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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You’re doing it wrong!

You’re doing it wrong!

I hate when people tell me that.

Who are they to tell me how to do something?

OK…OK…there are times when ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ make sense. Driving a car. Flying a plane.  Connecting electric lines. Things like this do have right and wrong ways.

If I’m taking a picture, who’s to tell me what is the right way or the wrong way?  What about how I use my twitter feed or my facebook page?  What about my blog….should I be blogging like everyone else does?

Hell no.

I’ve had people tell me my blog isn’t focused. Well…OK.   I’ve asked them what i should focus on and they provide suggestions.  I then say ‘thank you’ and tell them I’m not changing.

This blog is me.  What I talk about is what makes up ‘me’.  What I talk about is what I believe.  I’m more than happy to have people tell me they disagree…that’s their right.

Let’s step back to the photography example I mentioned earlier.

I took a photo the other evening of the sunset & clouds over Dallas.  The colors were amazing so I had to grab the  Canon EOS 5D and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM and took a few photographs.

Here’s one of the shots (click the image to jump over to my photography blog for a larger version):

Sunset over Dallas

Do you know what happened after I posted this photo on a photography forum?  Most people told me ‘you messed up a great shot…you need to have some landscape for perspective’.

Sure the shot would have been awesome with some landscape pieces. A tree, building or mountain (there are none in Dallas!) would probably have made this photograph ‘fit’ the mold of landscape photography.  Something to add perspective might have turned this abstract photo into a landscape photo…but as it is, I think its pretty cool.

Who are those folks to tell me that I did it wrong?  Perhaps they’re experienced and knowledgeable photographers…but it’s my photograph right?   Who are they to tell me that I’m doing it wrong? I like the colors and the clouds. I’m happy with it.

I told the people on the photography forum exactly that….and was rewarded with quite a few congratulatory comments about not falling into the linear thinking trap of doing things the way they’ve always been done.

The same holds true for everything else in this wonderful world. Let’s look at the very popular topic of Social Media as an example. Are you using Social Media the ‘right’ way?  Is your organization?

Ha!  Did I trick you?

There’s no right or wrong way to ‘use’ Social Media. Social Media is a tool to be used however you think it best fits you and/or your organization.  Want to have a twitter account and not follow anyone?  Have at it!  Do you want to delete your Facebook fan pageDo it.

Don’t fall into the linear thinking trap that everyone else falls into…nobody is doing it wrong in the world of social media.  Some people are getting better results than others but perhaps its because those people have actually found what works for them?  Something to ponder.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong.  Do what works for you and or your organization and enjoy it.

Rather than follow the crowd and do things the ‘right’ way, try your own way.  Maybe you’re results will be better than others…maybe they’ll be worse. But at least you’ll have tried something different.

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