The importance of big picture thinking

You’ve probably either told yourself or been told to ‘think about the bigger picture’ or ‘take a step back’. Depending on your personality type and approach to running your children’s activity business that may be easier said than done.

Often these comments we hear or tell ourselves tend to go in one ear and out the other, particularly if you’re extremely busy or a naturally detail-orientated person. Sometimes thinking about the ‘bigger picture’ can feel like a waste of time when you just need to get tasks done. Certainly paying attention to the small details in business can be incredibly important too such as when it comes to areas such as customer journey, communication and making your activity programmes stand out.

However, if you were to look at scientific research it reveals ‘big picture thinking’, sometimes known as ‘blue sky thinking’ is linked to greater levels of success in small business ownership with effective entrepreneurs more likely to think like this by up to 50%. That’s a pretty important stat. Even if growth isn’t your primary goal for your business right now, you’ll appreciate the need to constantly develop and strive for continuous improvement.

We often suggest to our members to try and reverse engineer the goals and objectives they’ve got for their business. For example if you want to turn your small after-school programme into a nationally recognised brand, start at the end in terms of what you’d like to achieve and work backwards to figure out a timeline and set of smaller goals that will help you achieve this. This exercise forces you to think bigger and consider all areas of your business that need to be developed in order to achieve those goals. It’s a key element of creating a successful plan.

You might be thinking, this sounds great but the reality is that the detail orientated tasks are weighing you down and sapping your energy.

We regularly speak to providers who are bogged down in the day to day admin, struggling with recruitment or preparing kit and supplies for the week as examples and typically their time is very limited in being able to ‘step back’ and think bigger or more strategically. However, creating time in your schedule to focus on big picture thinking is exactly what activity providers need to do on a regular basis as part of a process of reflection and monitoring progress with the path they are on.

If you’re wondering how you can start to think a little bigger, we’ve put together some simple strategies that might help your children’s activity business:

  1. Consider what limits you may have as a business owner with your ability to think ‘bigger’
    Perhaps your natural approach prevents ‘big picture thinking’ or habitually you aren’t in the right mindset for it.

Are you a perfectionist?
Do you constantly sweat the small-stuff?
Are you poor at delegation?
Are you afraid of losing control?

If any of these describe you, we’d highly recommend you try to break these habits or work on reversing those traits because they can absolutely be a hinderance when growing a business. If you can do this successfully, it will go a long way to being able to think bigger about your business.

  1. Try to look at things from a different vantage point
    It can be incredibly difficult at times to look at your business and progress objectively when you’re so entrenched in everything you do, however we always encourage providers to ask themselves simple questions such as:

What am I trying to achieve?
Am I on the path I really need to be?
Will what I’m working on now matter in 5 days, 5 months and 5 years?
What are the consequences of what I plan to do?

These types of questions help providers connect the dots, bridge the gaps and assess their actions when trying to achieve something big. Sometimes it can be really hard to do this type of exercise, which is where a business partner, family member, friend or community of like minded people can be extremely useful in giving an outside opinion.

  1. Physically look ‘up’
    Physiology tells us that when we look down we are more likely to think intrinsically, whereas looking up or ‘out’ helps us to think bigger, hence the term ‘blue sky thinking’. This is sometimes referred to as ‘inductive reasoning’.

There’s a small detail on the ICAP logo that most people won’t have noticed. Can you spot it?

The child in the logo is looking up.

Looking up or outwards is very important in thinking bigger, projecting confidence and not limiting yourself. This is very important for children and as an organisation very important to us as we support activity providers do the same. You’ll hopefully find the more you look up when thinking about your business, you’ll form a habit of bigger picture thinking.

  1. Make lists that focus on the big stuff
    If you’re a fan of lists, you’ll love this tip. Sometimes thinking big can seem a little fluffy or blurry, so we’d suggest you consider initially making a list of big ideas and goals you want to achieve and then break those down further into small lists of what you’d need to do in order to get yourself closer to those bigger ones. This in turn can be used to create a plan of action and timeline needed to reach those objectives. They’re also really easy to revise and adjust as needed.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk says: “It is important to view knowledge [big picture] as sort of semantic tree. Make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches [the main points], before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to [the smaller details].”

  1. Consider the power of keeping a journal or mind-mapping
    Sometimes simply finding the time to put your ideas and thoughts onto paper can be a challenge, but it’s incredibly important you do this. Keeping ideas and goals locked inside your brain can make it extremely hard to spot where your plan is struggling.

It doesn’t need to take a lot of strenuous work to do this type of task either.

Start with jotting down the big picture parts and fill in the gaps with the smaller elements needed to make them a reality. Equally, mind-mapping can be an incredible tool for visualising internal thoughts and creating a strong understanding of the foundations and details of each goal. Check out this useful link full of ideas for mind-mapping.

  1. Regularly block time in your calendar to simply think
    Perhaps the most important (and hardest) is booking time in your weekly schedule to simply sit and think. Often we make decisions in business quite quickly or with limited thinking time and that doesn’t always lend itself to good choices.

Everyone’s working day will look different and when this is best for you will depend on your personal preferences. Some may do this better first thing in the morning when they are most awake, others will want to use the day to reflect upon and so the evening will be best.

What we would suggest is you commit to doing this without distraction. Multi-tasking is proven to reduce productivity up to 40% so doing this particular activity whilst juggling other tasks is not a good idea. Giving yourself this space will greatly help your ability to think bigger and longer-term.

In doing some or all of the above you are much more likely to improve your ability to think bigger and more strategically, which in turn as science suggests, gives you a greater chance of success in your particular children’s activity business. Best of luck putting these strategies into action.

By becoming a member of ICAP you’re joining a community of like-minded professionals and business owners in the children’s activity sector working towards excellence