Article Written by: Eric Torrence, ThinDifference.com
For some of us, details are like the Dementors from Harry Potter. If “Dementor” is a foreign word to you, here’s how one of J.K. Rowling’s characters, Professor Lupin, described them: “Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them.”
For a large portion of people (including me), details drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around us. Perhaps that sounds melodramatic, but it’s how I feel whenever an Excel spreadsheet opens up.
Detail Oriented or Big Picture: Which Are You?
We all tend to fall into one of two categories: big picture or detail-oriented. Big picture people love grand visions, brainstorming new ideas, and Cliff Notes or “Executive Summaries.” Detail-oriented individuals love intricate systems, spreadsheets, and nuance. They probably do their own taxes.
Both types of people are incredibly valuable. For example, my detail-oriented wife is a labor and delivery nurse. You want your nurse to love details. Details matter when it comes to medication being administered and the number of times someone is sticking you with an IV.
Big picture people are needed too. Visions for the future need refinement and planning, but they often start with a compelling “why” that isn’t restrained by the “how.” Some of the most visionary and exciting leaders I’ve worked with don’t feel constrained by details. They see trends, dream big, and take risks.
The problem isn’t that there are big picture people and detail-oriented people. The problem comes when they don’t talk to each other.
Small Details for Big Picture People
THE PROBLEM ISN’T THAT THERE ARE BIG PICTURE PEOPLE AND DETAIL-ORIENTED PEOPLE. THE PROBLEM COMES WHEN THEY DON’T TALK TO EACH OTHER.
For the past few months, I’ve had to focus on details more than I would like. As a big picture person, I don’t like diving too far into the weeds (and yes, that already paints details in a negative light!). But, details became necessary to me. Several of our organization’s overall metrics seemed off. We had executed some big plans and exciting new strategies, but the data wasn’t lining up. Since most of our team leaders are big picture people, their reaction to this data was to think of another grand new exciting vision for the following year. It was my first response too. But then, we started talking with the detail-oriented people on our teams and realized we had been missing something important. We weren’t tracking our data well or consistently, which was skewing our results.
If you are a detail-oriented person, you understand the plight of trying to get a big picture person like me to care. You’ve seen my eyes glaze over as you make a presentation. You hate that you have to nag us to follow the plan, but you know if you don’t the organization will suffer for it. As I’ve spent more time processing data in order to make big-picture decisions, I’ve come to appreciate my detail-minded friends all the more. Keep up the work – we need you. And, be patient with us.
If you are a big picture person, I understand the challenge of dealing with details. But, at some point neglecting details will eventually result in pain. Can you think of a time where ignoring the nitty-gritty:
Cost you financially?
Strained a relationship with someone you love?
Impacted a big decision?
Created a poor product?
Caused a massive redo?
Made everyone involved look stupid?
There’s a time to get out of the weeds and dream – and there’s a time to dive deep down and coordinate. Without dreams, the details wouldn’t matter. Without details, the dreams won’t happen.
So, big picture and detail-oriented people need to communicate and coordinate better. The question is, “How can we do this, so we don’t frustrate one another?” Here are a few tips to consider.
Reject “All or Nothing”
Not all details are created equally. Detail-oriented people – we know you love the technicalities. We love that you love the technicalities. But we don’t love the unnecessary technicalities. So, it’s worthwhile to think through which details need to be shared and which ones don’t. Big picture people – we don’t need to know all of the details, but there are some we certainly need to know. And, we need to care.
Balance Your Teams
Make sure both detail-oriented people and big picture people are in the same room. Often they aren’t. Big picture people are on one side making bold plans with minimal (or inaccurate) data; detail people are in another room complaining about the big picture people. Teams are about using our gifts and strengths together, which means they need to be diverse to be effective.
Talk About It
When big picture and detail-oriented people meet together, make sure the agenda has at least one “in the weeds” topic to discuss. Map out a process together. Dig into a policy. Take a deep dive into a particular data point. And affirm one another, because we’re truly better together.