Small world, big picture

With a minor irony, since living in a smaller world, I have been considering the value of the bigger picture. Wider understanding; contextual knowledge; sense of perspective, whatever you will.

Personally, I am an avid consumer of the news in various media. And yet I am capable of worrying a minor detail to death. Worse, like a cat fretting at a mouse, I can determinedly coax and pat life into the most minor matter, allow it to look into life above any reason or due scale. This, very possibly, is reflected in the writing process, which begins with specific scenes, down to colours, textures, and scents, and the pieces come together into plot, until it feels right, until only one arc and ending will do.

Are you a big-picture or a detail person? In painting, would you being with broad strokes then refine? If writing, start with details then build out, or begin with a broad story arc in mind? Are your photos of small details or grand landscapes?

Yes, these are generalisations, false dichotomies. One may, variously, apply both a wide lens and a long focal one; have both specific scenes and entire story arc in mind, may adjust technique to circumstance.

Still, the idea that we are personalities which favour one or the other – being a ‘big picture thinker’ or ‘detail-oriented.’ – are popular.

The idea is that big picture thinkers may…

  • Be highly perceptive of the patterns, relationships, and connections in the environment around them.
  • Be good at sketching tasks out, though less so at filling in the detail. However, this means they can avoid getting bogged down by the detail too early in a creative process.
  • Dislike menial tasks, minor household chore admin – perhaps in a creative process then, the final proofreading for typographical errors, say, or the adding of final touches, the varnish, polish.

Detail-orientated people, however…

  • Know the devil is in the detail – that almost anything will be more intricate, and take longer to complete, than at first it seemed.
  • Have good attention to detail, yes, but can overthink the small stuff and miss the bigger picture.
  • Have a high tolerance for those little yet important tasks, yet find it hard to let go of something, perhaps fussing over it, feeling there is always one more final tweak that could be made.

Do you recognise yourself as either one or the other?

allie-smith-8Sfks9qheLw-unsplashImpossible to know whether this relates to renowned artists and creatives. Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, for instance, was said to have worked methodically from the edges of the canvas inwards, to produce her intricately jewel-like paintings. A recent interview with Pulitzer-winning – and prolific – novelist Anne Tyler noted how her novels focus on identifying truth through small domestic detail and ability to nail a character with insightful observation, yet also recorded Tyler’s own claim to be ‘no good at plot’. On the other hand, could, for example, Leonardo da Vinci’s multi-talented creativity across many fields been responsible for what appears a small total output of finished paintings, and many incomplete projects?

It has been thought that some people are more ‘left-brained’, that is, more dominated by the left hemisphere of the brain, and so more analytical and methodical, whilst others are more ‘right brained’, more creative and expressive. This theory, though, I believe, is largely de-bunked as a psychological myth. Evidently, more recent research has shown that the brain is not as dichotomous previously believe… That the brain works better, for example in problem solving, when both sides of the brain work together.

That’s good. We do not, then, necessarily have to label ourselves. At work, I have always been irritated by going through such processes as Belbin’s Team Roles, or Myers Briggs Personality Tests. They have felt so reductive, so restrictive.

The better truth, I believe, is that we can learn multiple skills and ways of thinking, to be many things.


  1. Ann Tyler interview with Hadley Freeman, ‘Up close you’ll always see things to be optimistic about’ in The Guardian, 11 April 2020
  2. ‘Left Brain vs. Right Brain Dominance Is the analytical-creative separation true or false?’ on VeryWell Mind,


    Featured image by Jordan Pulmano on Unsplash
    Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

19 thoughts on “Small world, big picture

  1. Hmm interesting, I’m an engineer and been aware my brain’s both analytical and methodical, as I’d expect! Which leads me to say I’m very much a left sided guy…… but I guess right sided when writing about sex, work that one out?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Probably means we are multi-faceted being who need not be concerned about what ‘type’ we are. Unless it helps to distinguish between a ‘work self’ and a ‘recreational’ self, perhaps.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You write Romantic fiction as opposed to erotica (I follow a writer and lol her tales are amusingly all rather ‘similar’), I was just curious to enquire if you’d begun writing again……. I realise these sad times don’t help.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think ‘false starts’ is more like it on writing recently – it’s all practice, I guess! I agree some books can be a bit samey within a genre – but then people seem to like knowing what their getting a lot of the time, and it helps marketing. Read-alikes and ‘comps’, i.e. those books similar in content to existing titles, sell more. Another fail for me there! I can’t find useful comps.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Ooops, ‘they’re getting’ – love a homophone error me!


  2. An intriguing and very informative piece… quite exceptional writing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Too kind, but thank you for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is always a wonderful pleasure!


  3. Thanks for this. I agree. It depends on the task and the purpose, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, we are all capable of adapting to the task in hand – labels be gone!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I see it more as a back-and-forth process. The big picture cannot be complete in design without attention to details.
    The details lead me “up” to the big picture. Sometimes a “sample of one” can be expanded to a global concept or theory…
    Thanks for the reflection…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Think I am the same in strategy, only didn’t explain it so well. I like the “sample of one” concept.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 😉The sample of one comes from doing a lot of qualitative research. Or non parametric stas. (Sample < 30) When you see 1 behaviour of 1 attitude, you know there are many others. How many is what we don't know until we do a large sample. But in qualitative research? 6 or 12 in-depth interviews can give you a pretty good assessment of all attitudes…


  5. Very cool info…never thought about it, but Im 100% BIG PICTURE Person 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am learning to be more ‘big picture’ – look the main outcome, not the small stumbling blocks along the way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe we made the way we are for a reason:) I mean the world need “details”-folks!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. We do – though being a big-picture thinker always looks more exciting! 😀


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