Non-linear thinking is a way of thinking more in line with human nature and the general way we receive information, rather than following a strictly linear approach. This is one of the major characteristics of creative thinking and has been seriously praised by some psychologists since the Thirties. It’s usually also associated with what is often called divergent thinking.
Non linear thinking was popularised by Edward de Bono in the late Sixties in his book Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step .
Basically the idea of non-linear thinking is that most problems can be solved by a combination of being innovative and lateral. The principles of non-linear thinking do not mean that you don’t need to think things through, quite the contrary. It is thought, organised differently, so that creativity and combinations are central to solutions, rather than following strict logical procedures or rules.
The main principle of non-linear thinking is to focus on the important aspects and minimise the irrelevant ones.
It’s important to realise that a problem does not have just one solution, but many solutions. But in order to find those solutions, we have to forget some of our old habits and ways of doing things, in order to see things from a different angle or view. In this way we can come up with new ideas and see things from a different angle.
How do you develop non linear thinking?
There are lots of ways that you can develop your non linear thinking. A lot of people find it easier to start off with something like brainstorming. This is because you can create a spontaneous atmosphere without having to worry about being wrong or getting criticised for ‘silly’ ideas.
It’s very easy to feel shy or inhibited when we’re seeing a task from a more formal standpoint. Often we just don’t think in the way that we should, and so it may feel as if we’re doing something wrong and therefore make us scared of proposing new ideas.
The trick is to have the courage of your convictions. You can make the most creative suggestions when you’re not afraid of being wrong and are prepared to take some risks.
Common tips for developing your non linear thinking include:
Relax! – Taking a break from work and trying to relax will help you think more creatively. It’s also worth taking time out for yourself to do things like sports or hobbies.
Think big – The more ambitious you are, the more likely you’ll come up with better ideas. Aim high and think in terms of something bigger than yourself. It’s what Einstein did when trying to come up with a new theory of relativity, he said “I’ve got to think bigger”.
Question a lot of things – When you’re not sure about something, the best way is to ask a lot of questions. Ask people how they do things, read up on what’s gone before and include a range of different points of view.
Use metaphors – When you have new ideas, many people find it easier to work them out in terms of something else. Try to imagine the new way of working in terms of a real life example or object. You’ll probably be impressed by how much easier it sounds to you when you see it in your mind as it’s happening rather than reading about it as an abstract idea only.
Why is non linear thinking important?
Non linear thinking is important because it can be used as part of creative problem-solving and also to help us see things differently.
It can help us come up with new ideas when we’re struggling with a problem or feeling stuck. It’s about seeing the whole situation from a different angle, rather than backtracking and thinking about what’s happened before. Non-linear thinking involves seeing things from a different perspective and taking time to stop, relax and think about things more clearly.
This can be an incredibly powerful tool in business and in helping you solve problems. It can help with communication both within your team and to the outside world. Non-linear thinking is used more and more by managers who need to be able to see the big picture, rather than just having a narrow focus on details.
What about real life examples of non linear thinking?
In 1997, a group of Japanese carpenters were renovating a room at their workplace. They were working with a lot of wood, and needed to get rid of a large pile of sawdust. They were told that they could not do this, as there was a risk that it would harm the environment.
So instead, they decided to use the sawdust as an ingredient for making charcoal – which at the time had become quite popular in Japan. They made several tonnes of charcoal using this method and managed to sell it for about $200 each on an Internet auction site.
That charcoal from a sawdust pile is an example of non-linear thinking, something that people would not have considered doing before. It’s also an example of creative problem solving and lateral thinking. It could have been seen as a waste product or as something they didn’t want – but they realised that it could be used in another way.
What all of this means is, it was never what you’d call a waste product, it only looked like one because the company did not think creatively about the problem.