05 Aug 2015 20:57 IST

What does ‘view from the top’ actually mean?

A helicopter view is fine but knowing the nitty-gritty is as important as an overall perspective

When I was discussing a project for designing a user interface with an American client, he said that what I was presenting was a 50,000-ft view. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. But I made some changes in the content. He said it was still a 10,000-ft view. And so it went on. Finally, we were able to agree on something. You may not be as lucky.

You are quite likely to hear this phrase or its variants, like 30,000-ft view, in your life after B-school. Unlike me, you may not have a chance to verify what it really means. Your boss would have lifted off to 100,000 ft already. You would be better off with some preparation if you don't wish to come across to your boss and your colleagues as someone who just sleepwalked through his MBA.

Never forget the details

If you look outside an aircraft when it is flying at 30,000 feet, you will see clouds. That's what your boss might be seeing too. As for a 50,000-ft view, I think it might be just a flight of fancy. When you are facing this kind of boss, you may have to conjure up a view without clouds, show that you know what he’s talking about, and swiftly take charge of the situation.

Your boss may have come up from trenches. He knows what's down there. He may be flying high just to be out his comfort zone. You better sense this correctly; else your boss will write you off as just another MBA with ‘attitude’. You know there are many of them and you surely don’t wish to be in that category. Tell your boss you are well aware of the nitty-gritty, the details, and yet you can understand what is needed overall. If you aren’t sure of what’s on the ground, you will have to assure your boss that you are on the job of finding out.

Ground rules

Here are some ground rules on how to develop that ‘overall’ view:

1. If you shift your viewpoint too high, you may become useless for a start-up company. The trick is in setting a correct height.

2. To adjust the ‘height’ you need to change and play with the ‘definitions’ of markets, users, circumstances, service standards, and so on. You will get useful insights.

3. You need to arrive at a broad enough scope definition that still remains practical. Too narrow a scope may prevent you from seeing opportunities.

4. This iterative thinking is best done well before important meetings or encounters with your boss. It is a good habit to form to be prepared with all the different viewpoints.

You may also come across phrases such as helicopter view, bird's eye view, broad strokes, control tower view, getting the perspective... they are all the same.

You may know how to prepare a presentation and can throw in these phrases to grab people’s attention. But it is more important to know what they actually mean and what the various perspectives translate to if you are to come across as on top of your game.