Find out if you’re a good helicopter pilot

helicopter thinking

Often times you find yourself lost in the details and you can’t get to the solution of the problem. Then there are times when you see the big picture but it doesn’t help much. If you’re stuck in one of these two situations, it’s clear you need to either get out of the details or get inside the details to find your way through.

This is a concept that Karl Albrecht, the author of Practical Intelligence, calls helicopter thinking.

Helicopter thinking is the ability to move into the details and out of the details into the big picture whenever the situation demands.

For example, you have a problem X at work with a colleague and you aren’t able to get it done. You tend to remain focused on the problem as you wish to find a solution. The time passes and you aren’t able to get out of the situation successfully.

This is the situation when you are focused on the details. You need to move away from problem X in order to see the bigger picture. There may be a different view from the one you already have.

Moving away makes you see there are other aspects of your life that need attention (you have a family, you have other things to do today, etc) and makes you consider problem X less important because being outside of it you can compare it with other aspects of your life and prioritize them based on importance.

Whenever you are in such a situation, it is better to leave the problem and do something else. Know that even though you are not focusing on problem X, your subconscious mind still does and whenever it finds a solution or major changes in the details of problem X, Eureka!: it pops up into your conscious mind and you think: Why the hell didn’t I see it that way?

Now, through helicopter thinking you need to be able to get into the details, the same way you get out of them. There are situations when the details do matter as it is not enough to see the big picture.

For example, person “Alpha” committed a crime. As an outside observer, you tend (through your prejudices and pattern thinking) to see Alpha as a murderer and as a bad person. However, if you move inside the problem into the details, you find out that Alpha’s actions are justified by the fact that he did it to save his daughter’s life and the person who got killed was the villain.

Does the situation change? Well, it sure does. The difference here is in the details. So, you have to be a good helicopter pilot to change the altitude based on the situational demand.

It is easy to talk about it; it’s more difficult to apply this concept because most of us are egocentric human beings. Our egos keep us into the details and most often these details are biased by our own thinking patterns; they are very subjective.

I know this because I used to think from a single perspective in all the situations of my life. Letting go of the self and moving away from it allows you to have a multi-perspective view on every problem. You can pilot the helicopter upwards away from your thinking and then go downwards into another person’s perspective. The clarity of the situation is maximized by the number of perspectives that you can adopt on a certain subject.

In its core concept, helicopter thinking is also the ability of moving yourself away from the center of the universe. To find some practicality in all these abstract concepts and to get some uses from them, here are some simple guidelines that may help you whenever you have a problem in your life.

1. You are having a fight with someone (boss, lover, family member, friend, etc). Stop! What’s the point or the purpose of the fight? You are trying to make your voice heard and your ideas accepted.

Are you sure they are the right ideas? How can you know? Is there some mathematical theorem to prove your ideas? In most of the cases, there is no such thing.

Now you are in the middle of the problem and you are lost in its details. The first step is to be aware. To increase the awareness, try to see with as much objectivity as you can where it all started. Here are some questions that can help you. Please, but please answer them whenever you face a problem. You will make the world a better place.

Why did I get into this fight? What do I want to prove?

What are my ideas and statements based upon?

Why is the other one trying to make his point? Is it because of his ego?

What if he is right? Can I accept that? Should I accept that?

Can we get a win-win situation out of this problem?

2. When your awareness is increased you will be able to view the situation more detached. This has helped you move out of the details and pilot the helicopter at higher altitudes. Right now you have different choices.

You can try to view the situation from the other person’s point of view. You will move into the details again. Don’t spend too much time in this perspective. Get out of it and have as many perspectives as you can.

You can also choose to keep the helicopter high enough to see the big picture. Don’t spend too much time here either. You will lose the focus. Again, adopt as many perspectives as you can and then move to the next step.

3. The third step is when you make a decision. Your helicopter should be right above the situation (not high in the sky) so that you have a clear view on the problem and on the details as well. This means that your decision will be the right one as you moved yourself from the center of your ego and as you took into consideration as many perspectives as you could.

It may be a bit difficult to understand the subject of the article since I have kept a high level of abstractness while writing. Try viewing a situation or a problem that you had in your life through this perspective. It will clear the waters a lot. Try getting to the solution of a problem from your life through this approach. I can guarantee that if you start shifting (both upward and downward) the altitude of your approach in all encounters in your life, the quality of your decision making processes will increase tremendously.

The key is not to think the whole Universe revolves around YOU. It is to see you as an integrating and contributing part of the Universe.

Let me know if you have difficulties in applying this type of thinking. I am also interested on how you view yourself as a problem solver. What is your major challenge when dealing with situations in your life? Is it anger? Is it paranoia? Is it something else? Let me know your thoughts and I will do my best in responding to you.


Albrecht, K. (2008). Practical Intelligence: The Art and Science of Common Sense.

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