Non-Linear Thinking: The Ultimate Guide to Non-Linear Thinking

You may have heard the concept described in various terms: lateral thinking, creative thinking, non-linear thinking. In fact, you or someone on your team may be a non-linear or lateral thinker. If you're working on a project that involves creative ways of solving a problem, you'll want to read our Ultimate Guide to Non-Linear Thinking below.

Non-linear thinking: A definition

In contrast to the rational, methodical features of left-brain linear thinking, non-linear thinking is associated with non-logical creative thought, and is generated by the right brain. If you have ever sat down to complete a task from the beginning to end, one step after another, you've engaged in linear thinking. On the other hand, if your mind resists thinking one step at a time, your thoughts jumping ahead or leaping back to make a connection, you're probably a non-linear thinker. And with the right tools, non-linear thinkers produce exceptionally creative results.

Examples of the non-linear thought process

In business, government, academia, and private life, situations calling for non-linear thinking arise all the time. Here are just a few scenarios where lateral, non-linear thinking is at play:


You are in a university lecture hall. Instead of meticulously summarizing the facts in a tight outline as they are presented, your mind seeks to relate current information provided with potential real-world examples. Or your mind wanders away from the linear presentation flow to form connections with facts or ideas that have been previously stated. If this sounds like you, you'll benefit from mind-mapping technologies or other assistance to help you assimilate, organize, and internalize details.

Brainstorming during a business meeting

If you have ever been at a business meeting where the ideas flow freely from all sides of the room and a person in the front uses diagrams or other visuals to capture the flow of ideas, you've already witnessed the non-linear flow of a brainstorm session. Small-team meetings use brainstorming to capture the ideas for a new product. And especially if the team is coming up with something that people will need without even knowing it yet, like a new kind of mobile app, this type of speculation and projection into a yet unknown future calls for non-linear thinking.

Devising a strategic plan

Finally, whether your company is using Porter's Five Forces or the traditional SWOT analysis to determine your company's strengths and weaknesses, you and your colleagues engage in non-linear brainstorming when you throw out ideas on how solve a particular business risk. For example, your team members may randomly offer up ways in which your company's customers have the power to keep prices down, or ways in which your suppliers keep the prices from driving up. As you and your team identify and assess these threats, the analysis that unfolds in the meeting room doesn't always flow in a standard outline form.

Use MindManager to harness your team's creative potential

When it's time to stop thinking in a straight line, you'll want to take full advantage of the creative thinkers on your team. Use a technology that digitally captures ideas, makes them accessible to all relevant players, and allows all the team members involved in the planning stages to have access to the project that is currently underway. MindManager's flowchart and concept map creation tools help base the creative process in practicality, molding original, non-linear, naturally-flowing ideas into a concrete, sellable concept.

And don't forget: MindManager also has features that help your team compile research and organize large amounts of information needed for strategic planning. With MindManager, you can work with calculations and formulas, attach documents to digital mind maps, viewing them within the MindManager application itself. With MindManager, you'll have everything your creative, right-brained team members need to bring an idea into fruition—and deliver on time.

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