The Big Picture

How often do you take the time to step back and look at the big picture? When a doctor looks at the big picture we use the term “holistic health.” When an economist looks at the big picture we call it “macroeconomics.” Any system can be broken down into its component parts, but without and understanding of the big picture, the larger view, it is very easy to lose the forest for the trees.

The division of labor is one of the key tenets of capitalism. Adam Smith, in his book Wealth of Nations argued that growth is rooted in he division of labor. Large tasks are broken down into small components and each worker becomes expert in isolated, increasingly specialized areas of production, thus increasing his efficiency.

Smith recognized the downsides to this approach, namely, that people given increasingly repetitive and narrowly focused tasks eventually become dissatisfied by the mundane and boring work. Despite the enormous gains in productivity and efficiency, it can be quite challenging to keep people happy under this regime.

For example, I was speaking with a podiatrist the other day and he mentioned that 90% of what he did was repetitive, primarily dealing with neuropathy in diabetics. He went on to say that he wished he had more variety in his job. The field of medicine is now composed largely of specialists, so much so that it can be challenging to find: (1) a happy doctor and (2) a doctor who thinks or who has received training in a holistic perspective.

Abraham Flexner ca. 1895, Image by Wikipedia

That said, your body is composed of many small parts that are organized into a complex whole. Groups of cells combine to form tissues, tissues arrange themselves into organs and organs work together in systems. The medical model that dominate Western thinking was largely shaped by the Flexner report published in 1910. The report called for the standardization of medical education in the United States and it catalyzed – intentionally or not – the movement toward specialization which now dominates the landscape of the medical system.

One of the challenges facing the authors of the future of medicine is to restore an appreciation for the holistic understanding of the body. So doing will require a depth of collaboration between specialists, not only within the field of allopathic doctors but in and between other systems of medicine, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Homeopathy and other alternative and complementary modalities.

I believe that a well-rounded program of education must include a healthy dose of the perspectives of both the specialist and the generalist. The ability to zoom into great detail must be balanced by the capacity for big picture thinking. Granted each person has natural proclivities toward one or the other, but where all are given an appreciation for both perspectives, the likelihood of collaboration and a shared understanding increases dramatically.

As we looked at recently, we need one another. No one person holds all the cards and progress is born through our ability to effectively complement one another. Specialization tends to go awry when specialists establish pecking orders amongst other types of specialists. The idea that “my speciality is more important or prestigious than your speciality” can quickly erode the value inherent in the division of labor that made the system possible in the first place.

We are poised to make a quantum leap in our understanding of how to keep people healthy in an increasingly toxic world, but we must first release the limiting assumptions that have kept the knowledge, information and understanding flowing between the increasingly isolated actors.

Specialists, like islands, are connected to one another if you go down deep enough. It is high time that we remember how important it is to understand the “space between” – the points of connection, the highly complex interrelationships – that have been ignored in the mad push for specialization by those who have prized – for better of for worse – the division of labor into increasingly small and disjointed parts.

By the way, the same thinking applies in virtually every other field of human activity. If we lose sight of the big picture we as a race will eventually miss the point entirely.

The victorious life begins with successful attitude

I came across three rules today that provide effective guidance for a productive life:

Rule #1: Success is an option.

Rule #2: Failure to accomplish a goal is a last resort.

Rule #3: Failure to give your very best is never an option.

Countless human beings have lived out their lives never believing that success was an option for them. What about you? Do you make room for the possibility of success at the onset of every new undertaking or do you find yourself planning an exit strategy before you take the first step?

The victorious life begins with successful attitude. The starting point for cultivating a resilient successful attitude is found in the statement: “Life will never give me anything that is larger than my ability to handle it successfully.” Put this one on your bathroom mirror and take it with you in your heart so that when the time comes, you can prove it.

When you come to the point that you realize you are not powerless in relation to the world you center, you have taken the first step to a victorious life. You may have some catching up to do, as an accumulation of failures does tend to make for a lumpy rug under what could have been solid footing, but you can only start where you are.

The refusal to start where you are causes many failures and delayed starts. Faced with an opportunity or a challenge you might say “I wish things were a little different” or “If only I had such-and-such this I could get started,” but so doing will cause unnecessary and unhelpful delays, putting you immediately behind the eight ball.

Start with what you have, exercise your imagination regularly and be creative in your use of resources. The first step to using resources wisely is identifying what resources are available to you. I enjoy watching survival shows like Man vs. Wild and Dual Survival as they demonstrate how to identify – especially in dangerous and restrictive circumstances – the resources available to you.

Check out this link for a quick idea of how to assess your resources:

Now that works in the aftermath of a hurricane, but how do you do this in your personal or professional life? It’s easy. Follow these steps:

1. Get your resources “out on the table.” Make a mental list, compose a written inventory or spread your resources out on a table if you can, without initially making value judgments. Take time to deliberately enumerate the resources – both tangible and intangible – that you presently have at your disposal.

2. Consider the big picture. What is the framework of the challenge or opportunity you’re considering? What are you trying to accomplish? What are the basic parameters?

3. Identify and discard limiting assumptions. Brainstorm on limiting assumptions you or the others you’re involved with on a project may hold that are preventing forward movement. Discard them permanently. Don’t look back.

4. Ask yourself “How would this look were I to rearrange the resources available to me in relation to this goal?” Be creative. Don’t discard any ideas at this point.

5. Test you ideas. Pick what appear to be the best ideas on the surface and test them. Elicit peer reviews. Get feedback from clients, family or friends. Pick the ideas apart. Refine them in the refiner’s fire.

6. Implement. If you’ve moved through the creative process outlined here you will known when the time is right to put your ideas into action.

7. Review. Don’t forget to analyze how effective your ideas were. Gather data over time, don’t jump to conclusions, but don’t also let things drag on. Cut your losses if necessary. Invest further if that appears the prudent course.