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Practical Application: Overcoming Barriers to Big Picture Thinking in Business

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Big accomplishments require thinking about the big picture. For a variety of reasons, big picture thinking isn't natural or easy for many business leaders and employees, but the value of learning to think big cannot be overstated.

Things are Going to Change Forever

Every month, it got worse. Sales were dropping like a rock, royalty revenue was in free-fall, and people all over the world were using file exchange platforms in ever-increasing numbers as they freely ''shared'' music from their CDs with thousands of others on the internet. Cole Watson, an intellectual property attorney, had been representing musicians and publishers for most of his 20-year career, but this was the most difficult challenge he and his industry had ever faced.

This so-called ''sharing'' was copyright infringement of the first order. It was also criminal. Cole's problem was that his employer, XYZ Records International, was on the verge of directing him to begin bringing civil lawsuits against the individuals who were engaged in the illegal sharing of copyrighted music.

Cole knew two things. First, the people his employer was directing him to sue were teenagers sitting in their basements passing music back and forth over the internet. Second and much more importantly, Cole knew that the sale of music was going to change forever whether he sued these individuals or not. The cat was out of the bag, and no one in the music industry would ever be able to file enough lawsuits to stop the trend. People were not going to continue to pay $20 for a CD containing only one or two songs they liked.

''How in the world can I help XYZ Records understand that this is the new normal? Somehow, I've got to get them to see the big picture here. They've got to stop suing kids and start selling individual songs online,'' Cole thought to himself. Exactly how he was going to help his clients see the big picture was something he didn't know yet.

What would you tell Cole he should say to his client? How can he help them understand? What should he do if he tries to get them to see the big picture, but isn't successful in the end?

Breaking Through the Barriers

As you now know, there are quite a few things that commonly become barriers to conceptualizing the bigger picture. What barriers do you think will be most significant in this case?

Organizational Culture

An organization's culture has a lot to do with an individual employee's ability to consider the big picture. Companies that encourage individual creativity and innovation are more likely to have employees who see and understand the larger picture. Conversely, in organizations that are highly structured, big picture thinking tends to be a more significant challenge because employees focus on procedures rather than the big picture.

Considering the fact that Cole's client is a music publisher, how serious do you think this particular barrier will be?

Individual Insight

In addition to corporate culture, personal insight is also a key factor in seeing the big picture. Insight is the ability to dispassionately view a situation as though one is in the position of an outside observer. It is difficult for people with limited insight to see the big picture because they tend to focus on events in the immediate vicinity rather than the future.

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