Are you a big picture thinker or a details person?
“I went to my boss with presentation having five slides containing details of my proposed project/idea. He sifted through all the slides in 10 seconds and asked me "What is the bottomline?" All the effort I put in for research and evidence is lost. I don’t understand my boss nor does he understand me.”
~ Team Member
“I am not sure what’s wrong with my team member ‘X’. He is not able to convey his ideas succinctly. I am asking whether we should go forward with this project - he brings in reams for me to go through.“
Sounds familiar? The team member is looking at the trees for the forest and the manager, forest for the trees.
Which is the right approach?
One of my favourite subjects in “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (NLP) is Metaprograms. In a nutshell, meta-programs are like Operating System for our mind. They deeply influence our behaviours.
One of the meta-programs we use to think, learn and communicate is the chunk-size. Below is the manifestation of this meta-program in our thinking pattern.
Inductive thinkers start with details and move up to high levels of abstractions. They are most comfortable in processing information in sequences that help them to move from details to big picture thinking. Technical and scientific people are most likely to use this kind of thinking as default.
Deductive thinkers start with the big-picture and move on to specific details. They need a “frame” first to hold the rest of the content. Once they get the overall pattern (gestalt/whole), they can chunk it down to details. Philosophical and artistic people are more likely to use this kind of chunking as default.
Well, there is one more type :-)
Abductive thinkers use metaphors and analogies to think “on the side”.
They use something' known' to learn something 'unknown'. Most of the spiritual ideas in ancient texts are communicated via stories that people can relate to and then learn. This is a form of abductive thinking.
So we see that all these are just different ways that one prefers to think. Fundamentally none of the ways are faulty or better.
So what is the cause of frustration?
Lack of flexibility in choosing the kind of chunk size that is most beneficial for context: As one grows in an organisation, his/her role demands her to use deductive thinking more. During my coaching I observe that most of the transition problems in senior managers who are moving to higher roles are majorly due to their chunk size default. They are predominantly inductive thinkers and when their organisations asks them to shift gears to be deductive thinkers, it’s very hard on them. They are only comfortable when all ‘i’s are dotted and all ’t’ s are underlined. Dealing with ambiguity is difficult because all details are not available or one has to define structure and details.
Inability to adapt to other styles: In our hurried day at work, we don’t have the patience or time to adapt/ listen to someone who does not think in our style. One of the NLP pre-suppositions is “all communication is the response you get.” If you don’t get the right response, its time to adapt your chunk preference, when working with others.
Given below are some questions that help you shift styles.
Chunking up: If you have to shift from inductive to deductive thinking ( For self to be more strategic / communicate with a person whose preference is Deductive thinking), ask yourself these questions:
For what purpose?
For what intent?
For what cause?
What is this an example of ?
What would it mean to achieve this?
Chunking down: If you have to shift from Deductive to Inductive thinking ( For self to be more hands-on/ communicate with a person whose preference is Inductive thinking), ask yourself these questions:
What specifically does this address/create?
What are its examples/ references?
What are the exceptions?
Chunking laterally: If you have to shift from Inductive/Deductive thinking to Abductive thinking, then answer the below questions:
What metaphor or story explains this in a simpler way?
What could be a creative way of conveying the same information?
An example illustration of all the three types of chunk size can be found in the narrative in my last post.
When you develop this flexibility, then people will think you are creating magic :-) because you become extremely dextrous with your chunk size Metaprogram.
Who are you going to surprise with your flexibility?