Linear Thinking Is Not Enough

Linear thinking is the best! At least, that is what I thought early on in ministry. Linear thinking is approaching problems from a process perspective, a “step-by-step progression where each step is completed before the next step is begun” (Lamp 2009). For the most part, this process approach has provided me with a framework that has allowed me to simplify problems, see through the noise of emotions, territories, agendas, and preferences in order to get a large number of tasks done in a short period of time. To this day I carry a pen in my pocket in case I need to pull out a napkin in order to write down a process to a challenge my brain won’t quit working on.

What I have learned over the course of my adult life, however, is that when working with people, a linear approach is not always the best approach. Linear thinking is not sufficient for complex, turbulent systems and poorly structured tasks (Sadler-Smith & Shefy, 2007). Working with people is always complex, filled with overlapping turbulent systems, and represent a haphazard array of tasks. Working with people is not nice and neat, and what I learned was that trying to fit people into a nice and tidy linear way of thinking was a frustrating endeavor. People are grayer than they are black-and-white. People present unimagined variables that linear thinking cannot account for despite its ability to perform highly structured tasks (Sadler-Smith & Shefy, 2007).

Non-linear thinking provides the ability for individuals to possess creative thinking, intuitive thinking, integrative systems thinking and emotive thinking (Vance et al., 2007). As a leader, success is hindered if linear and non-linear are possessed exclusively. To dynamically lead an organization of people leaders must possess both to be successful.


Lamp, C. (2009, April 11). Do we think differently? Linear vs. Non-linear thinking. Retrieved from

Sadler-Smith, E., & Shefy, E. (2007). Developing Intuitive Awareness in Management Education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 6(2), 186–205.

Vance, C. M., Groves, K. S., Paik, Y., & Kindler, H. (2007). Understanding and Measuring Linear-NonLinear Thinking Style for Enhanced Management Education and Professional Practice. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 6(2), 167–185.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s