I have a special place in my heart for big picture thinkers: so many jobs require routine work and attention to details, leaving little room for creativity and leadership. If you are stuck in a job you don't like, the question is: how can you work your way to a much more fulfilling career, one where you can use your talents and skills as a big picture thinker?
Here are 5 steps to get you started on your career transition as a big picture thinker:
1. Define what being a big picture thinker means to you
Being a big picture thinker is not exact science: depending on whom I talk to, their understanding of the term can vary, and even when we match in our description, there is a wide range of skills and talents that fit the spectrum of big picture thinking. The first step is to really understand how you fit in. Here are some questions to help you:
- Can you handle details? Or are you just completely incapable of dealing with the small stuff? I, for example, can be quite detail oriented when working on my own projects, because I understand how each part fits the whole and I am free to choose what to do. So a big part of what I need is autonomy. When I have that, my capacity to handle details greatly improves. Where do you fall in the spectrum between being a big picture thinker and a detail oriented person?
- Why are you drawn to thinking of the whole vs each part? Are you a generalist? Or a specialist who enjoys a higher view of her specialized knowledge?
- How comfortable are you working with others, either in a flat hierarchy environment, or as their manager or subordinate? Do interpersonal dynamics affect your ability to think in big picture terms? What workplace culture and boundaries do you need to access your skills?
- Are you bored with details or with routine work? Do you understand what that work is about? And if not, how can you learn to understand it better so that you can manage or delegate it more effectively?
- Is there a limit to the complexity of the problems you'd like to solve? What is something that is so big you wouldn't want to tackle? What topics or industries interest you the most?
2. Take more risks than you are comfortable with
Seth Godin is spot on in pointing out that if you want more freedom at work you need to take on more responsibility. Generally speaking, the more risk you assume, the more you get to call the shots: this is why an early startup employee gets to wear multiple hats and make decisions that in a more corporate environment would be relegated to managers with a lot more experience. An early stage startup has a higher likelihood of failure. A business owner gets to do big picture thinking as much as she wants to, while being responsible for the outcome of her decisions, including bearing the costs of going out of business or heaping big rewards because of her choices.
If you cannot tolerate risk, want to have a "safe" job, and not be blamed or held responsible if things don't work out, it will be much harder to achieve the freedom needed to work on big ideas and innovation.
3. Get really, really good at something
When employers or clients see you deliver outstanding results, they trust you enough to let you do your own thing. When you put forth an idea that works, it becomes easier to pitch another project. Your ability to be viewed and trusted as a big picture thinker is directly proportional to your ability to deliver results. Focus on becoming the best at what you do, and you will be able to call the shots.
4. Start your own business
Sometimes no one will give us a chance. Or some of us are so bad at routine work that working our way up the corporate ladder feels like a sentence to hell. If that is you, your only option is to work for yourself. Whether you try freelancing on the side, or take a full fledged entrepreneurial route, working for yourself can be the most fulfilling path as a big picture thinker. Even if you are totally fine working your way up, having a side gig might be the perfect outlet for your talents and give you plenty of opportunities to learn new skills and build a network of connections that value you for your big picture skills.
5. Be a leader
The mistake most career changers make is to wait until someone pays them to do what they love. If you want to work as a big picture thinker, start today. It will most likely require you to step up as a leader. You can do it by organizing a group, running your own events, freelancing, starting your own business, heading a volunteer project, it doesn't really matter. The point is to recognize that it is up to you to create your career and life, and waiting on the sidelines to get picked is not going to get you anywhere. How can you step it up, right now, as a big picture thinker?
Research shows that most people thrive in careers that let them have autonomy, be authentic, form meaningful connections, and do what they love best. Don't postpone your career happiness, get in action now.