The big picture - how do you recognise it? Part 8 of the blog series: Influencing yourself and others

A few weeks ago, I conducted an interview on the subject of humility. One component of humility in leaders is understanding that you are only a small part of a larger picture. Of course, everyone is actually aware that it is helpful to perceive this larger picture. At the same time, it is difficult to find it for oneself again and again.

What is your view? How do you find your bigger picture?

Steve Jobs provides one answer in a conversation with engineer Larry Kenyon. Larry was working on the Macintosh and Steve complained that it took too long to boot up the computer. Larry started to explain the technical reasons and Steve interrupted him with the following question: "If it could save a person's life, would you find a way to reduce the start-up time by ten seconds?

Clarify the bigger picture

Larry admitted that he probably could. Steve then went to a whiteboard and showed that 5 million people were currently using the Mac. With 10 seconds extra per day, that would be about 300 million hours, or at least 100 lives a year that could be saved. This impressed the engineer and a few weeks later the computer booted up a full 28 seconds faster.

What had Jobs done? Clarified what exactly was the bigger picture the engineer was working on. The task that Apple had set itself was to create the best computer for the end customer and all the individual steps had to be dedicated to this big picture. Once he had illustrated this so drastically by looking at human lives, the engineer became alert and creative in a different way.

What is truly important?

I know managers who set themselves a three-year target to achieve something - and then regularly check if what they do pays towards that target or if they should use their resources differently. In this way they always create a larger picture as a measure.

Others place a skull on their desk as to be always reminded of the finitude and the preciousness of their own lives. This preciousness then leads them to regularly review their focus, attitudes and actions.

For yet others, the theme is associated with the whole of humanity. Covid 19, in particular, has demonstrated to many how closely interwoven we are as human beings. So it is not surprising that especially at the moment people are talking about how important it is for them to measure their own work against the fact that it not only does not harm humanity, but actualle contributes to a better whole.

Sadly, for many, day-to-day life looks different: We often allow ourselves to be distracted and occupied by things that rob us of time and energy for what is really important to us. If we ever actually manage to think about what exactly is important to us. Or can you - right now off the top of your head - say what really matters if you look at your whole life?  And that your are every day focusing at least some part of energy on it?

Identify the bigger picture

How do you find your bigger picture? Definitely by taking the time to think about it. And then perhaps employ the clever tool of writing your own eulogy. What would you wish that others would say about you at the end of your life? The things you have achieved, what you are appreciated for? Or that you have lived as the writer Henry James postulated? "Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind." 

So, get on with your own eulogy. Or rewatch the film "Good Will Hunting", in which a few people understand what is really important at the moment. Or read Tuesday with Morrie to come to some of your own conclusions.

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