Want Business Success?
Think a Little Differently
By Maurice Ramirez, D.O.
jobs for American MBA graduates are going overseas, those who have
MFAs will be in great demand. According to Gartner Inc, by 2008, 40
percent of IT jobs for MBAs will be outsourced to workers overseas.
The reason? A person can fill in a spreadsheet from India as easily as from
Silicone Valley for one-tenth the cost.
corporations cannot outsource creative jobs as easily. The ability to
go quickly from problem to problem, problem to solution, or from
initial idea to unique product does not cross cultures well. The
employee needs to be a part of the culture he or she is marketing to.
As a result, American employees with Masters of Fine Arts degrees
(MFAs) are more in demand and earning more than those with MBAs.
someone who is trained in artistic abilities do well in business?
It’s not the particular artistic talent, but the thought process
that creates it. Fine artists have the ability to apply non-linear
thought to problems, which is a valuable business skill. Companies are
looking for those employees who can apply a non-linear thought process
to business problems.
What’s the Difference?
Here is a
simple exercise that will demonstrate the difference between a linear
and non-linear thought process. Take out a sheet of paper. In the top
left corner, write a letter “A.” In the center of the page, write
a “B.” Halfway down the page on the right hand side, parallel to
the “B,” write a “C.” In the bottom right corner, write a
“D,” and in the bottom left corner write an “E.” Now draw a
line from A to B to C to D to E. That is linear thought—arriving at
the final answer by following a step-by-step process.
your right thumb and forefinger and grab the left top corner of the
page next to the A. With your other thumb and forefinger, grasp the
lower left corner next to the “E.” Touch the A to the E. That’s
non-linear thought—finding the solution without having to go from
point to point to point.
Non-Linear Thinking is an
moment you are born, you are an input device constantly making
connections. In the first five years of life, your brain grows very
rapidly and sets down patterns of recognition. For example, as a
survival skill, infants smile at everyone. Next they learn to
recognize mommy and daddy, then they develop a fear of strangers, and
then they learn to reserve affinity for family and other trusted
people. Finally, they choose their own friends.
people begin to lay down patterns of normal and non-normal. That’s
why you can look at a situation and know something isn’t right. If
you see someone in an airport who has recently had a stroke, you may
not realize the individual had one, but you do know that something
isn’t right. That is called non-linear thinking—moving quickly
from an observation to an end-point. Depending on your experience,
that endpoint might have an accuracy as low as 50-50. However, for
people trained in creativity, the accuracy is about 99.7 percent.
These quick, non-linear solutions, called snap judgments or instinct,
are valuable in life and in business. Too often, though, these
instincts are not used in the business world, but that’s about to
Creative, Non-Linear People
people get in touch with the emotion of what they’re creating in
themselves and use that as a guide to produce the same emotion in
another person from the same society. Businesses see the value of that
skill—an employee making decisions based on the mindset of a person
of the general society, not as an employee tied to a business. Your
non-linear, or heuristic, thought processes are when you observe from
the inside out, seeing how your own emotions mirror the ones you
observe in others.
only achieve this non-linear thinking ability by earning an MFA? Of
course not. Not everyone is willing to go back to school for another
two to three years to get their MFA. Fortunately, you can encourage
the same type of non-linear thinking in yourself and your employees.
Eliminate your framing bias: How you ask
questions determines the answers you get. For example, if you
manufacture candy bars and you’re ranked second in sales behind
brand A, you may ask yourself, “How can we take market share
away from brand A?” The obvious linear answer: make your product
taste like Brand A. You have labs, testers, and linear thought
people who can make Brand B taste like Brand A, or even better.
Due to framing bias, they ask the focus group, “Which one tastes
like Brand A? Which one do you like better?” Brand B wins,
because now it tastes just a little better than Brand A.
But the problem with this scenario is that nobody ever went back
and asked the basic question: Will our existing customers accept
this change? The executives assume brand loyalty will drag
customers along. But if they have a core group of fans who love
the original taste of the product, in changing the flavor, they
Quantitate non-linear thought: Learn to
apply non-linear or heuristic research methods by taking a written
inventory of your own feelings, prejudices, and thoughts on the
subject at hand. Now you have the ability to walk into a situation
and start observing how the situation itself affects you. That’s
called “going with your gut.” If you are a representative of
your culture, your environment, and your area of expertise, as
well as in touch with your customers and what you experience and
feel, then you have unframed your bias. If you are honest, you
will be feeling the same reaction as your customers, and you have
just gone from point A to point E without all the letters in
A business person needs to walk through the mental door to unframe
his or her biases. For example, with the chocolate bar example, a
good businessperson would go to the store, or go to the factory,
or call his or her best distributors. The businessperson would
evaluate whether the new product was flying off the shelf. If so,
that’s good. But he or she would not let that framing bias
affect the next time he or she goes through the door, as the
opposite may be true then. Such an instantaneous response leads
you to continue doing what you’re doing or more of it, depending
on how well it’s going.
Learning Non-Linear Thinking and
intern fresh out of medical school is the ultimate linear thought
machine. In medical school, students are taught that symptom equals
possible disease. A equals B. They then run a test to confirm if B
equals C. This process, however, is not conducive to all types of
medicine. As soon as these new interns walk into an emergency room,
they quickly learn non-linear thinking. After a few days of training,
experience, and drilling, they become parallel processing machines.
They still do their linear thought processes but they also tap back
into the non-linear thinking they had before they got their higher
people who are now are drifting to an MFA degree already have their
MBA. They’ve learned and honed their linear thought processes into a
sharp edge; now they get their MFA to hone and reactivate their
non-linear thought processes. At the end of all that education, they
must learn to parallel process on their own, much like the emergency
future, people will pursue their MFA after getting their Bachelor’s
in business. This way they will achieve both linear and non-linear
thought processes and they’ll learn to parallel process. Five to
seven years from now, we will see people start earning dual degrees,
or universities may start offering a new degree that incorporates
meantime, businesses will need to find ways to encourage parallel
processing in their employees. They can do this in a few days of
intense training in a corporate retreat setting, or spread over
several weeks in a coaching environment. Getting back in touch with
non-linear thinking is not hard. Being able to parallel process takes
some practice, but the payoff will be more success for businesses, a
steady job outlook, and higher earnings for those who master this
Read other articles and learn more about
Dr. Maurice Ramirez.
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