losing sight of the forest for the trees

concepts & definitions

“The idea behind this metaphor is that when you are too close to something, you can get mired in the details and have difficulty focusing on the way those details fit together into a big picture.

During the past 10 years, psychologists Yaacov Trope, Nira Liberman, and their colleagues have provided a lot of evidence for what they call “construal level theory:” The closer you are to an object or event, the more specifically you think about it. While the more distant you are to that object or event, the more abstractly you think about it. This idea has important implications for your creativity.

So to help yourself think about a problem you are solving more abstractly, it is useful to give yourself some distance from that problem. There are several ways to create that distance: imagine that you are solving the problem for someone else rather than for yourself; think about what the solution to the problem will look like 5 years in the future rather than right now, think about how people 1.000 miles away might be conceptualizing the problem. Each of these methods helps to create some distance, and that can help you focus on the more abstract parts of the situation.

After you re-think the problem, though, it is important to focus on the details again. So, once you have an insight that changes the way you think about the problem, focus on it close up again. In that way, you can ensure that the solution you develop will also address the little things that can make the difference between success and failure.”

Art Markman for 99u (Behance)

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