How to see the big picture when you are down in the trenches


To be strategic in your thinking, you need to see the big picture. The problem has always been when we are deep in the trenches and all we see are the four walls (figuratively speaking, of course), we tend to miss the forest for the trees. We also end up making bad mistakes as we take on a fire-by-fire and event-by-event approach to problem solving. In this article, we share with you 5 easy steps to wrestle back your strategic thinking capabilities under the oppression of operational efficiency.

1. Stop what you’re doing

Trench foot is a condition that afflicts soldiers fighting in trenches. Trenches are usually filled with water, especially after rain, which also seeps into the boots of soldiers. This causes fungus to grow on the skin and if not treated, can infect a large enough area to cause gangrene and ultimately, amputation. To stop that from happening, footwear needs to be taken off and dried, and the foot aired. Clean, dry socks needs to be worn. What this in effect means is that the soldier has to move to a dry section of the trench, or if not, to move out of it and dry out. Drying out might take up to 6 hours. As in the physical world, so too the mental one. If one needs to be more strategic in the midst of the hustle and bustle of operations, just STOP what you’re doing, and if possible, retreat to a quiet location to “dry out” your mind.

2. Quiet your mind

Meditation is great for this although you don’t have to resort to that. All you need to do is to take deep breaths, close your eyes if you find it helpful, and push out all thoughts from your mind. Maintain this state for 10 to 15 minutes, all the while taking in deep breaths.

3. Slowly bring in the issue you are trying to resolve

When you first bring the issue to mind, don’t think about it. Instead just let the whole situation, warts and all, fill you. Take a stroll around your mind within the situation, as if you were an outsider looking in, and just note what is happening, with whom, at where. The more you can linger in your thoughts without having to work with it, the more you can see things.

4. Determine what you truly want to achieve

In this heightened state of consciousness, identify what you want to achieve - your intent. This is an important element to seeing the big picture because your intent may sometimes be counter-intuitive. Resist the pull of short-termism as you look at what is important for your future outcome, rather than what is most expedient. If you need a tool, use the 5 Why’s, starting from your reactive solution right through to your true intent.

Related: The Five Why’s – it is still the best tool to identify strategic intent

5. Build your success factors

From this vantage point, start building in the success factors. These shape your intent and make clear what the end-goals will be. And be scrupulous with your thinking. Don’t simply use financial metrics. Yes, they are important, but you also need to capture the images of the end-result. The more thorough they are, the clearer you get. The clearer you get, the better you will be in identifying the right thing for you to do.

So, while you are physically in the trenches, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your thinking should remain there. Whenever you need to expand your thinking, and see things more strategically, apply these 5 steps. It will give you a breath of fresh air!

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