Are you a linear, or non-linear thinker?

 In Articles

Are you a linear, or non-linear thinker?

   Jane Houlind Ulsøe Co-founder of Canvas Planner
              November 24th, 2020 – 3 min. read

Linear Thinkers

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.

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 Thinkers

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.

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.

To summarize, we can say the thoughts of a linear thinker tend to form a line (i.e. one thought leads to the next, then to the next, and so on). 


In contrast, a non-linear thinker tends to have a myriad of unrelated thoughts that somehow interrelate; these thoughts lead to conclusions that might otherwise not have been evident, with an undertone judgment that the conclusions are more profound and insightful. 


My take-away is that this understanding is at the heart of employee turnover, being able to fully align teams and create peace of mind for the individuals. 

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