Developing Non-linear Thinking Skills

We know while comprehending complexity, linear logic fails. That appears to the most important reason as to why most people find it difficult to understand complex situations or grapple with complex problems.

With simple linear logic, principles come first and deductions follow. Hence the process may be described as:

Observe -> Model the observations based on relevant domain theory -> apply Principles/mathematics -> Deduction

Fair to say that this standard approach, based on linear logic, is used in science and engineering to solve linear problems. Since this is an efficient way of thinking it dominates our educational, professional and social lives.

But when it comes to solving non-linear complex problems (unfortunately most life problems are non-linear) application of linear logic fails. Instead what is needed is the development of non-linear thinking skills.

In fact, non-linear thinking style is a necessary skill with the larger theoretical framework of digital literacy through multiple format known as transliteracy through transmedia learning environment.

Nonlinear thinking styles are defined as using intuition, insight, creativity and emotions when comprehending and communicating information (Vance, Groves, Paik and Kindler, 2007)

But how to develop non-linear thinking skills?

I would give below a 3 step approach, one of the many approaches I developed for the specific purpose of developing non-linear thinking skills of my adult professional students. This specific technique is christened as the Fugue technique.

1. Think in terms of fugue. In a fugue, all the notes cannot be constrained into a single melodic scale. Compressing everything into one single melodic scale is analogous to modelling a phenomenon or behaviour based on a high level of abstraction, which is the dominant characteristic of linear thinking style. Make this clear to the participating group. It would relieve them of the unnecessary stress of finding the “one right answer” or “one right approach” to a complex problem.

2. Bring people together to tackle a complex problem. Make sure that the participants are familiar with the problem. This means that complex problems are to be selected from the familiar working environment of the participants or problems the participants have grappled with but failed to find a solution.

Putting a number of people together gives us a big advantage. Different people see the same problem in different ways. It would depend on their specific strengths and mental makeup, tendency and practice. Some find some parts of the problem easy to see and understand, which others might find too difficult to even notice. Each member of the group is then encouraged to focus on some parts of the problem that comes easily to them so as to come up with their own unique perspectives and understanding.

Before allowing people to jump in, preferably use different media to present a problem — narrative, story telling, printed material, videos, pictures, data, internet references etc.

3. Invite the group to plunge directly into the midst of things and follow the temporal order created by the thoughts of the different group members. Build upon each others thoughts. Never mind if we get different strings of thoughts to build different lines of thinking, which is the most desired output. Encourage all forms of communication — dialogs, debates, discussions, collaboration, negotiation, etc. Be patient with the flow of time. Activities might show sudden bursts of energy at various points of time. Allow people to express their thoughts through different media – verbal, slide shows, discussions, drawings, doodles, story telling, narratives/presentations, logical interpretation through principles, etc. It is expected that each member communicates in his/her preferred style of communication.

Link the different strings of thoughts or different perspectives to make a collective but coherent understanding of a complex problem without attempting to put them into “one melodic scale.” It means that it is not necessary to align the different perspectives into one linear path. Multiple paths are encouraged. Expecting multiple solutions would be the norm. The output measured against time is exponential when compared to linear approach. It helps in increasing both depth and width of learning. In Nemetic terms the resultant ecology is known as nemePlx or nPx

When a group performs this exercise on many live problems over a span of few days (a four-day long session appears to be just enough), it propels the students to develop their non-linear thinking skills. It also develops their transliteracy skills (a non-linear thinking skill) immersed in transmedia learning environment.

Note:

1. This Fugue technique has been extensively used for Power Plant professionals solving their complex problems.

2. The author is of the opinion that non-linear thinking skills cannot be taught in any explicit manner.

References:

!. Digital Literacy: A Demand for Nonlinear Thinking Styles Mark Osterman, Thomas G. Reio, Jr., and M. O. Thirunarayanan Florida International University, USA http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1321&context=sferc

2. Now you see it: How the brain science of attention will transform the way we live, work, and learn Davidson, C., (2011). New York, NY: Penguin

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