What Are Linear & Nonlinear Thinkers?

Student thinking in front of whiteboard in classroom.
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Everyone utilizes different processes to help them solve problems, make decisions and come up with solutions. Two common ways to look at problem solving are linear thinking and nonlinear thinking. Linear thinkers follow a step-by-step progression that leads them to a solution. Nonlinear thinkers think outside the lines and sometimes use unorthodox methods to solve problems. The linear thought process has strong advantages and disadvantages that contrast with nonlinear approaches.

1 Advantages of Linear Thinking

Linear thinkers are often very logical. Those who prefer linear thinking and the linear world cite information that they have found useful in the past to solve current problems. Linear thinkers are pragmatic and often excel in the fields of mathematics, accounting and other technical fields. A linear thinker will likely prefer consistency and be predictable, which makes her excel in jobs that involve processes that are repeated regularly. You will be able to count on the linear thinker to get her work done when it is supposed to be done. Proficiency with the linear thought process is also useful in conducting scientific research where objectivity is imperative.

2 Disadvantages of Linear Thinking

A major disadvantage of linear thinking is that the linear thought process does not always account for new variables in a situation. Linear thinking can be a disadvantage in the business world, especially during hiring. For example, a hiring manager might be more comfortable hiring someone who has been in the industry for many years over someone who has experience in a different industry. The linear thinker would assume the experienced candidate would be the best choice, without stopping to think that the second, less experienced candidate might be able to contribute fresh, innovative ideas. Linear thinking can also be a problem when it comes to large groups, as people in groups will vote to stick with what they know over new ideas.

3 Advantages of Nonlinear Thinking

Nonlinear thinkers are creative, visionary thinkers who like to test the limits of what is known and possible in the linear world. They will think of different ways to do things and come up with new, innovative ideas. Nonlinear thinkers can use their passion for originality to produce transformational products or services. If you run a business that's looking for fresh ideas that will break established patterns and challenge competitors, consider a nonlinear thinker.

4 Disadvantages of Nonlinear Thinking

Being a nonlinear thinker has some downsides. Some nonlinear thinkers have learning challenges such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Asperger's Syndrome. People diagnosed with these disorders tend to relate in a nonlinear way, so much so that they can be difficult to keep on track, are easily distracted and may need special accommodations. In a classroom or office setting, they may be disruptive or unfocused if not supervised properly or challenged sufficiently. Nonlinear thinkers may miss an easy solution to a problem because they are looking too far beyond the perimeters of the box.

Michael Green graduated from one of the top journalism schools in the country, the University of Missouri, where he also received his master's degree in education. Green has taught creative writing, journalism and health and has been published in "Body Balance," "Alive" and "PUSH Monthly."