Why Your Innovation Team Needs Both Big-Picture and Granular Thinking

Woman looking through a telescope.
Looking to the horizon is a good thing, but also just the start.

“The devil is in the details.” “Look at the forest, not the trees.” These two aphorisms are thrown around constantly when discussing innovation strategy, and at first, they seem contradictory. However, as you innovate, you learn that they’re both true; you need both the global view and a granular view.

Big-Picture V. Granular Thinking

We’ll all familiar with the flaws of thinking solely in big-picture terms. It’s great to say “We’re going to revolutionize the industry with cutting-edge technology,” but “revolutionize” and “cutting-edge” are vague terms. Similarly, we’ve all met a nitpicker stuck on minor details while the bigger picture goes unnoticed. When touchscreen smartphones hit the streets, there was no shortage of naysayers insisting that the buggy software, questionable feedback, and poor performance relative to hardware keyboards meant the touchscreen was doomed.

We’ve also seen the petty office disputes these two approaches can touch off, and the temptation to have everybody thinking the “right” way can weigh heavily on us. Yet these two forms of thinking need each other, especially on innovation teams. The little details matter and they’re often how big innovations get done. It’s important to balance these methods for maximum innovation and minimum frustration.

Start Big, Work To Small

Any innovation strategy is likely going to start big. That is, after all, what innovation is for: to open new avenues, develop new markets, create industry-changing products, and vastly improve current ones. That’s going to involve big goals, whether in design, sales, or infrastructure.

As anybody with a big goal can tell you, though, the problem isn’t seeing where you want to wind up, but charting a path to it. This is where the granular thinkers start to come into the picture. They’re the pathbreakers clearing away the metaphorical brush and warning you about potential ravines ahead. Think about how you tackle personal goals, like working out more. It’s unlikely you carved out an hour a day all at once; you started small and worked your way up.

Person looking into a microscope.
Details matter, but what about the big picture?

This doesn’t mean, however, that the big-picture types can kick back with a coffee and wait for the trail to be cleared. First of all, innovation is driven by a suite of perspectives, every step of the way, and each step of the way will need to be put in its proper context. Is this a step worth taking, and why?

Big-picture thinking also opens the door to serendipity and new paths. The history of innovation is often about accidental discoveries; a person or group working to achieve one goal instead stumbles over a far more unexpected and more rewarding one. Imagine what the world would be like if John Hopps had ignored the implications of his electrical heating device, which ultimately became the pacemaker.

Big-picture thinkers can pull granular thinkers out of their detailed focus to show them things they’ve ignored, and granular thinkers can point out pitfalls big-thinkers might not notice until they trip over them. When the two work together, they can head toward even the most complicated goal with surprising grace and speed.

Ready to learn how to unite the big picture and the small details and manage both successfully? IdeaScale can help. Request a demo today. 

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