Max Cho’s blog is a must-read for any budding intellectual and one of the links he shared was this insightful illustration by Matt Might emphasizing how we increasingly lose focus of the big picture called “The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D”. It applies to all of us, not just Ph.Ds as we all work on specializing in our interest areas and we keep losing focus of the big picture. This is the hallmark of a “Genius” - the ability to focus on something and then instantly, and at will, zoom back out and look at how the tiny little detail he was focussing on fits into the big picture, zoom back in, make adjustments and zoom back out again until everything is just right.
The insight that “Genius” is the ability to switch between the detail view and the big picture at will, is actually not that new. Steve Jobs shared this same insight way back in 1983 when he was merely 26 years old while addressing the Academy of Achievement at Stanford. This is what he said:
“Have you ever thought about what it is to be intelligent? ‘Cause you meet your friend and he’s pretty dumb and you think you’re smarter and you wonder what the difference is [audience laughs]… I’ve thought about this a little bit myself and one of the things is… it seems to me… a lot of it’s memory, but a lot of it’s the ability to, sort of, zoom out like you’re in a city and you can look at the whole thing from about the 80th floor down at the city and while other people are trying to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B reading these stupid little maps, you can just see it all out in front of you, you can see the whole thing, and you can make connections that… just seem obvious, ‘cause you can see the whole thing… that’s why bright people feel guilty a lot ‘cause they come up with stuff that they just say ‘hey, look at this!’ and other people give him these dumb awards, and they feel… funny. [audience laughter and applause]”.
Steve nailed it decades ago, but Matt’s illustration is another powerful, visual reminder of the importance of never losing sight of the big picture.