Micro vs Macro Thinkers and Why Your Company Needs Both

Whether you’re naturally a “big idea” person or a stickler for details, as a business owner you know the importance of seeing the whole picture. At Big Sea, we believe having a holistic view of our company helps us identify opportunities for growth and improvement, and set a vision for the company that helps us achieve our goals. Our blend of micro and macro thinkers allows us to offer an agile digital marketing strategy to our clients.

But, we wouldn’t accomplish half of what we envision without the detail-oriented, nitty-gritty, micro-thinkers we depend on. Chances are, your company wouldn’t either.

First, let’s define micro and macro thinkers

Like “micro-manager,” the term micro-thinker can carry a negative connotation. It sounds like small thinking, or focusing too much on superfluous details. This can lead some folks to think that macro-thinking must be the goal, and that micro-thinking is something to be corrected.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

If we use the terms “specific thinkers” and “holistic thinkers” we start to see the benefit that both types of brains bring to an organization.

Specific, or micro thinkers, tend to focus on the how of a problem. They’re experts in efficiency, processes, and systems. Because they are hyper-focused on the specifics of each segment of a problem at a time, they can identify potential gaps or pitfalls in a new process or plan. They may also have a tendency toward goal-completion, which can make them excellent motivators.

Holistic, or macro, thinkers tend to also be creative thinkers. These folks think way outside the box, and their ability to make connections across two or more seemingly disparate concepts can result in surprising solutions and creative campaigns. Their passion and vision can inspire affinity and motivation in their team.

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The importance of micro and macro thinkers on a team

You need both types of thinkers in order to come up with the big ideas that will move the needle for your company and make sure those big ideas are implemented correctly and efficiently.

You need your micro thinkers to help the macros track time, manage projects, maintain budgets, and organize workflows and system processes. And you need the macros to continually innovate and drive growth.

Now that we’ve established that both types of thinkers are equally valuable, how do you get them to see eye-to-eye when they view the world so differently?

The answer is: You don’t.

The secret to micro and macro thinkers working together

To successfully create a cross-functional team of holistic and specific thinkers, you need to do two things first. You need to identify and recognize the thinking types on a team, and you need to validate the contributions of both.

Identify your thinkers

Listen to how your team members approach a problem, how they resolve conflict, even what details they notice on a project. Find your holistic and specific thinkers, and those rare folks who seem to be a bit of both. Create teams that push these folks to work together.

Once your team recognizes the benefit your combined macro/micro thinking brings to your company, the next step is to create a culture that rewards the contributions of both.

Then, ask the team to come together and acknowledge their individual thinking styles and how each contributes to the success of the team. This sounds straightforward, but the truth is that people are … well, human.

Validate the way they think

Holistic thinkers may think they’re being encouraging when they tell specific thinkers to “be more creative” or “think outside the box,” but it’s actually invalidating their teammate’s way of thinking. It sends the message that their contributions to the team–the very way they think–is inferior.

Instead, welcome specific thinkers into brainstorms and ask them to present the challenge and their solutions as they understand them. You may be surprised at the results. Micro thinkers are just as capable of problem-solving and ideation as macro thinkers, but they come to a challenge from a very different perspective. That’s a good thing!

Similarly, you can expect a certain amount of pushback from macro thinkers when it comes to following processes step-by-step. It’s tempting for a micro thinker to view this behavior as lazy or showing a lack of commitment, but that’s a subjective view within their own perspective. Help the micro thinkers on your team reframe the way they see their macro counterparts. And remind your macro thinkers to show gratitude and appreciation for the sometimes tedious work micro thinkers do keeping everyone on schedule, on budget, and on track.

The key here is validation. Once your team recognizes the benefit your combined macro/micro thinking brings to your company, the next step is to create a culture that rewards the contributions of both. You may need to be champion of culture at first, but there a lot of tools available that make recognition and gratitude easy and fun.