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How to use the forest and trees mental model in decision-making

The use of the forest and trees mental model in decision-making is to switch your mindset between seeing the larger picture and the details. “Forest for the trees” was probably used since 1546[i] and means seeing the bigger picture.

So, are you a forest or a tree person? Some of us are consumed with details; others are concerned with the whole. Let us see how using both mindsets can help you in decision-making in life and work.

forest and trees mental model
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The forest and trees mental model

The forest mindset

A forest mindset is when you see the big picture and you are not consumed with the details.

You spot inter-tree relations on a broader scale, you see the whole forest and not just a bunch of trees.

Likewise, you can take the forest mindset to a higher level, you can also spot relations between different forests and their surroundings, so you may zoom out more to see a very different view from the current.

At work

If you work in the human resources department, you spot the relations between the departments and not the employees.

A manager should have a forest mindset. She or he cannot see change easily unless there is a continuous feedback mechanism. The feedback comes from down to the top and may be altered on its way as it passes through the different managerial levels. The top management sees the final output and does not regard small wins that are accomplished at the bottom of their organizations.

Wherever you work, make a zoom-out and check for ties in the larger picture. This gives you the ability to spot trees’ patterns; humans are recognized by their ability to detect recurring patterns. When you see the bigger picture, this ability is best put to practice. You can spot bad behaviors and eliminate them and spot good behaviors and enforce them.


When keeping a daily diary, you can spot good and bad habits that keep recurring each day, week, or month. And only seeing the forest, a large number of trees – a large number of daily writings – and not the tree – just one day – will make you tag such habits.

Buying a car

Imagine you are buying a new car, you are not distracted by the color of the car, the bright headlights, you are concerned with after-sale service, durability, and resale.

You are farsighted; you want to make sure that the brand you are buying is going to be there after ten years. It should be a car brand with a strong reputation for making good cars.

Saving money

A forest mindset manages on the macro level. You look at money spending as a part of the bigger budget and savings plan. You are looking for big changes, you don’t mind not going out this weekend to save for your new car.

In training

A forest mindset focuses on the big picture. You are focused on winning the big game, so you might miss outings and long sleep days to keep on with your training schedule for a marathon.

The trees mindset

On the other hand, a person with the trees mindset is the one who sees details, good at spotting imperfections and minor errors; however, he might miss the big picture.

When making decisions, put attention to perfection, but be aware of delayed decisions that might miss opportunities bounded by time.

Be efficient

Having a tree mindset is useful in doing some tasks efficiently; she/he is not distracted beyond their active job. Like finishing a due project on the weekend. You free yourself from all commitments, turn off your mobile, and focus. 

While making decisions using the trees mindset, you take notice of the small details. So, you are signing a contract, you need to read every line and not be distracted by the big headlines of the deal.  Be careful not to be shortsighted; remember a tree mindset is efficient but it is short.

Street view

Trees’ mindset can detect patterns across nearby trees, a view that cannot be easily seen by the forest mindset. Trees mindset gives you the street view, the battleground, and not the satellite view. While making decisions, use the tree mindset to put yourself on the ground in the shoes of whom responsible for shaking things up. You are a manager, you cannot make decisions on behalf of others without using the tree’s mindset.

Be careful

A tree’s mindset may have its problems too. As your maximum point of view is your nearby trees, or if you are lucky enough, you can know your forest boundaries. However, you are usually blind beyond your forest, you do not know the nearby topography.

A tree mindset allows you to manage on the microlevel quickly and effectively. It sees small changes first-hand with instant feedback. However, it does not see the big changes.


Understanding the forest and trees mental model is essential for a healthy employer and employee relationship. An organization’s flow of commands and feedback loops will function much better by understanding the forest and trees’ mental model, by keeping everyone informed and on the same page.

Policymakers should be aware of the trees and the forest mindset to adopt the best policies; it allows them to understand the why of social behaviors. Making such policies much more implementable and practical.

In conclusion, using the forest and trees mental model is crucial while making decisions in life and work. It gives a more in-depth understanding of the decision problem while providing larger and wider decision options.

Big PictureDetails
Spots inter-trees relations on a wide scaleSpots inter-trees relations on a narrow scale
Spots trees’ pattersSees trees” relations
Spots relations between different forests and its surroundingsSpots only his forest
Manages on the macrolevel  Manages on the microlevel
Sees the big changesDoes not see the big changes
Does not see small changesSees small changes
Cannot see change easily unless there is a feedbackSees change firsthand
More elite, his feedback comes from down to the top and maybe altered on its wayFeedback comes instant and fresh
Sees the final outputSees only his deeds
Does not see small winsSees small wins
Forest and Trees Mindsets Comparison


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