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The Big Picture

She is a little girl in the basement of a brand new factory in China. She feels tired already; she would like to be somewhere else. But then, she gets the big picture. Now, she also can help the family. She puts the very first doll in its bright packaging, and watches it leave to other little girls somewhere in the world.

She is a little girl seated on a dusty bench in a small Mexican village close to the border. She left the house with her preferred cotton-doll, the one her mother made for Christmas, but she does not feel like playing.

She looks at the street. Nothing has changed but there is a different feel in the air. She wonders what their lives will be like now. A police car with lights and sirens is passing by. Then she gets the big picture. That maybe her mom is not the only one crying today in her empty bedroom. There is a nice car in the street, rushing to the airport. She suddenly wishes that she also could leave.

He is a fresh HBS grad rushing his nice rental car through the village. He successfully closed their Mexican unit. He knows he should be proud, but he just feels terrible. He doesn’t really know why. Then he gets the big picture. He’ll now leave for China to run their new doll factory. This will put him on the fast track. Soon, he will be able to settle down in his hometown, at headquarters. That will be so much better for his wife and their little girl. After all, his boss is pleased with his job.

She is a division manager seated in business class. As her plane slowly leaves the ground, she thinks about her recent decision to close their Mexican operations. It was not easy, and she has had trouble sleeping the past few days. Then she gets the big picture. Relocating to China will save the business. It will also help the people there find a job. Many little girls, as young and as nice as her daughter, will have a better life. And with her bonus, she will be able to save for college. And the CEO is satisfied.

He is the CEO of a major conglomerate flying back from China on his corporate jet. The fields below look like a patchwork of green and yellow. He has an uneasy feeling about his recent decision to move out of Mexico. There has been so much weight on his shoulders lately. Then, he gets the big picture. He will now be able to stand proudly in front of the board, having done his lot for his people and his shareholders. Now, he can maybe relax a little and spend some time with his wife and his little girl, who is growing fast. For her, he brings the very first doll produced in their new Chinese factory, in its bright packaging. He just hopes Wall Street will be content with their move for now.

He is a trader on a plane flying across the country. Through the clouds he can see from time to time a green napkin crossed by a single silver thread, which he knows is a large river. He was right to bet on this conglomerate after all. The stock price jumped in the morning after they announced the closure of their Mexican business. He knows he should be relieved, but he has an awkward feeling that he cannot really explain.

Maybe he is just tired. Then, he gets the big picture. He did the best he could for the life savings of his clients, and this will earn him a lofty bonus. He can now relax and enjoy his coming vacations, two weeks in Mexico with his family. His wife and their daughter are already there. He will soon be with them, and then, his strange feeling will pass. All those stressful hours on the job are probably worth it if they can help make his little girl happy.

She is a little girl, walking down a street in a small Mexican village. Her mom is buying some lunch on their way to the Airport, where they’ll pick dad up. She knows she should be happy about their vacations, but she just doesn’t feel right. The food maybe. There are kids on the street and maybe they could play. She notices this little girl with her funny cotton-doll, which is so different from her brand new one, which looks like all the dolls the other girls have at school. But the girl has tears in her eyes. Then she gets the big picture. It feels so sad in here. That’s when, without really understanding why, she starts to cry.

Focus on the big picture, they say. But sometimes, the big picture is such a small one. Villages, cities, even entire regions, in all their richness and complexity, look like small dots at 10,000 feet. At 10,000 feet, organizations and people, with all their hopes, energies and dedication, are reduced to a mere number in small print in the back pages of the Wall Street Journal.

It’s not because we decide to filter reality in one way or another that the other perspectives cease to be true. They are all as valid and as important. The mountaintop does not negate the river flowing in the valley; they just are different aspects the same beautiful landscape; and each one feeds from the other.

What this knowledge brings, I don’t know. I just believe that being aware of the multi-dimensional nature of reality, being conscious of our different filterings, knowing that they don’t contradict each other but are all parts of a rich and integrative truth, can lead us to be better decision-makers, and, in the end, help us make the world a better place. At least, that’s what I hope.

While the ideas expressed in this article are mine, I would like to thank Pr. Badaracco for his kind comments.

October 15, 2002
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