Bigger than Ben Hur

Bigger than Ben Hur - image for article by Greg Alder

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality claims to “have devoted a significant amount of effort in institutionalizing “Big Picture” thinking into our processes and our staff”.

Whether or not the Department has been successful in this, I don’t know.

Whether or not employees of the Department are known throughout the land as big picture thinkers, I don’t know.

How their big picture thinking manifests itself, I also don’t know.

At least the Department has tried.

So why is big picture thinking so important?

Let’s use a big picture to illustrate the value of big picture thinking. Pictures don’t come much bigger than Ben Hur.

Every actor wanted to be part of the biggest picture ever filmed.

Imagine you are young aspiring actress, Silvia Montana. Imagine your excitement when you are offered a part in Ben Hur – your first movie role.

You’re a little disappointed that it’s a non-speaking part, but it’s a part nonetheless.

Even though you won’t get a chance to dazzle with your beautifully nuanced vocal delivery, you still feel sure that a director will notice you and offer you a feature role. After all, you have spent 3 years at Liceo Classico Virgilio. You learnt to communicate with your eyes. With your face filling a cinema screen, an audience will be mesmerised by your ability to communicate your deep emotion with the slightest twitch of an eyebrow or narrowing of your eyelids.

Before filming commences, you practise facial expressions in front of a mirror. You try every emotion from incendiary anger to melting tenderness.

On the day before shooting your big scene, you are given your call time. On the morning of filming, you are handed your costume and given directions to your location.

When you arrive at your nominated location, your heart sinks. You find yourself one of 50,000 extras. Not a single camera within close-up distance.

Bigger than Ben Hur

The only person who knew the big picture was the director, William Wyler. You – and the other extras and the horses and chariots and fake temple facades and painted backgrounds – are a single piece in a 5000-piece jigsaw.

After the day’s filming wraps, you go home, disillusioned. As soon as you close the door, you collapse in a sobbing mess. When the movie is released, it is hailed as brilliant. But you can’t watch it. Your small part in its success means nothing to you.

“Institutionalizing “Big Picture” thinking” (Mississippi DEQ) is a lofty, worthy goal. Politicians love lofty, worthy phrases. So too do major corporations. Mission statements, annual reports and CEO speeches depend on them.

But, really, big picture thinking means bugger all if every person in the organisation doesn’t understand his or her contribution to that big picture.

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