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The phrase "the big picture" basically means the major, main, or important part of something. A person is described as seeing the big picture when he can understand a situation or concept as a whole rather than getting bogged down on specific details. For example, a business owner can be described as seeing the big picture if he can easily gauge whether a business matter is a success or likely to be successful on the whole rather than by picking apart every detail. In some regions, this phrase is a commonly used expressive phrase that is not meant to be interpreted literally.
People often use expressive phrases, called idioms, in their speech, especially when they speak to others in a casual manner. These types of phrases are meant to express thoughts and feelings in a non-literal manner. There are many types of idioms a person may use to express himself, and some of them are common in some regions yet not at all known in others. "The big picture" is one idiom that is most commonly used in the United States, though it may be heard in other English-speaking regions as well. A person is said to see the big picture when he gets the gist of something and is not distracted by details that may prove confusing.
If an individual has difficulty understanding this phrase, he may find it helpful to consider an example of the way it might be used. For instance, the leader of a large organization may have many successes and failures to consider when determining whether the organization overall is a success. Instead of getting mired in the evaluation of a single success or failure, he must evaluate the organization and its operations as a whole and then make his assessment. Being able to see past the specific details to the picture as a whole means a person can see the big picture.
A person who is not familiar with this idiom may become confused when he hears it. To a person who is not familiar with the phrase, "the big picture" may seem to mean a large picture of some sort. As such, the person who says these words may have to explain what he means to an individual who is not from a region in which it is common. If he speaks to an individual in the same region, however, his listener is likely to understand the phrase without any explanation.