The Forest vs. The Trees

Today’s M is about management…and more. It’s this little theory of mine I have dubbed The Forest vs. The Trees. And though it comes into play with your staff, your boss and your board, you should also pay attention to this one for your relationships, friendships…and, well, everyone in your life.

There are two kinds of people in this world – forest people and trees people. The distinction is not something we can control. It’s simply a part of who we are. 

Forest people prefer to get the lay of the land before they dive into anything. Then, once they have their overview, they begin to visit the trees, to get a sense of how the pieces fit together, discovering the nuances along the way. They love the big picture.

Trees people begin with the details. They enter into a situation by encountering the pieces and figuring out how they go together. They get to know the finer points of a situation, and then use that knowledge to rise up to that 40,000 foot view. They thrive on details. 

When forest people travel, they first get the big map of the city and figure out the general way things fit together before venturing off so that they won’t waste time on the wrong streets. Trees people come out of the subway of a new city and start down the street, figuring out the twists and turns along the way and learning how the neighborhoods are laid out as they go.

Forest people surge forward and see process as a necessary evil that may or may not need thorough completion. Trees people see process as critical to every project, and will not move forward until each step has been honored.

Forest people like to get a look at the strategic plan before entering a nonprofit organization.  Trees people get to know a nonprofit by walking in the door and talking to people about their work.

Forest people prioritize tasks, believing some need to be done extremely well while others are less critical. Trees people tend to believe it all needs to get done, and done perfectly.

To be clear…neither forest nor trees people are better. They are just different. The important thing is knowing where you fall. And where others fall, too. And to be introspective about it all.

If you are a forest person, you’ll get to your end game more quickly, but it might not be done as well as it could be and you might not get buy-in from everyone you need to. You need to think about what details and processes you could be missing. Find a few trees people who will help you identify your gaps.

If you are a trees person, chances are you will get the details done every time, but you could lose sight of your goal or get stuck in details that really don’t matter. Find tricks or people to help you remember what you’re fighting for. Or else you might never get there. Or you might get burnt out before you do.

If you recognize your style and work with others to supplement you, you can help each other. If you blow it off or think you’re better, you can and will drive each other crazy.  Your choice.

And know that sometimes you just need to bend…or even change your behavior.

If you’re a forest person, sometimes you need to take a breath, slow down and honor those detailed, process-filled trees. If you’re a trees person, sometimes you must shut your eyes and let the nuanced details go to get to the results.

Either way – recognize that others aren’t like you. And while it might feel frustrating, know this is actually a great thing. Because we can help each other out to achieve even greater successes.

That’s what makes the world go ‘round. And in the end, that’s what makes us all do things that much better.

Now…go do good. And do it well.

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One response to “The Forest vs. The Trees”

  1. Charles Kaiser Avatar
    Charles Kaiser

    I have held to this concept for many years. Thank you for capturing it in a form that can be used to explain to others. BTW, I’m a forest person.