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May 15, 2014 at 1:00 AM

Focusing on the big picture can help your career

When you see a forest, do you stop to admire each and every tree? You might be a detail-oriented person. Yay for you — you are careful, perseverent and organized. You sweat the small stuff, and take the time to get things right. Employers love you.

But take a moment to consider your counterpart, the big-picture person. Big-picture people don’t get bogged down in the details; instead, they step back and note how those details interact. These people tend to be creative and visionary, and every workplace needs them.

In fact, if you are a detail person, you might consider beefing up your big-picture muscles. You may find that your work will become more rewarding, and that you will be more effective at your job.

Perhaps even more important, understanding your company and your role in it from a more distant perspective makes you a vastly more valuable employee, because it is the path to coming up with better ways of doing things. If you are interested in management, keep in mind that managers are often big-picture people.

The good news is you can train yourself to think in big-picture ways. Here’s how to get started:

1. Get to know people in other departments. Seek out people who actually manufacture the product or perform the service your company provides, befriend them, and ask them questions until you understand their processes and problems. Since you are a detail person at heart, you will find this is fascinating. Now you have the knowledge to understand your company as a whole.

2. Study your industry from the outside. Read business magazines, newspapers, books and blogs. Search for consumer complaints. Are groups opposed to your industry? If so, find out why. Who is your company’s competition? What challenges does your industry face? How does the outside view compare to the “company line”?

3. Try explaining your company to a 12-year-old. If you can do it in 30 seconds, you’ve got a handle on the big picture and your brain is in the right place to solve problems and dream up innovations.

Voila! You are on your way to being a detail person who can see the big picture. Now that’s a killer combination.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: career advancement, management, self-promotion, skills

Blog contributors

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.


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