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7 Benefits of Using This Kind of Thinking at Work
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AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger
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Some people pride themselves on how logical they are — they're always thinking through ideas, issues and decisions efficiently, going through the structured motions and coming up with evidence-based conclusions that seem to work. Meanwhile, others are proud of their creativity, always considering big ideas that may or may not come out of left field. 

Everyone operates differently and, as such, we all use different processes to solve problems and make decisions. One common way to do just that, however, is to think linearly. In fact, most of us think this way a good chunk of the time because, as humans, we're largely wired to think in such a way.

Linear thinking is exactly what it seems: It's thinking in a linear flow. Linear thinkers are the aforementioned logical ones. They follow a step-by-step progression that, ultimately (and ideally), leads them to a solution. Linear thinking is also called sequential thinking because, in a linear thinker's mind, one thing leads to another in a stepwise fashion.

Of course, the linear thought process has advantages and disadvantages in comparison to the nonlinear approach.

What is linear and lateral thinking?

Linear and lateral thinking are very different and tap into two opposite sides of the brain.

What is linear thinking?

Again, linear thinking refers to a thought process that flows in a straightforward, logical way.

Linear thinkers tend to solve problems and make decisions by taking the information that they have from one situation and applying that information to another situation. They look for consistency, patterns and a general formula that they can apply to everyday life.

What are some examples of linear thinking?

Some examples of linear thinking include the following:

  • B comes after A. C comes after B.
  • If x = y, y = z, then x = z

What is lateral thinking?

Now, you might be wondering, what is opposite of linear thinking? The answer is lateral (also known as fragmented) thinking. So, perhaps the better question is, what is fragmented thinking?

Lateral (aka nonlinear or fragmented) thinking refers to a more creative, perhaps unorthodox thought process. Lateral thinkers solve problems and make decisions often by viewing the issue or decision at hand in an indirect, new and atypical light. Lateral thinkers, therefore, tend to make connections among unrelated concepts or ideas and draw conclusions from the information they have from different experiences, fields, situations, etc.

What are some examples of lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking is harder to put into an equation than linear thinking, because it just doesn't work that way.

"Asking open-ended questions in attempting to solve a problem is an example of non-linear thinking," according to Psycholo Genie. "In a survey about the customer reviews of a product or service, questions like 'what do you feel about using our service/product?' or 'how a particular thing has made a difference to your life?', are examples of non-linear thinking. In a board meeting, when several executives brainstorm about solving a problem, they pour out their ideas, the ideas of one person fuel the creativity of another person, and thus they arrive at a unanimous decision or conclusion, it is an example of non-linear thinking."

Lateral thinkers are the creative types throwing out all the possible ideas and solutions.

What are the pros and cons of linear and lateral thinking?

There are, of course, both pros and cons to linear and lateral thinking.

Here are some of the pros to linear thinking:

  • Linear thinkers are very logical
  • Linear thinkers have evidence to back up their thoughts — evidence that has proven useful in past situations
  • Linear thinkers are pragmatic
  • Linear thinkers tend to excel in fields like mathematics and technology, as well as nay field that works on cause and effect
  • Linear thinkers tend to get consistent results
  • Linear thinkers tend to be predictable, which helps them to excel in jobs that involve regular processes
  • Linear thinkers are observant since they're always using their senses to gather the information that'll help them make informed decisions 

Here are some of the cons to linear thinking:

  • Linear thinking sometimes leaves out new variables in a situation, since it's based on past evidence and the resultant formula
  • Linear thinking can be limiting, since it neglects creativity
  • Linear thinkers can be close-minded to new, different, novel, original, uncommon and/or innovative ideas
  • Linear thinkers tend to stick with what they know best, which can keep them from pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones
  • Linear thinkers do not excel in creative fields that require thinking outside the box
  • Linear thinking doesn't always apply to every situation in a largely nonlinear world 

Here are some of the pros to nonlinear thinking:

  • Nonlinear thinkers are visionaries
  • Nonlinear thinkers think outside of the box and, therefore, excel in creative fields
  • Nonlinear thinkers excel at unpacking abstract subjects and complex, dynamic issues such as politics and social sciences 
  • Nonlinear thinkers use their imaginations, which can push them outside of their comfort zones
  • Nonlinear thinkers tend to think up new and innovative ideas
  • Nonlinear thinkers tend to be original since they source their thoughts from varied experiences and information pools
  • Nonlinear thinkers can bring fresh ideas to the table that shake-up toxic patterns and challenge the status quo

Here are some of the cons to nonlinear thinking:

  • Nonlinear thinkers often lack logic, which is still important to have in order to solve problems efficiently and make sound, grounded decisions
  • Nonlinear thinkers may have learning challenges, such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Asperger's Syndrome that can be challenging for them
  • Nonlinear thinkers may have a difficult time staying on track and focused at the issue, task or decision at hand because they have so many different ideas popping into their heads
  • Nonlinear thinkers can be disruptive with their out-of-the-blue ideas
  • Nonlinear thinkers do not excel in subjects like mathematics and technology, which often require logical, technical thinking
  • Nonlinear thinkers may be oblivious to obvious, easy solutions because they look too far beyond the perimeters of the box

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.

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