Step back to see the big picture Step back to see the big picture

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Step back to see the big picture


Many years ago, I decorated my office with some framed posters. I had one that was an imitation of an Egyptian papyrus. You could examine it closer and see the hieroglyphs printed on it. It was very detailed and intricate. I had another poster of a small waterfall in the Redwoods, with a large boulder prominent on the right. Only a few people noticed that the boulder was in the shape of a bear’s head in profile. The last one was an autostereogram.

These were later marketed in the 90s as Magic Eye, and were quite a fad. A single image composed of random dots or patterns. No matter how hard you stared at it, the picture would look like a scattered pattern. But when you stepped back and relaxed your eyes, a 3D image would appear out of nowhere. I recall it taking hours or even days for people to learn how to see the image. Each of these images required you to look at them in different ways to see the picture.

Our business challenges are much the same way. We need to look at them from a different point of view depending on the type of challenge we are facing. We solve some by doing a careful and detailed analysis. These problems are usually simple, and have a straightforward answer. Planning out the route for your family vacation so you see all the sights, for example. You look at the details and develop your solution. Some are like the waterfall. At first glance, the issues seem minimal. Upon closer examination, you find something you didn’t expect and hadn’t noticed at all. Those challenges can be a little more complex. Reconciling an expense that is over budget, and finding several transactions with incorrect categories that require deeper review. But some challenges look like the scattered pattern. You look deeper at it and cannot find a solution. These problems can be quite complex.

There are two modes we work in. To borrow from Chris Bailey, an author and blogger I have long admired and respect, we have a highly focused mode and a more creative one. At certain times, issues can be very complex. They involve different variables, input and layers of responsibilities. It may be very difficult for our highly-focused problem-solving brain to solve. In these situations, it is best to back away from the issue and let the creative brain solve the problem.

We’ve all had this type of experience. You’re in the shower and without thought, the solution pops in your head. Or you go to sleep thinking of the challenge, and in the morning the solution seems so obvious. Archimedes, when challenged to determine the volume of an irregular object, solved the problem when he noticed his bath overflow as he entered the tub. Using the creative side of our brain to meet these complex challenges can seem odd. “I have a difficult problem, so I’m going to stop thinking about it” seems counter-intuitive. But that’s how it’s supposed to work.

I keep some simple tasks on my to-do list. You have these also. The boring, repetitive, mindless tasks that have to get done, but are no fun and require no thought. These tasks are PERFECT for helping to solve these very complex issues. When I’m stumped on a very challenging issue, I start one of these little tasks. By taking the focus off of the issue I allow my creative brain to crunch on it without interruption. And more often than not, at the end of the boring little task I have the solution to my most complex challenge. If you’d like to explore this concept further, I would recommend Chris Bailey’s book “Hyperfocus”.