Robin Hanson offers these thoughts on big-picture thinking (HT Dennis Whittle):
I’ve ...noticed that among smart folks, the most successful keep their smarts on a short leash. They use their smarts to make the sale, win the case, pass the test, get published, etc., but they don’t use much smarts to consider whether they really want to make the sale, win the case, etc. ...
In contrast, on average smart folks gain far less success when they seriously apply their smarts to big pictures, reconsidering what they want, what we really know, how the world is organized, what they can do to make the world a better place, and so on. They go off in a thousand directions, and while some might break new ground, on average such smart folk gain much less personal success, and may well do less to help the world.
As some of you might have guessed, I am very sympathetic to portraying big-picture thinking as low-payoff. Big picture development will happen not from a Great Thinker achieving Development, but from a lot of little thoughts and actions by a lot of creative, motivated individuals operating in political, social, and economic systems that facilitate liberty.
Of course, the idea that big-picture thinking is low-payoff is Itself a big-picture idea with an incredibly high payoff.