LINEAR VERSUS LATERAL THINKING
Superior thinkers process information in a lateral manner, not linear. Unfortunately 95% of the population are linear thinkers and only about 5% are lateral. Most linear thinkers’ IQs are in the 100-to-120 range; rarely do you encounter one with an IQ of 130 or above. Public schools, with “teaching” processes that encourage rote memorization and regurgitation for tests, reinforce linear thinking patterns.
Linear thinking is characterized by exclusivity (if A is true, then B must be false) and narrow, literal interpretation.
These examples and the video help illustrate the difference between lateral and linear thinking.
Phone conversation between a linear and lateral thinker. John, a lateral thinker, calls Ralph, a linear thinker, on the phone.
John (being sociable): Hi, Ralph, how are you?
Ralph (answering the social greeting literally): Hey! Doing better; my stools are better formed today and they don’t stink as bad.
John (who hasn’t talked with Ralph in days and had no idea that Ralph was even “sick”): OK, OK! Spare me the scatologic details... Hey, were you able to finish that report?
Ralph: Yeah, I’m just finishing it up now. It’s taken longer than expected; my computer has been slowing me down.
John: Oh? What’s wrong with your computer?
Ralph: It makes noise like it’s running something even when I’m not running any programs. And the light blinks...
John: You know I just read something about that. Mine does the same thing... The article said that Microsoft is spying on PC users. It seems that everything the user does is tracked and reported....
Ralph (smugly interrupting): I have nothing to worry about then! I’m on a Mac. (believing that ONLY PCs running Microsoft would be tracking)
John: But Ralph, doesn’t it stand to reason that if Microsoft is doing this then Apple, as a major computer company, would be doing the same thing?
Silence. Ralph never thought of that, is taken aback, and has no response.
John: Anyway... Hey, will you guys be able to make the dinner party?
Ralph: Yeah! Janie’s looking forward to it. She has that recipe ready for Sandra.
John: Cool! Sandra really wants it...
Ralph: Yeah it’s Janie’s specialty. She’s famous for it.
John: Oh really?! What’s in it?
Ralph: Mushrooms and rice and stuff.
John: Oh it contains rice? That’s too bad cuz I don’t eat rice. I can’t stand the texture; it’s too glutinous.
Ralph (takes “glutinous” literally and proceeds to lecture John on how rice contains no gluten and rattles off a litany of gluten-containing foods): Oh no. Rice contains no gluten whatsoever. Gluten is found only in wheat, barley, rye.....
John: Not gluten! Glutinous; as in LIKE GLUE.
Ralph (sheepishly): Oh.
A lady walks into her dentist’s office waiting area with a gift for him. It is a stuffed animal, a raccoon. A man waiting to be seen admires the toy and asks to see it more closely. The woman walks closer to accommodate him. The man looks at the raccoon, turns the round hanging tag over, and says, “This is VERY well made. Is it a Steiff?” referring to a top-of-the-line stuffed animal company in Germany whose products are collectible and command a high price. Never hearing of “Steiff” before and being too proud to show her ignorance by asking what it means, the lady answers, “No, it’s a raccoon.”
Two neighbors are chatting in their apartment complex parking lot. One of them just moved in. Alex, the linear thinker, has a Hispanic name and Native American-like features, so Jane, the lateral thinker, isn’t sure about his ethnicity.
Jane: Are you part Native American?
Jane: I thought so but wasn’t sure. Which nation?
Two coworkers are talking about the recession and recent paycuts. Both are diet-conscious “health nuts.” But only one is a linear thinker.
Jan: Man, this payslashing is ridiculous. I may as well move to India.
Mary: Ain’t it the truth! I can’t even afford to have a pizza delivered (an illustrative statement referring to the fact that she is flat broke at the end of the month).
Jan (taking it literally): Why would you even want to eat pizza?! It’s so unhealthy! It’s full of sodium, raises cholesterol.....
Linear Versus Lateral Thinking in Problem-Solving
(staged – these are actors --- but still a good example)