big picture, little picture

McSephiroth kicking some Kentucky Fried ass with his giant french fry :P
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Early in my career one of my manager imparted this little bit of corporate wisdom to me: there are two types of people in the world, “big picture people” and “small picture people”. These two types of people were complimentary but had wildly different skill sets and worldviews.

Big picture people

In a nutshell, big picture people see the world in grand themes. They think of end games, the needs-of-the-many-outweigh-the-needs-of-the-few and goals. Details are swept aside for the sake of progress. They view everything in terms of an overall objective, and facts and opinions are gathered selectively to support the objective.

Small picture people

Small picture people, on the other hand, agonize over facts. They attack every problem related to a project with equal fervor. They make sure all of the staples are at 45 degree angles, and they view every single step forward as a battle to be won. A goal is not as important as the validity of the points supporting its achievement.

This manager told me that big picture people inevitably rose above small picture people in the working world, but at the same time were incapable of functioning without small picture people. Small picture people were the engines; big picture people were the drivers.

How this applies to us

You can extend this far past the corporate world, of course. Politicians are often big picture, ignoring inconvenient details. Soldiers are small picture people, focusing on task management handed down to them by their superiors. Both are necessary, and a big-picture army private will have just as much trouble as a detail-oriented senator – both will be fish out of water.

One of the most apt criticisms you could make of the writing I do on brip blap would be that I’m awfully big picture. I like to think in terms of grand goals (“achieve perfect work/life integration, have a perfect lifestyle, achieve financial independence”) without attention to the detail to support that (“fix your credit score, maximize your tax credits”, etc.). I confess. I’m a big picture person at work. That’s helpful – one of the reasons I’m a corporate consultant is my ability to take huge numbers of small problems and weave them together into a theme and propose overarching solutions. That makes me, of course, annoying to the small picture people who have to create the spreadsheets and forms and widgets to fix problems in accordance with my recommendations, but you know what? Together, we get the job done.

So extend this to your financial life, or relationships, or whatever you’re worried about. I’m a big picture person, and Bubelah’s much more detail oriented. We try to plan a vacation and I worry about how it will affect our capital purchases or whether it fits into the grand scheme of our finances. She worries about whether we’ll be able to book the week we need, or have access to a washer/dryer for the inevitable piles of dirty clothes. I think it’s a nice compliment of skills, but from time to time it creates conflicts. But as much as it may create conflicts between couples, those conflicts are resolvable. The problem really arises when the individual can’t decide whether he’s big picture or small picture.

I know I’m a big picture guy. But if you’re someone who worries about details AND goals you’re going to have trouble. If you like to hammer away at the small things in life, embrace it. Fire up that to-do list and enter everything on it. If you’re a big picture guy or gal, write out a mission statement and forget about clipping coupons. I’ve got to say something terrible here – this is probably the single biggest argument in favor of marriage (other than providing a stable set of parents for kids) that I can make: finding someone who complements your “skill set” – for lack of a better term. You can of course accomplish this with friends or partners as well. The important thing is to recognize how you view the world – and find someone who can provide the yin to your yang, if I can steal a philosophical phrase.

So recognize where you’re coming from, and (at least according to my manager, who I had a lot of respect for), cast your lot. Don’t try and pretend you love detail if you’re a big picture person. Don’t try and pretend that you love goal-setting if your idea of a good time is wringing out an extra 5% savings. Embrace your “type” and use it to your advantage. Don’t try to be something you aren’t.


As a side note, I’ve continued to have terrible computer AND internet problems – more or less a perfect storm of hardware problems (laptop dies without warning) and high-speed service breakdowns (one service died, and another will be hooked up next week- right now I’m sneaking a neighbor’s unsecured wireless account, and hoping I’m not hurting him while doing it).  I’m hoping for a resolution next week but any irregular posting is probably due to those problems.  Yesterday there was no post because I wrote one, published it, saw the PC crash – and lost the post.  Sleep won out over rewriting 🙂

7 Replies to “big picture, little picture”

  1. I’m a details guy. Details people aren’t as sexy or impressive as big-picture people the way they’re described here.

    There’s got to be a flip-side, right?

  2. Just watch out for the lazy person disguised as a big picture person. It’s one thing to add value by being the big picture person and quite another to be one just so you don’t have to trouble yourself with doing any work.

  3. “One of the most apt criticisms you could make of the writing I do on brip blap would be that I’m awfully big picture.”

    But that’s exactly why I read this blog. Most finance blogs are focused on the details, but there’s only enough room for so many blogs to write about how to save money or how credit card debt can add up.

    If you’re a details person, that’s who you are, so go ahead and try to find a way to make it unique. But if you’re already unique, then don’t apologize for it!

    Then again, this is coming from a fellow big picture person…

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