Article | Harvard Business Review | March 2011

Zoom In, Zoom Out

by Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Abstract

Zoom buttons on digital devices let us examine images from many viewpoints. They also provide an apt metaphor for modes of strategic thinking. Some people prefer to see things up close, others from afar. Both perspectives have virtues. But they should not be fixed positions, says Harvard Business School's Kanter. To get a complete picture, leaders need to zoom in and zoom out. A close-in perspective is often found in relationship-intensive settings. It brings details into sharp focus and makes opportunities look large and compelling. But it can have significant downsides. Leaders who prefer to zoom in tend to create policies and systems that depend too much on politics and favors. They can focus too closely on personal status and on turf protection. And they often miss the big picture. When leaders zoom out, they can see events in context and as examples of general trends. They are able to make decisions based on principles. Yet a far-out perspective also has traps. Leaders can be so high above the fray that they don't recognize emerging threats. Having zoomed out to examine all possible routes, they may fail to notice when the moment is right for action on one path. They may also seem too remote and aloof to their staffs. The best leaders can zoom in to examine problems and then zoom out to look for patterns and causes. They don't divide the world into extremes-idiosyncratic or structural, situational or strategic, emotional or contextual. The point is not to choose one over the other but to learn to move across a continuum of perspectives.

Keywords: Strategy; Cognition and Thinking; Perspective; Leadership; Opportunities; Decisions;

Citation:

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. "Zoom In, Zoom Out." Harvard Business Review 89, no. 3 (March 2011).