11. 26. 2017 by First Avocado

Linear thinking is rational thinking. Rationality is building ideas on facts, one fact emerging from another by way of   cause and effect. To illustrate – low quarterly sales can be attributed to poor marketing campaign, marketing campaign in turn is measured from customer awareness index, and index calculated from raw data collected using statistical tools.  We practice linear thinking in all spheres of our lives, so much, that every intellectual, scientific and social dialogue is rated on one’s ability to think rationally.  We have been groomed to observe and introspect all manners of the world in a linear way.

Linear thinking undermines the opportunities that stand on the other side of mental model – the unexplored possibilities of the unknown.

However, linear mindset does not seem to be very effective in dealing with the challenges of present day uncertainties and solving non linear problems. Linear thinking undermines the opportunities that stand on the other side of mental model – the unexplored possibilities of the unknown. When the world is flattening to idea sharing, collaboration and innovation – traditional model of problem solving definitely calls for rethinking.

Nonlinear thinking is a mental model in which, problem solving follows a path of several unknowns that cannot be explained with a logical breakdown. 

The innovation and entrepreneurial ventures have embraced nonlinear thinking and thereby given way to popular agile and lean methodologies. Organizations have believed in the prospects of sharing idea without clear goals, simply to realize what it can become in future.  However, these still remain linear models to practice nonlinear approach.

Most organizations approach to nonlinearity is highly anticipatory rather than a proactive pursuit. That is, it has contingencies factored in their planning ritual to cover up unstructured forces coming their way. However, planning is only fulfilling an anticipated goal. For instance, a project with a goal to double the speed of a locomotive engine is based on an accepted fact that speed can be improved. This is quite unlike an abstract idea dedicated to building a flying carpet. Assuming there are no incumbent scientific theories that will spark innovation, such a feat can only be a result of years of research, all starting with ideas that hit dead end. I assume the development journey of drone would have similar stories – covering and exploring an ocean of unknowns .In the word of a legend – ‘we can only connect the dots backwards’. Hence it seems, we can only trace our nonlinear approach to problem solving in hindsight. For anything other than this would be challenging laws governing time and space.

Should we then accept the idea of nonlinear approach as merely an event of chances?

Perhaps, nonlinear approach can be tested by creating a model of reality, similar to linear thinking approach.  However, a model of reality only factors familiar entities. Even ‘systems thinking’ only consider interrelatedness of known entity to a whole. In our earlier imaginary case, a scaled down version of a flying carpet does not change our way of looking at a problem. We only take into account ideas that are comprehensible at the very time and space of our existence.

Perhaps non-linear thinking isn’t so much about mental models. Perhaps non-linearity transcends cognitive abilities and is deeply rooted into our value systems. Applicable not only to individuals but organizations too, nonlinear paradigm could be instinctive and straight from the gut, opposing value systems of absolutes and singularity.

I believe this starts with embracing the chaos and getting to the other side of the tunnel with utmost optimism. Individuals with high acceptance to ambiguity are often creative. Most of them are driven by a sense of purpose and not necessarily meeting goals. Most art forms are nonlinear, in that, the objective is not problem solving but acceptance of endless possibilities. Its journey doesn’t follow a single continuum with definite start and finish but is highly inorganic and is ever evolving. Nonlinear thinking celebrates diversity as it draws inspiration from the most unfertile soil. It is highly contagious. Nonlinear paradigm ceases to exist when you start defining its structure.

It is for these reasons, most innovation venture of large sized companies is stationed outside the physical boundary of the parent organisation and away from bureaucratic peril of its organisation structure. This also explains why artist are elated in the presence of another artist and masterpieces are created thus.  In both cases, the process is highly inorganic, contagious and structures less.

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