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Big picture thinking, why is it so hard?

03 Oct

I was at a meeting yesterday morning where the discussion soon turned to how easy it is to look at a report or a set of charts and come to a ‘small picture’ conclusion.

We create models –the mathematical, 2D and 3D kind– here at the Decision Theater for clients that project out 20 or 30 years. But even as ‘big’ as this is in the big picture scheme of things, people easily run off with slices of this information just because it suits their agenda or world view. Water scarcity, a big picture scenario, doesn’t look so bad if you make certain small picture assumptions.

To come at this from a completely different angle,  Al Ries put it bluntly saying “No computer is as smart as a human being with a holistic point of view.” Ries, a marketing expert, was talking about “holism” and applying the need for holistic marketing thinking.

He asks why mathematicians and scientists “who developed the art and science of risk management” built models that could “comb through complicated mortgage portfolios to analyze everything,” and still been so off the mark. (A number that involves 7 and 11 zeroes, to wit!)

The answer, of course, is that they looked at risk up close, but not from a holistic, interconnected perspective.

The same goes for water, transportation, education, health. I like to tell people when presenting big picture concepts in the Drum, that even though we put things into nice buckets, we need to pay attention to the connections. Education planning involves transportation and urban growth –where would teachers live, how far will students travel, how many buses need to be in the school system?

Yes we do zoom in, move slider bars, tweak demand and supply. But we make sure people don’t undervalue the need to zoom out.

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