Is there a formal word to describe someone who sees not just the particulars, but also the bigger picture?

  • 4
    A Gestalt psychologist, hehe.
    – inTide
    Jul 13 '11 at 21:12

I have never come across a term which explicitly means "seeing not just particulars, but also the whole", without any other connotations. There are several words which come close to that concept, though.

Perceptive, perspicacious, insightful, or sagacious could be a good fit for what you're looking for.

Sharp or shrewd imply quick grasping of a situation.

Clairvoyant means that one can see beyond what the normal human senses can register, though it is often used in a context of mysticism. Not always.

Holistic, suggested by @brachomonacho, can be close, but it has some connotations that you might not want. Among other things, it often means complete or whole. See the thesaurus.com entry.

  • Perspicacious is my personal favorite, since it encompasses both insight and understanding (such as one would need to "see the big picture").
    – Hydrangea
    Jul 13 '11 at 17:03
  • 1
    I like sagacious, personally.
    – JAB
    Jul 13 '11 at 18:31

I was just about to suggest visionary... But seeing as Harrold has beaten me to it, what about holistic?

  • 1
    Holistic has a bit of a metaphysical or spiritual connotation in that context, as you'll see if you check it out in a dictionary. Not sure if the OP was looking for that sort of thing. But certainly, I don't see that it can't work. Good spot!
    – Daniel
    Jul 13 '11 at 13:52
  • 1
    @drm65: I was under the impression that holistic is, these days, seeing increased usage over a range of contexts highly divergent from topics of metaphysical or spiritual philosophy... I've often heard people use the word in general statements such as "to take a more holistic approach/view..." and "this person's assessment is considerably holistic". Jul 13 '11 at 14:36
  • 1
    I've seen that too, which is why I said it might work. But my experience is localized, and the dictionary is less so.
    – Daniel
    Jul 13 '11 at 15:03


A person with a broad general knowledge, especially one with more than superficial knowledge in several areas and the ability to combine ideas from diverse fields.

Reference is this wiktionary page.

  • 2
    Even a "person with a broad general knowledge" might not be able to see any more than normal. That is an implication indirectly related to the subject of the question.
    – Daniel
    Jul 13 '11 at 14:06

There are several phrases, particularly common in "biz-speak," that refer directly to this quality. To wit:

"He's a big-picture kind of guy. He sees things above the clouds. He can give you the elevator view."

Also, a big +1 to Ivo Rossi's contribution of "generalist," which usually means someone who isn't possessed of a great deal of granular information, but is good at seeing how various items relate to each other in a macro-level way.

  • +1 for "big picture". (I don't agree on "generalist".) Jul 13 '11 at 18:54

Strategist or strategic planner is the word to describe the person with the eye on the big picture.


Visionary is the word.

  • 6
    Visionary means having foresight, not seeing the whole.
    – Siyuan Ren
    Jul 13 '11 at 13:43
  • @KarsusRen: Yes, but I think that the best visionaries tend to be those who can always see the 'bigger picture', as opposed to those with a miopic tendency. Jul 13 '11 at 13:49
  • 2
    @Karsus Ren I can not see how does predicting based on awareness of future events differs from "seeing the whole". I understand that it is not exactly the same but these two qualities usually come together and are rather similar. Jul 13 '11 at 13:51
  • 1
    @brachomonacho Indeed. Jul 13 '11 at 13:52
  • 2
    Again here, as with generalist, the word merely implies above-average perception; it does not mean it. It usually means that the person in question has big dreams, for better or for worse; not necessarily increased perspicaciousness.
    – Daniel
    Jul 13 '11 at 15:14

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