The difference between a truly professional outcome (one that is produced by a craftsperson) and an amateur outcome lies in the craftperson’s ability to see and work with the big picture as well as the details.
As the saying goes, God may well be in the details; but the truly sublime can only be experienced as a whole. The big picture is where all the individual pieces come together and make something more. The magic is being in the forest.
Not many people are able to do this. Even many trained professionals don’t quite seem to deliver craftsperson-level outcomes.
- Many YouTube videos are simple pieces jammed together. The audio track is distracting and often inappropriate, the transitions are overly elaborate, and the title sequences long and much laboured over. Each piece of the whole is crafted to perfection in isolation; but the whole thing falls short.
- Many documents contain too many fonts, colours and other pretty crap that actively detracts from the legibility and usefulness of the content. Each font and decorative choice is made in isolation from the look and feel of the whole.
- When reviewing a document or web design, many managers latch on to isolated micro details – “we must fill this blank spot here”, and “we must center every heading”, or “we must have our logo very big and animated”. They are unable to appreciate how these seemingly small actions could and often destroy the integrity of a design (ie make it look crappy).
- The marketing people agonises over a word in an ad, and yet forget to check the phone number. The ad agency mixes together the perfect image with the perfect strapline and the perfect background colour; then sticks the resulting ad in a totally inappropriate publication.
- The board agonises over the Feng-Shui-ness of a company’s new name but do not notice that it sounds like a rude word when said out loud. Or they argue over the blue to use, but don’t notice that the mark (the visual part of the logo) looks like someone bending over.
- The manager hires someone based purely on tickbox qualifications and length of serving in the same job, only to then realise the person is incapable of transferring any of the knowledge and experience from her previous job.
- The buyer gets sucked-in by a dodgy salesperson who says all the right things; because he ignored his gut feel (ie his big picture sense) about the salesperson.
- In a chaotic office, everyone is always rushing around trying to put out the daily fires; but no one notices the causes of these fires.
- Brand new apartment blocks in China are marred by the haphazard installation of air conditioners. Each installation is professionally done. But as a whole, the effect is one of chaotic acne-like encrustation of different air conditioners installed in all manner of locations with different hoses, mountings and conduits.
In every one of these cases, the people involved were focused primarily on isolated elements or tasks. The individual bits are all honed to perfection. But the whole is crap. Because no one is in a position to, or perhaps able to, work with the big picture as well as work with the details.
Is this a function of our innate nature as humans? Is is a product of our education and upbringing?
The business world seems more and more focused on increasingly narrow silos of expertise. Everyone wants the expert on this, the expert on that. So we end up with many experts each doing their own different thing really well, and perhaps not that aware of how their actions fit into, and affect the big picture.
We train people to fit expertise silos because that is straightforward to think about. The in-between is less tangible. How do we begin to develop a curriculum for teaching people to be generalists?
Are managers being trained to work in between these expert silos? Are there enough generalists coming out of our educational institutions to fill this crucial skills gap? How many businesses out there recognise this skills gap?
I am interested in the in-between…