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Zoom Out/Zoom In – Making It Personal


I’ve been writing about a very different approach to strategy for over a decade, including here. My writing so far has focused on the imperative for institutions to adopt this approach to strategy in rapidly changing times. In this post, I’ll make the case that it’s also an imperative for us to pursue as individuals.

Zoom out/zoom in strategy

So, what is zoom out/zoom in? To be clear, it’s not about video conferencing. For those who haven’t been following me, let me offer a very brief summary of zoom out/zoom in strategies. These strategies focus on two very different time horizons. The first time horizon – the zoom out horizon – is 10-20 years. On this horizon, the key questions are:

  • What will my relevant market or arena look like 10-20 years from now?
  • What kind of company or institution will I need to have in order to thrive in that market or arena?

The second time horizon – the zoom in horizon – is very different, it’s 6-12 months. On that horizon, the key questions are:

  • What are the 2-3 initiatives (no more) that I could pursue in the next 6-12 months that would have the greatest impact in accelerating my movement towards the longer-term opportunity I’ve identified?
  • Have I committed a critical mass of resources to these 2-3 initiatives in the next 6-12 months?
  • How would I measure progress and success for these 2-3 initiatives?

Why is this approach to strategy so powerful? First, it helps us to develop focus based on a significant long-term opportunity. In a world where we tend to shrink our time horizons and just react to whatever is going on in the moment, that can be very helpful. Second, it emphasizes the importance of near-term action and impact. Third, it cultivates a learning mindset because we can learn from those short-term actions. The impact we achieve will help us to refine our view of the longer-term opportunity and evolve our short-term actions to have even more impact over time.

This approach to strategy becomes increasingly necessary in the Big Shift world where all institutions confront mounting performance pressure and exponentially expanding opportunity (how’s that for a paradox?). But, guess what? It’s not just institutions that live in this Big Shift world – we all are living in this Big Shift world as individuals, and we have a similar set of challenges and opportunities.

Zoom out/zoom in for individuals

Most of us are so consumed by all that’s going on around us that we rarely look ahead to anticipate the opportunity that could help us to achieve much more of our potential and have far greater impact on those who matter around us. Without a sense of what that opportunity might be, we become lost in the demands of the moment.

And, as challenging as it might be, we need to make the effort to zoom out 10 – 20 years. If we just focus on the next 1-2 years, we’ll likely focus on an opportunity that is interesting, but that pales in comparison to the kinds of opportunities that we could address in the next one or two decades. We need to venture beyond our comfort zone to see for the first time what is becoming possible and achievable.

Yes, looking ahead that far is very challenging in rapidly changing times, but it will force us to focus on the trends that are more predictable. We don’t need to define the opportunity in great detail now – we just need to have enough detail that it can help us to make the choices that matter today.

And then, of course, there’s the need to zoom in to identify the 2-3 initiatives that we could take over the next 6-12 months that would have the greatest impact in accelerating our movement towards the longer-term opportunity. Are we really focusing on the actions that matter the most? Are we tracking our progress that we’re making and reflecting on what we could do to have even more impact?

Here’s another question. For those 2-3 short-term initiatives, are we trying to do them by ourselves? Or are we actively asking others for help and to join us in our efforts to have even more impact? No matter how smart and capable we are as individuals, we’ll likely have a lot more impact if we can motivate others to join us and leverage our own efforts.

The emotional impact of zoom out/zoom in

Our actions are ultimately shaped by our emotions. Zoom out/zoom in approaches can be powerful in evolving our emotions and motivate us to make an effort that would have otherwise seemed to be impossible.

Here’s one of our biggest challenges. As I’ve written elsewhere, more and more of us are experiencing fear as our dominant emotion. While an understandable human reaction to the mounting performance pressure that we experience on a daily basis, fear can also be very limiting. It shrinks our time horizons, increases our risk averseness and erodes our trust in others. We can be caught in a vicious cycle – as fear limits our impact, we become more afraid and limit our impact even more, and the cycle spirals downward.

How do we escape this vicious cycle? Zoom out/zoom in can help on multiple levels. First, it focuses our attention on a really big opportunity to achieve much more impact than we have ever had. Rather than becoming consumed by near-term pressure, we can begin to be inspired by unprecedented opportunity. It can help to motivate us to act and take risk in the short-term because the opportunity is so exciting.

And the zoom in focus also helps us to overcome our fear. It frames actions we can take in the short term that will have tangible impact. We don’t have to wait a long time to see tangible results. And, as we begin to see the impact that we’re achieving in the short-term, it helps us to overcome the skepticism about that longer-term opportunity. Is it just a fantasy that can never be achieved? No, we’re actually seeing impact now – this is worth pursuing.

This is also why it’s so important to frame the zoom in initiatives as collaborations with others versus solo efforts. If we invite others to join us in our near-term initiatives, we’ll find that we’re leveraging our own time and resources for more impact. And, more importantly, we’ll also be encouraged by the fact that others share our excitement and interest in achieving near-term impact. It will reinforce our own excitement and reduce our fear because we have the support of others.

Tying this to personal narratives

Those who have followed me in the past, will begin to see a strong connection between zoom out/zoom in approaches for individuals and the potential of personal narratives that I’ve explored in many previous posts, including here, here and here.

Personal narratives, the way I define them, are about the future, not the past. They’re focused on either a significant threat or opportunity out in the future that shapes our emotions and actions. They also should be a call to action to others. What are we asking others to do to help us in addressing the threat or opportunity that’s most meaningful to us out in the future?

While we all live our lives shaped by our personal narrative, few of us have made the effort to articulate that personal narrative, much less reflect on whether it is the best personal narrative for us. Those of us who do make this effort often find that we are primarily motivated by a view of threat in the future, not opportunity. That feeds the fear.

And when we articulate our personal narrative, we often discover that we don’t really have a call to action to others – we’re addressing the threat on our own, without the help of others. That also feeds the fear – we’re alone and isolated.

The zoom out/zoom in approach that I’ve outlined above can be very helpful in getting us to re-frame our personal narrative. Rather than focusing on threats out in the future, this approach encourages us to identify a really big opportunity in the future that can help us to achieve much more of our potential and have greater impact on those who matter to us.

The zoom in focus helps us to see what actions we can take in the short-term that will expand and accelerate our impact. It also encourages us to look around and identify others who might be motivated by the same big opportunity in the future. We can then frame a call to action for them that will help us to overcome our isolation and leverage our own short-term efforts.

In short, the zoom out/zoom in approach can help to frame a personal narrative that will have far greater impact than the personal narrative we’ve been pursuing thus far. It could even help us to discover and pursue our passion of the explorer!

Bottom line

The zoom out/zoom in strategy approach is not just for institutions, it’s for all of us as individuals. And, it’s not just about strategy. It’s about emotions. The zoom out/zoom in approach can help all of us to overcome the fear that increasingly dominates our lives and cultivate a sense of hope and excitement that will motivate us to move forward in spite of the fear. Done well, it can also help us to draw out the passion of the explorer, but that’s food for another blog post.


Masixole Ndinisa

November 27, 2022at 11:50 am

This is a powerful method that can be applied both personally and in business. It allows you to think long term but with a view that it is not a fixed destination but a compass directing your immediate steps towards a certain direction.

Xolisa Mulaudzi

August 26, 2022at 4:27 am

I’m so applying this in m personal life right now before applying it in my business.

Jon Hanson

October 16, 2020at 10:31 pm

Excellent and helpful. Working on a long term planning project now. Thank you for the timely reminder.


October 15, 2020at 6:49 am

What a powerful but simple message. It makes so much sense; now the hard bit,can I out it into action?

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(if you've read the book, click here)

My new book, The Journey Beyond Fear, starts with the observation that fear is becoming the dominant emotion for people around the world. While understandable, fear is also very limiting.


The book explores a variety of approaches we can pursue to cultivate emotions of hope and excitement that will help us to move forward despite fear and achieve more of our potential. You can order the book at Amazon.

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