Forest and the Trees

5 Jul

When we are working on complex issues, and there are a lot of details, it’s easy to get caught up in them. We try to figure out some tiny aspect that’s eluding us, and if we focus so hard on it we can lose sight of the big picture. When that happens all we can see is a small part of what we’re trying to solve. In some situations we have to take the problem apart, piece by piece, but other times it’s important to see the whole picture to get to the solution. There is a saying, “We can’t see the forest for the trees.” There can be literally thousands of trees in a forest, but if we are focused only on the bark of one tree, only see the patterns in that small section of bark and don’t look up, we can forget where we are. We can lose sight of the entire forest.

Complicated issues, by their very nature, tend to have a lot of moving parts, and a lot of things to consider. There are the other people involved, the timing, the costs if they must be considered, the method for solving the issue, and perhaps a dozen other factors to think about. If we get too tied up in one segment, if we expend all our energies in figuring out that small piece, we may never figure out how to put all the pieces together. We need to step back, and see the entire picture. What does everything need to look like when it’s done? Where do we need to be? How can everything work together?

Stepping back when we have a lot at stake takes practice. If the issue is intense, and we are emotionally invested, it’s even harder. But if we can stop analyzing for a moment, step back two paces, and look at the entire situation, the answers are likely to come. If we want to put together a jigsaw puzzle, we can’t just look at the corner pieces, and try to figure out what it will look like completed. We have to dump all the pieces out, and then look at the whole picture on the box to get an idea of where things will go. Without that, we would be lost, and the puzzle would never be done.

Today if you’re stumped working on a complicated situation, stop and step back. Look at the whole problem again, and remember where you’re trying to go. Imagine it completed, imagine it solved, and think about what it would look like. See the entire thing. Your focus will broaden, and those answers you are looking for will rise. They say the devil is in the details, and if we get caught up in the details, that can certainly be true. You will complete this project, you will solve this problem, and you will figure out all the pieces. You can see it all when you step back. So step back, and then go forward. You’ll get there. You’re closer now than you’ve ever been.

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