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Recently, I had the opportunity to have a call with an old acquaintance of mine, serial entrepreneur Dan Martell.  Aside from personal pleasantries, he made me critically think about ideas for my industry… and ask questions internally… and… that’s a good thing! Big picture thinking is something many of us need to improve on.

Step Back from Details

You see, as an engineer, I have a problem.  At times, I tend to get into details too quickly, which is generally a trait many of us possess.  While I am mindful of this and work hard to think bigger picture in my career, when I get deep into technical problems, it can be challenging to come up for air!

Sometimes engineers get stuck trying to fix detailed problems that we encounter daily with our technical work. However, there may be a big picture approach to be considered.  Our heads are down in our computers and not observing the bigger world around us.

I have a few ideas for the transportation industry I described to Dan and every time I got into details too quickly, Dan pulled me back to look at the big picture.  Discuss the “Fischer Price” (or simplified) problem you’re trying to solve in a way that clearly and succinctly conveys the message to those who could benefit from it the most.  If not, you’ll be met with a room full of blank stares due to lack of understanding for your plan.  You fail at your attempt to communicate.

Look for Easy Wins that Make Sense

Dan also urged me to go for easy wins, such as tackling the problem that has the biggest impact first.  His example was what the collaboration aspect of Google Docs did for the word processor compared to Microsoft Word.  Google took a big impact tool, made it successful, and then expanded to other products, such as Sheets, Slides, and Drive.

It’s easy to get enamored with specific technologies and their potential solutions.  However, are we focused on solving problems that simply improve our workflow? Or, perhaps there a larger problem to consider that perspective clients are trying to solve?  What if a potential solution to a specific problem (in some cases) means that transportation engineers and planners become the “middleman” or inefficient link in the chain from problem/opportunity to solution?  How does becoming a middleman impact how we think about problems and opportunities if it means making portions of our career expertise obsolete?

You’ll have to excuse me.  I have some big picture thinking to do…

If you want to check out Dan’s work, he can be found on his website and at YouTube where he releases weekly videos.  I’ve found his material very helpful in pondering problems and opportunities in the transportation industry.