and even months.

The same should hold true for strategies. There are no perfect strategies. Strategies need consistent reviews and adjustments. We cannot predict a hundred percent the effectiveness of our strategies. Corporate Strategies need not be written in stone. The same with personal or career strategies. There will always be at least two uncertainties. One, the soundness of the strategy. Two, our ability to execute it well. We need to keep our eye on these two in order to have a successful strategy and execution of plans.

Strategies are usually looked at as high-level concepts and activities. Like most things in life, it can be simplified. Simple is good. Simple works. Simple strategies bring better results.

Is your company brave enough to ask and answer difficult questions?

Lately, I read something truly interesting from the book ‘How Google Works’ and emailed a few questions companies may need to answer to 36 Senior Filipino Executives and 3 Senior Foreign Executives. It was odd, but not surprising, that all 3 Foreign executives replied and only 1 Filipino executive commented on the questions.

Now, these questions are from one of the best-managed company in the world – Google. These are questions that drive Google leaders to think hard about where the company will be five years from now. These questions drive the strategies and policies they make.

If these questions are interesting and important enough for Google executives to have sleepless nights, why are they not enough to raise a concern from our own Senior Filipino Executives?

Is it because the best companies in the world are humbled by the fact that success does not last forever? Is it because we are focused too much on tactical and day to day operations to think about where we want to be and how to get there. Is it because we accept mediocrity? Is it because we find such questions too hard to answer? Is it because we have no sense of urgency? Is it because we don’t care enough about the companies we work for? Is it because we put our own agendas before the companies? Is it because we don’t know where to start? Is it because we are ashamed to reach out for guidance?

Whatever the reason, we need to resolve it. The questions are important enough to have the Regional Manager of a large Japanese conglomerate, the CEO of the largest Shipping company and the Marketing Director of one of the biggest software development company in the Philippines respond back.

The question is important enough to have Google constantly think, debate and come up with answers.

These questions may be important enough to have a second look and come up with possible answers. We then need to take these answers and implement them in our own businesses.

  • Do you want your company to stay relevant in the near future, here are questions we need to answer

  • What do the ongoing changes in technologies mean for our company?

  • How will our industry look like five years from now?

  • Do customers currently love our products or service? If not, what can be done better?

  • How can our business be taken away by a smart and well-funded competitor?

  • Is hiring great talent a top priority of our management team?

  • What percentage of our new products or service are built on data?

  • Does our internal decision-making process lead to the best decisions? Do we compromise our decisions to please most stakeholders?

  • Are our employees free to try something really innovative for the company?

  • Who does better in the company – information hoarders or information sharers?

  • Do internal silos facilitate the sharing of information or restrict it?

“No business wins forever, it is inevitable. Some would find it chilling. We find it inspiring” Eric Schmidt

“How Google Works”
A book by Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg, with Alan Eagle