Seeing the wood for the trees
Sometimes one gets so involved in the intricate detail of business that the ability to stand back and see solutions that may be staring you in the face just doesn’t exist. To the point that there’s no use suggesting to someone that they do this because, very simply, they can’t.
No amount of away-days, team discussions, brainstorming or going for a run will break you out of the box you’re in.
At the risk of disappointing you, I’m not going to provide a magic list of things to do, or ways to be, that will suddenly give you the ability to see the wood for the trees. What I do know however is that some people are ‘gifted’ with this ability, and others really struggle. So I’m going to share some of the key common characteristics of those that are gifted in this way.
No need to be popular
You might like to think that people within your team, and indeed you yourself, are free-thinking individuals who feel no constraint in sharing ideas. But the reality is that there is nearly always limitations to this – the people who work for you strive to do what they perceive you want them to do, your colleagues often have all sorts of hidden (and not so hidden) objectives, and you yourself sit in a defined role in your organisation and culture which by its very nature limits your boundaries.
People who aren’t constrained like this may sometimes be exceptionally challenging to ‘manage’, but they’re much more likely to call a spade a spade and be prepared to make suggestions that go against the collective status quo.
Logical financial analysis
Brought down to basics, business is not rocket science. The challenge is actually that there are so many different dimensions, and an almost infinite number of interactions of each of these dimensions with other dimensions, all of which have to be managed effectively. That makes business complex. It’s perhaps also why people get completely stuck in the middle, trying to deal effectively with this apparent muddle, and find it so incredibly difficult to step out and away and see things from a fresh perspective.
But it all boils down to money. Get the business model right so that you’re able to sell sufficient quantities at an appropriate margin, invest in the future, employ high quality people, do great marketing, develop new products and many of the challenges become achievable. People who are able to look at the business, often pretty simplistically, from a logical financial point of view, tend to expose issues and see the big picture solutions.
Breadth of business experience
Please note this doesn’t say ‘depth’ as there’s seemingly little correlation in my experience between people that have spent many years in a particular business discipline and being able to see the wood for the trees. In fact, often to the contrary.
Those that have proper experience of a wide range of business disciplines, for example people who’ve run their own businesses, seem to be able to cut to the chase and put forward what retrospectively seem obvious and are often brilliant solutions. Multiple businesses, different sectors, many challenges solved, and expertise in core disciplines (such as finance, sales, and marketing), they’re the people that are good at this.
Elimination of preconceived ideas
We’re all full of them. Can’t increase our prices because existing customers won’t pay more. Can’t change our sales bonuses because we’ll upset some of our sales people. Can’t pay an extra £5k to keep someone because that’ll upset internal differentials. Now some of those may be true, but they’ll put big constraints on problem solving.
Those that are good at this put themselves into an imaginary world of zero reasons why not. Find the solution, then work out how it’s going to be achieved.
Completely fresh perspective
Someone with these attributes, who’s from the outside looking in, frequently is more effective at seeing the big picture than business insiders.
Why? Partly because they’ll have some if not all of the above characteristics. And partly because they’re more likely to be able to focus on the particular problem or challenge, without the distraction of all the other daily clutter that you have to deal with. They’re not necessarily cleverer than you, they’re just in a different place.