Nonlinear thinking can save your life. Two men were on a jungle safari. Suddenly they came face-to-face with a tiger making a threatening low guttural growl; it moves slowly toward them. Both terrified, one of them starts putting on his shoes. The other man said, “How is that going to help? We can’t outrun the tiger.” To which his friend replied, “I don’t have to outrun the tiger, I only have to outrun you.”
Nonlinear thinking can also make you rich. A mob boss was missing $2 million and seething with anger. He suspected his accountant who was mute and could only communicate by sign language. Luckily the boss’s lawyer also knew sign language, and both go to pay the accountant a “visit.” They walk in the accountant’s office and the boss orders the lawyer, “Ask him where my money is.” The lawyer raises his hands and signs the question to the accountant.
The accountant signs back,
“I don’t know.”
The lawyer relays the boss,
“He said he doesn’t know.
The boss says,
“Tell him he better come clean now.”
The lawyer signs him the message, and the accountant signs back,
“There’s nothing to come clean about, I have no idea where it is.”
“He said he has no idea where it is.”
His face red with rage, the boss pulls out a .45 and holds it at the accountant’s head, “Tell him he has five seconds to tell me where my 2 million is or I’ll splatter the wall with his brains.”
The lawyer signs, and the accountant signs back,
“Ok, ok, it’s in a locker at the Burlington train station, the key is in my top desk drawer.”
The boss shouts, “What did he say?”
“He said you don’t have the balls.”
Here are a few situations that require linear thinking; give them a try. The answers are at the end of the pictures.
Murderer: All the other card players were women.
Orange Juice: Pour the juice from the second glass to the fifth.
Recluse: The recluse lived in a lighthouse.
Here Are Definitions of Both Linear and Nonlinear Thinking
Linear: A process of thought following known cycles or step-by-step progression where a response to a step must be elicited before another step is taken.
Nonlinear: Thinking characterized by expansion in multiple directions rather than one direction; based on the premise that there are many points from which one can apply logic to a problem. Nonlinear thinkers make connections between seemingly unrelated things, jump from here to there, and are more at home with things like art, music, and theoretical physics. It seems Einstein had trouble with math—elementary school math—the linear kind, where 3 x 3 = 9. From what I’ve read, he wouldn’t have passed math without the help of his mother and sister. Where he excelled was in higher math, the kind that enters the realm of theory, of imagination.
Developing our nonlinear (also referred to as lateral thinking) would no doubt improve our lives by increasing our options in solving many of life’s problems. When attempting to solve nonlinear puzzles, what thwarts us is the deep seated programmed assumptions about the situation at hand. Those assumptions immediately limit our options to find an alternative solution.
For instance, my underlying automatic assumption with the six glasses of orange juice, is that the glass I move must hold the juice. That wasn’t a restrictive rule as defined by the puzzle, but my own. And, in the murder case, my unwary assumption was that all the players were men; assuming it without even being aware of it. Why? Not sure; maybe part of it was the culture in which I was raised; in these occupations I visualize men, and clinging to those assumptions, limited my options. Quite simply, nonlinear thinking offers us many more creative alternatives.
Also, hard and fast belief systems would be anathema to nonlinear thinking. Why would you ask yourself a question in that particular arena, and engage the creative process, when you already “know” the iron-clad and only answer? This self-imposed limitation shuts down half the brain—the right hemisphere—that area where creativity is generated.
The first two things to do before embarking upon on a solution might be is to:
1. Difficult as it may be, release oneself from preconceived notions beforehand,
2. Ask yourself, “What assumptions by default am I making here that may be operating just below my consciousness?” The less we assume, the more our mind is expanded.
Here’s another problem: A man drives down the motorway at 70 miles per hour. He passes three cars going 80 miles per hour, then gets pulled over by a police officer and is given a ticket. The answer: He was driving the wrong way down the motorway. I assumed and visualized him driving the same direction as the traffic, because my mind is conditioned to default to that assumption from my everyday experiences, making the premise of the problem senseless, thereby obfuscating any other possibility.
And lastly, here’s one of my favorites: You are driving down the street on a nasty, stormy night, when you pass by a bus stop where three people are waiting for the bus…an old lady who looks as if she is about to die, an old friend who once saved your life, and the perfect partner you have been dreaming about. Which one would you choose to offer a ride to, knowing that there could only be one passenger in your car, or is there a solution where you could get the old lady to the hospital, get your friend out of the storm, and finally meet your romantic soul mate? There is. Here’s the answer:
Thinking outside the box isn’t easy. The only way to strengthen this kind of thinking is to exercise the examination of our assumptions.