Our way of thinking decides how we perceive the world around us. It also decides our line of action. We shall present to you an understanding of two contrasting ways of thinking – linear and non-linear thinking.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
― Albert Einstein
In the process of learning, understanding, and assimilating knowledge, thinking plays an important role. The approach we use to solve a problem or implement a plan or strategy begins with our process of thinking.
What is Linear Thinking?
Linear thinking is that way of thinking in which we consider an idea or a process to begin from a point, follow a series of connected steps, and end at a point. It is thinking that whatever starts must end, and not continue further after that. It is that school of thought in which we look at things as having a sequence. Hence, linear thinking is also called sequential thinking.
Linear thinkers solve problems of daily life by taking in information from one situation and applying the information gathered from it to another situation. Linear thinkers find consistency, a rule, formula, or a pattern in matters concerning life, so that they can apply it to other situations, and even make predictions.
In linear thinking, we consider that one thing leads to another in a stepwise fashion. Linear thinkers tend to be good at maths, science, and technical subjects.
Example of Linear Thinking
B comes after A, is an example of linear thinking. Also, if x = y, y = z, then concluding that x = z is another example of linear thinking.
What is Non-linear Thinking?
As the name suggests, non-linear thinking is not thinking along straight lines or in a sequential manner. In non-linear thinking, we make connections among unrelated concepts or ideas. We draw conclusions from examples coming from different fields or backgrounds.
Non-linear thinkers are abstract in their thinking. They tend to be good artists. In non-linear thinking, we play with our imagination, and come out with creative ways to solve our problems or understand and represent something. We begin with more than one premise, make deductions from them, and then make an inference. That a particular happening can have multiple reasons and not just one, is the essence of non-linear thinking. Abstract thinking is assuming something exists in the mind, e.g., the definitions of success and happiness vary from person to person.
Example of Non-linear Thinking
Asking open-ended questions in attempting to solve a problem is an example of non-linear thinking. 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.
Linear thinking is akin to logic, and non-linear thinking to creativity. Logic is an activity governed by our left brain, and creativity is an activity governed by the right brain.
Pros and Cons
Linear Thinking: Pros
Linear thinkers are good in fields related to math and science. They are good in subjects that work on cause and effect.
Linear Thinking: Cons
While using a linear thinking approach in analyzing a situation, sometimes, we cannot understand where to begin from and where to end? Another pitfall is, what if we find a connecting link after the ending point?
Non-linear Thinking: Pros
Non-linear thinkers are good at grasping abstract subjects, like social sciences. For example, while studying history, the French Revolution was triggered by more than one reason. They will also be good at arts like painting, especially in modern art, where you represent abstract concepts like ‘waiting for someone’ or ‘feeling confused’, via a painting.
Non-linear Thinking: Cons
Non-linear thinkers may be deficient in maths and science. They may not be good at perceiving things that have a definite cause, and hence, won’t understand its effects.
In a business, coming up with products of daily use, like a soap, is an example of linear thinking. An example of non-linear thinking is coming up with innovative products that customers never knew they wanted, e.g., mobile apps.