Are You a Big Picture Thinker or Detail-Oriented?

They say that there are two types of people – the ‘big picture people’ and the ‘details people.’ The big picture people tend to be creative, strategic, and visionary… but they can also be messy, disorganized, and forgetful. On the other hand, the details people are conscientious, planful, and exacting… but can lack perspective or fail to prioritize. These two types tend to complement each other and work together very well. You’ll often find this division in partnerships and many times the CEO is a big picture person while the COO and the CFO are the details people.

But what if your role requires both strategic thinking and attention to detail? Most people are naturally more skilled at one or the other, and there are a lucky few who do both equally well. Whether you have good attention to detail or whether you can see the big picture easily and clearly is generally part of your personality. But it can also be a learned skill, if you wish to develop it. There are systems and processes that can help you override your natural tendencies when needed.

 

In my next two blog posts, I will go over some tips on the systems and tools you can use to develop your missing skill. In the meantime, think about whether you are more skilled at the strategic thinking or paying attention to details. While you most likely know this already, here are some points that can promote that reflection:

Typical of the Big Picture Thinker

  • You can quickly see patterns in complex problems.
  • You like to come up with new ideas and new projects.
  • You have a low tolerance for busywork, tedious errands, and filling out forms.
  • You are great at outlining what needs to be done, but filling in the details can feel exhausting.
  • You may have been described as right-brained.
  • When you have taken the Myers-Briggs assessment, you were an N.

Typical of the Details Thinker

  • You think about things in great detail and sometimes miss the big picture.
  • While you are certainly smart, others may joke that you lack common sense.
  • You would prefer to edit or tweak a plan than to come up with it from scratch.
  • Highlighting study notes doesn’t work for you, because you end up highlighting everything.
  • You may have a tendency to over-think things.
  • You have excellent attention to detail.
  • You may have been described as left-brained.
  • When you have taken the Myers-Briggs assessment, you were an S.













Eva Rykrsmith

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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  • FutureFox

    I think having a strong depth for details, meaning you can consume many details that link to each other without feeling overwhelmed is really what people strive for. Not so much in learning to be detail oriented. Some people need more repetition than others in order to learn something; which requires more time and energy.

    [Reply]

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  • Olivia Jennifer

    Wonderful article. But recently if you are looking
    for a new project management job or if you might have asked for a promotion
    within your company then you might have heard about PMP credentials!!. It is
    true that a
    Project
    Management Professional (PMP)

    credential is one of the most sought certifications by employers and employees
    alike. For its detail information about a PMP certifications you can go through
    http://www.pmstudy.com/

    [Reply]

  • jaochim

    I honestly think I have some of both, but I don’t know if this is true. Is there any way I can test this further? Great site by the way will def. stay here and read some more.

    [Reply]

    Eva Rykrsmith Reply:

    Probably… most of us have a good amount of both! It’s not necessarily a dichotomy; it’s not either/or. We can be great at both, great at just one, or great at neither skill. Those who neither do well with strategy nor details may be more logistical… patiently tackling problems one at a time until everything fits together nicely.

    If you are interested in an assessment, you can find an MBTI-style here: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp

    [Reply]

    jaochim Reply:

    Thanks for that, I like that test, its easily the best one of those I’ve tried. I tend to think myself as born to one type, but evolving to another and therefore balancing between.

    [Reply]

  • BeeGee

    So, I am definitely a big picture thinker, and have known this for quite some time… What would you recommend to a big picture thinker who has consistently been stuck in very detail oriented jobs (research/data)? It’s not as though I’m incapable of doing detail oriented work, but I’d say I’m far less productive with those sorts of tasks. Any ideas on how to find and move into a big picture thinker type of job?

    [Reply]

    Eva Rykrsmith Reply:

    It’s tricky because almost all big picture thinker jobs also do require detail-orientation as a prerequisite.

    For example, leadership positions obviously require big picture thinking… but think of a leader you know who didn’t pay attention to details and what the results of that were. True, most do delegate the details because that is the most efficient workflow, but the job itself requires a skillset of diving into the nitty gritty without getting lost and then coming back up at the appropriate time.

    Many people who are big picture oriented enjoy freelancing or starting their own business. Some joke that the label for the far end of the spectrum of big picture thinking should be “practically unemployable.”

    All this to say, you probably can’t avoid jobs that don’t require detail-orientation, but perhaps you need something with more variety. Jobs that require “critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, creativity.” New technologies and design work definitely tap into that side. Smaller organizations will employ more generalists while larger organizations need specialists. Specific to research and data, emphasize the start and end rather than the stuff in the middle (put your resources toward design, application, and communication, rather than analysis). During interviews, to counteract the heavy details, talk about the purpose of your projects and how they connected to the rest of the organization rather than focusing in on specifics. Find a mentor in a different department in your organization–this can give you a new perspective as well.

    Also consider that big picture versus details is just the cognitive aspect of work. There are also preferences for level of interpersonal relations (do you want to work with people or with things), emotional connection (do you like to rely on logic or do you have a desire to care for others), among others.

    [Reply]

  • Modulator

    People cannot be characterized in such a way. Human behaviour is so broad and confusing. From your description, I can fall in the two category or not. I don’t feel comfortable in this kind of lining people. But all in all it helps to let people go ouch!! am that!

    We cannot change what we are but we can change what we do. My opinion. Thanks for the awareness article.

    [Reply]

    Billsto Reply:

    Well, there’s at least one person using critical-thinking while on the internet.

    I’m happy someone like you exists.

    The problem with an article like this (besides the fact that it is mediocre-authored, ad-driven, clickbait–which literally encompasses 99% of the internet (and not the fringes, but the mainstream itself, as well) is that people read these arguments, or statements, and then immediately proceed to arguing either for or against (with horrible, horrible “upvote”, “popularity rules”-type approval) the conclusion.

    Meanwhile, no one, seemingly ever questions the PREMISE ITSELF.

    Which is that these false-dichotomies lead to blissful, contenting ignorance at best, and misleading, simplistic thinking at best.

    Internet = T.V.

    Oh, it has it’s nuances, but it’s more hyper-commodified, innocuous-appearing, and manipulable than T.V. ever was.

    [Reply]

    Ruby Reply:

    True. But if people are identifying so strongly with one side or the other, there must be something to it no? Surely it’s a bit of black and white thinking, but there’s nothing wrong with relating. I’m sure while reading this article, you saw yourself fitting into one of the types of thinking more than the other.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.michelleclarkpeterson.com/ Michelle Peterson

    In general this seems to be a pretty accepted delineation–”big picture” versus “detail thinker”. I also second the sentiment of those who feel at times they have some of both. My ongoing question, however, is what fraction of people actually do both well AND what value does this typically produce in an organization? Finally, what percentage of the time is an organization better off encouraging employees to specialize and not necessarily try to master both?

    [Reply]

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  • Ruby

    Definitely agree with FutureFox’s point “I think having a strong depth for details, meaning you can consume many details that link to each other without feeling overwhelmed is really what people strive for”. The problem with detailed thinkers (speaking from experience) is they are easily overwhelmed if the details don’t all connect perfectly. The bigger picture doesn’t make sense if there’s a singular blank spot. Perhaps big-picture thinkers have the ability to fill in the blank spots or overlook minor errors. To master both detail-orientation and big-picture thinking would take a lot of conscious effort for the detailed-thinker as they would constantly be feeling like they are half-assing a task. Big-picture thinkers definitely have it easier in life, but perhaps don’t have the meticulous excellence of detail-oirented thinkers who aim to perfect. Being a detailed-thinker myself, I can definitely say that life isn’t great as a detailed-oriented thinker if you’re not a hard worker with discipline, nothing ever feels like enough unless you do the perfect absolute best job that you know you could do if you put the time in, which is the problem – there is never enough time for detailed-thinkers.

    [Reply]

  • Eric

    I was looking for synonyms for “big picture thinker” and I read through this and strongly agree with everything written. Obviously every person will fall differently on the scale and some people may show traits for both categories. What is strange is that I am on one extreme of the scale (big picture thinker) and my wife is on the other extreme (detail oriented). Neither of us are anywhere in the middle of this scale. On one hand, this is perfect for the functioning of the family unit. On the other hand, it often leads to disagreements because we prioritize differently and consider different things important.

    Thanks for the article.

    [Reply]

    Intuit QuickBase Reply:

    Glad it was helpful, Eric!

    [Reply]

  • Gregg

    I am really enjoying reading the responses and clearly picking out individuals as either big picture or detail oriented based on their responses.

    [Reply]

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