Tuning out of the Big Picture: a risk you can ill afford

Today, the amount of information an average person needs to process is far larger than only a couple of decades ago. This is generally not an important piece of information for most to reflect on before they assume a yoga pose and practice mindfulness in the morning. But I think it’s an astonishing, albeit microscopic, peep hole into society as a whole; where it sits currently and where it may find itself in the not too distant future.

I recognise a pattern that is trying to tell us a large story. With the phenomenal amount of data that we need to process in order to function in an increasingly competitive world, it is only a natural that we resort to a strategy of narrowing down our focus. After all, we already know how to do that. Of course, we do it with style. We do not go around saying how we are not interested in what is going on globally. We do not like to admit the fact that, while we might say we care, our actions betray us. The world on the other side of planet is not that relevant to us on a day-to-day basis. Increased famine in some corners, more violence in others, or massive natural disasters just do not grab our commitment beyond the mandatory cathartic prayer we might offer.

We tune out of the big picture for self-preservation. And self-interest is a rational response. What is not so rational is a belief that there is little we can do to change things. And it is even more irrational to think that there is little value in investing energy and resources into things that make up the big picture. The problem with the logic of self-preservation is that it ignores changes that have occurred over the past decade or so. Namely, we have little reason to think that it is ‘big picture’ vs local issues etc. Matters of scale still count but no longer drive things. Ignoring the big picture by focusing on what we see here and now, is actually an act of denial. Collectively we are regressing to early childhood. A toddler covering his face with his hands believes he is not visible. That may be too simplistic a comparison, but that’s really it in a nutshell. And that is my main point; the big picture does and will always matter; and matter more than we a prepared to admit.

The big picture is about never-ending groundwork and that is why collaboration is really an unavoidable strategy. The long term sustainability of any business, ranging from small community enterprises to a large private corporations or governments, essentially is not possible without big picture thinking. Collective action with increased collaborative achievement can make a major difference to the way we resolve the tension between pressures of day to day demands and the long term view.

LongTermThinkingOn almost a daily basis I hear from people who speak about inter-agency collaborations gone wrong. Perhaps ‘wrong’ is a too strong a way to describe it. It’s more like the collaborative effort has progressed in a direction that has deflated the enterprise to the point of it fearing for its existence. Without going into detail, a common theme running through the majority of these stories is an evident lack of comprehension of the collaborative strategy. A desire to avoid hard work, a quick fix solution in the form of some kind of partnership or another, lead agencies to accept collaboration on terms that ignore the big picture stuff each organisation must grasp.

The recent interest in all things collaborative has also churned out a plethora of messages about collaboration that provokes the risk of entrenching an attitude to collaboration that does not deliver competitive return on investment. Instead we end up seeing collaboration as another procrastination strategy; hoping something easier will come along and take away the nuisance of thinking and acting with the big picture in mind. This is precisely why collaboration is too critical for every business, regardless of its current situation. The capacity to understand the world around us, comprehend the staggering amount of disruptions and make sense of opportunities for sustainable growth is not a game for individual pursuit. It is collaborative intelligence (CQ) that will be rewarded, because it is the most effective way of achieving both the current and the long term needs.

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