Beware of the Linear Thinking Trap

One of the most visited posts on this blog is titled “The Problem(s) with Linear Thinking“.   That one post makes up for a good amount of monthly visitors from people doing a google search for ‘linear thinking‘.  Do that search yourself and you’ll see that post in the top 3 (if not #1).

Why is this such a popular topic? Easy…because we are all scare to death of falling into the linear thinking trap. We’re all looking for ways to break out of the linear mindset and come up with something ‘cool’ or different.

Linear Thinking and Me

I found myself in the linear thinking mindset recently and didn’t realize it.  For almost 2 years, I’ve been driving the same route during my commute without really considering whether there was a quicker or more direct route.

Over the weekend, my wife mentioned the route she takes to work seems to be quicker and much less congested.  It just happened that her route takes her very close to the tollway that I use to get across town…so I figured I’d try it out too.

Know something?  It shaved almost five minutes off my travel time from the house to the tollway. Five minutes!   I’d been perfectly happy driving the same route day after day…and then BAM…I find another route that’s quicker and shorter too.

Why hadn’t I thought about changing up the route before? Because I’d fallen into the linear thinking trap.  I’d allowed myself to think that the route I took was the fastest. I pondered on this all day and found myself thinking about new routes to take on the way home.  The tollway is a no-brainer…it’s the fastest and most direct route across town…but the exit I take could change.

On the way home I started looking at exits that might be faster or more direct and realized that if I got off the tollway one exit earlier at the free exit, I’d save a few more miles in travel time AND save an extra 30 cents per commute.  Over the course of an average month, this saves me ~$6…enough to buy me a few cups of coffee at Starbux 🙂

The Linear Thinking Trap

I realize that you really don’t care about my commuting habits…but it proves a point (I hope). The story shows that we all fall into the trap of allowing ourselves to get comfortable with an idea. We allow a process to take over and forget to question the idea(s) behind the process.

Look at some of the recent innovations in the world.  What would have happened if nobody had thought to ask the question ‘is email enough’?  Would we have twitter? Would we have social networks?

What would the world be like of Apple (and others) hadn’t taken the ideas they saw at Xerox and built the modern day personal computer?  Perhaps it’d be very boring.

Are you in the linear thinking trap?

One easy way to tell if you’ve fallen into the trap is to ask yourself this: Are you doing the same thing the same way you were last year?

If so, better start fighting, because you’re probably deep in the jaws of the linear thinking trap.  You may have to gnaw your foot or arm off to get out but it might be worth it.

Just like me and my boring commute, if you let the day(s) go by without questioning your own ideas and methods, you’ve already lost the battle against linear thinking.

Don’t fall into the linear thinking trap…you’ll end up driving the same old boring route ever day. Keep looking for the creative solution and keep questioning.

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Eric D. BrownJim TeeterDamianLinear Thinking and the CIODaily Links for Tuesday, June 23th, 2009 Recent comment authors
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We're creatures of habit. It's so easy to fall into a routine and do things like we're used to do them for years instead of trying something new with the risk of failing. I have to admit, I do it myself. Even when I try to break out of some routines, my breakout creates a new one. Trying something new and breaking the linear thinking trap is work and most humans are too lazy for it.

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