The forest, the trees and the process of management

Photo by ~Sage~

Today, I was listening to a podcast episode of “This American life” called: “Return to the giant pool of money“. It is a fascinating podcast going back, a year later, to the characters of the This American life’s most listened to podcast: “The giant pool of money“. That episode tried to explain, in layman terms, some of the major causes for the global financial crisis. Both podcasts are highly recommended (especially the original one), but the thing that caught my eyes (or actually, ears) is one sentence in the entire podcast. When interviewing one of the experts about what caused some of the brightest people in the world to create financial tools that almost brought the world economy down, he says something like this (this is not an accurate quote as I write it out of my memory):

I think what happened to these people is that they suffered from the trunk phenomena.  They were so focused on what they did, that they could not see the bigger picture. To paraphrase the famous sentence, they were not only missing the forest, they were actually missing the trees.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you even been so concentrated on doing your part in the best that you can, that you forgot the big picture or even the small picture around you? I know it happened to me. And I think it happens to all of us all the time.

As our world is becoming more specialized and more focused, as we go from knowing everything about a single tree to knowing everything about a single trunk, it becomes even more important to stop and look at the bigger picture.

We are all part of a complex system and nothing we do is done in vacuum. It always has ripple effects. And understanding how our work connects with the rest of the system, be that system what it may be, should be a consistent part of doing our jobs. Part of the process of the doing the job. This is something that we need to be responsible to do for ourselves. But as managers, it is even more important that we help our teammates do it. Because they are not always able to do it alone. So it has to become part of the process management.

I don’t know what would have happened if the people in Wall Street or working with Wall Street would have stooped and looked at the trees or at the forest. They may have or may have not stopped doing what they did. But I do know that stoping to remind ourselves and our teams that there is a bigger picture is starting to be an important part of each professional process.

So, how can we make sure not to forget the big and bigger picture?


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