Phil's Flub of the Month - Maintaining a narrow focus while ignoring the bigger picture

Written by Phil DuMas on Wednesday, 26 September 2012. Posted in Phil's Favorite Flub of the Month

I'm sure you've heard the expression: Can't see the forest for the trees. It refers to people who get so caught up in the details that they fail to see the bigger picture. It happens all the time in business and in IT in particular. If you're too focused on one detail, one idea, one solution, you won't be able to see any other possibilities and it can hamper your success or even grind a project to a halt. It's my flub of the month: Staying so focused on something that you're missing everything!

This month's flub was actually inspired by a funny story I heard from my colleague here at Cybrix Group, Tim Jones.  Several years ago, Tim was providing some remote tech support for a young US Marine. After instructing her to press ctrl-alt-del to reboot her system, he waited about 30 seconds before asking if the system had rebooted. "Not yet, sir," she replied. After several intervals of waiting and verifying that there had been no reboot, Tim started to wonder what was going on. He asked, "does anything seem to be happening?"

"Well, the screen seems to be flickering a bit," she said.

After running through all of the things that might cause a screen to flicker, Tim had to ask, "Did you let go of the ctrl-alt-del keys?"

"No, I've been pressing them like you said."

It turns out she had been holding the keys down for over six minutes! Military service members are top-notch when it comes to following instructions but in this instance, this Marine had been so focused on following instructions exactly that she missed out on what some might consider common sense.

As always, we're going to use this silly example to talk about a broader problem that can certainly have a negative impact on your business and that is focusing too closely on individual details to the point where you're ignoring big ticket items like common sense or alternative solutions. It's important to be aware of the environment around you and the entire scope of any project or business operation so that you don't miss something crucial because you're obsessing over something specific. We see this all the time in IT. Businesses become preoccupied with whatever they believe their security concerns to be, completely ignoring the broader scope of security issues. When you think you're most at risk for a cyber attack, you may completely ignore the physical security risks to your data from unsecured hard drives or facilities, or a lax internal security policy. Security breaches can come from any direction so it's important to never be too focused on any one area. You can go into battle with the thickest shield ever created in front of you but if you leave your backside unprotected, you're going to get hurt. 

Ideally, it's best to hire a professional whose job it is to think of the contingencies for you. However, if you're going it alone, make efforts to approach your problem from all sides. If a linear approach isn't working, try thinking laterally or working backwards to find the answer. There is always another way to look at a problem. Bring in more opinions; they say two heads are better than one, but it may take three or four before you find the right solution that's been evading you. The bottom line is you need to be open to the possibilities. Not everything is straightforward and sometimes your instructor leaves out a step and you're stuck holding the keys!

About the Author

Phil DuMas

Phil DuMas

Phil DuMas is a technologist with more than 20 years experience developing and implementing technology in a myriad of environments.

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