Failure to see the big picture: the doorbell dynamic

By Lisa Earle McLeod

McLeod & More, Inc.


Keeping the big picture in mind isn't always easy, but it pays off. Be sure you always keep in mind how each part fits into the larger whole.

Doesn't it make you crazy when people can't see the big picture?

You'll be in the middle of a project, and they do something completely counter to the goals. In our family, we call it the doorbell dynamic. There's a story to explain.

My parents remodeled their house a few years back. It was an old, boxy split-level on a lake. They bought it because the lake was beautiful, it was near the grandkids and the price was right. But it needed a lot of work, and they pretty much gutted the entire interior.

They hired an architect to do a plan, and a decorator helped pick out the colors. After months of work, the result was an open space with windows on almost every wall showcasing the lake and nature.

The house was almost finished when the guy came to put the new doorbell in. My stepmother wasn't there when he installed it, but she arrived home to discover that the ringer part of the bell had been hung directly in the center of the only decent-size wall on the entire first floor.

The only wall where you could put a picture or piece of furniture now had a little five by five white plastic box right slap in the middle of it.

Apparently, when standing in the middle of all that glass and openness, the doorbell man was drawn to the largest vacant canvas available, and because doorbells are clearly important to him, he centered his handiwork in the most prominent spot in the room for all the world to see.

So upon entering the beautiful architect-created, decorator-designed home, the first thing you saw was the large white plastic doorbell device hanging smack in the middle of the sage green wall.

After calling the doorbell man back to her home to reposition the bell in a more discreet location, my stepmother discovered how much thought and care had gone into his plan. "I could see that this was a nice place and that you were obviously real particular," he said, "so I made double sure that I had it exactly centered. It's not just centered side to side, ma'am. It's centered floor to ceiling too."

Alas, yet another well-intended person trying to do their best work, yet completely oblivious to the fact that their job is part of a larger project.

How many of us have done the same thing or observed it in others?

The accounts receivable person collects the money on time, yet so angers the customer they refuse to do business with us again. The volunteer coordinator finds enough warm bodies to man the booths for Family Fun Day, but her strong-arm recruiting tactics are so off-putting that people feel like virtual prisoners behind the snow cone machine.

How do you avoid this problem? Simple. Before you begin any project, ask yourself or your team three questions:
  • What are we ultimately trying to accomplish?
  • How does this part fit into the big picture?
  • Is what I'm doing making it easier, or harder, for other people to do their part?
If you're making it harder, it's probably because you don't fully understand questions one and two.

Keeping the big picture in mind isn't always easy, but it pays off. If you don't want to be the doorbell guy, make sure you, and everyone else, know how each part fits into the larger whole.