I spent 26 years in an extremely linear world. What is a linear world, you ask? Oh my, the places I will take you! Financial places, engineering places, hospital places, insurance places.
In these linear places, I was coached – yes, coached – on how to think and communicate linearly. Thinking back on that now, it seems so crazy to me. It’s like shutting down one of my basic senses.
People who think linearly may say things like:
• That’s the way we’ve always done it.
• Don’t ask me why; just do it!
Nowadays, more people are being coached about how to think in a non-linear fashion. Want to go non-linear for awhile? Follow around a two-year old for a day!
Defining linear thinking
Linear thinking put things in order as experienced and then expresses thoughts the same way. This type of thinking proceeds in a sequential manner, like a straight line. After all, a straight line between two points is the most efficient way to get from one place to another, right?
The challenge with that is that life – and work – doesn’t follow a straight line.
Working in linear places made me realize how different creative people and marketing people can be, and both sides know it right away. Getting quickly to the issue: It’s why manufacturers find it hard to market their products. The two types of thinkers find it hard to communicate because they view things completely differently and think very differently. They speak different ‘thinking’ languages.
Non-linear thinking is much more fun
Ok, my bias, granted, but here’s how non-linear thinking is defined:
Human thought characterized by expansion in multiple directions, rather than in one direction. Non-linear thinking is based on the concept that there are multiple starting points from which one can apply logic to a problem.
For example, here’s how to approach a problem thinking non-linearly:
1. Define the problem as many ways as you can! How can you think about the problem differently? How would an engineer look at the problem? How would a mother look at the problem?
2. Think of all the ways you could tackle the problem. Think of it from as many perspectives as possible.
3. Read articles you find about your problem.
4. Talk about it with others over coffee. This allows you to network and hear others’ viewpoints, which may spark something you hadn’t thought about yet, while building relationships.
5. Ask questions. Research who else is talking about this problem? What are they thinking?
6. Start to link and make connections between all the diverse information you are accumulating.
Non-linear thinking extends to many different areas as well. How many books do you read at once? How many ideas can you come up with before settling on one concrete concept?
Creativity lives in a non-linear world
I don’t like the sameness, the predictability. I LOVE to mix it up! How can we break out of the linear? How can we throw people out of their comfort zones?
I believe this makes people explore new thoughts, new ideas, maybe invent something that has never been done before! Most linears I’ve met begin to see how this can be beneficial – and maybe even fun – even if it is outside of their comfort zones.
It’s important to embrace the differences between the two types of thinkers. Linear people like order and process, and for roles that need that (think accounting and project managers), this is a critical skill set.
Conversely, if you want to invent something new, try something new or sell something new, we non-linears are the ones to bring to the party. Sometimes we might be difficult to follow, but we will take your business to new heights.
The key is being open to the other’s way of thinking, appreciate the differences and find the common ground so we can speak the same language. Let’s explore this together to see what we can accomplish.
Now, go forth, and be creative.