To determine if you are a linear or global thinker, you first need to understand how a thinking style is different from a learning style. In basic terms, a learning style is how you receive new information. The three primary learning styles are Visual, Auditory, and Tactile.
But a thinking style is how you process new information; in other words, your personal thinking style is your most comfortable (and efficient) way to analyze and act on new information that you have already received. The following thinking style definitions should help:
LINEAR STYLE (or Left-Brain Dominant)
Linear thinkers prefer a very structured approach when processing information. If instructions use a sequenced format (Step A, Step B, Step C, etc.) strong linear thinkers will feel more comfortable starting «Step B» only after «Step A» has been fully completed. Overall, linear thinkers like structure and predictability. Mathematics & Accounting are considered linear-oriented subjects.
GLOBAL STYLE (or Right-Brain Dominant)
Global thinkers (or «strategic thinkers») are more comfortable with new information if they can put it into context with the big picture. They also tend to be impatient with linear subjects and step-by-step instructions – they prefer access to all the information early on so they can relate it to their overall goals. Philosophy & English Literature are considered global-oriented subjects.
Here are two broad examples of how strong linear thinkers and strong global thinkers might approach the same task differently.
Planning a Road Trip
Strong Linear Thinkers will plan out every detail of the road trip; they will determine – in advance – which roads to travel, the location of restaurants along the way, and the necessary items to bring.
Strong Global Thinkers will get in their car and drive.
Assembling Furniture, Toys, or Electronics
Linear Thinkers will neatly lay out all the parts and read the instructions carefully before starting the assembly.
Global Thinkers will look at a picture of the assembled product and then try to put it together like a jigsaw puzzle (e.g. «this piece looks like it fits here, this piece probably goes here… «).
THINK ABOUT IT
Of course, it would be nearly impossible for a person to possess only one thinking style and still be able to function adequately in our complex world. Even if you have a dominant style, at some point you will need to incorporate both thinking styles to complete certain tasks. For example, when determining how much to tip a waiter or waitress, you must use linear skills to calculate the percentage for the tip (for those who don’t rely on smartphone apps). But you also need to use global skills to judge the quality of service and amount of money needed for additional purchases that day.
What games do you like to play? What part of the game was the easiest for you to learn? As you think about it, you’ll begin to recognize that you incorporate your own personal thinking style into the application of everything you do, including games. For example, a golfer with a strong linear thinking style will likely have a set routine before each golf swing (and focus intently on the mechanics of the game). A golfer with a strong global thinking style may tend to be more of a «feel» player (and pay less attention to the numerous details of the golf swing). Of course, it doesn’t have to be a game; it can also be a hobby, or even your job. Think of your personal thinking style as your personal aptitude, something that comes relatively natural to you.
But what about those boring or challenging tasks you tend to avoid? The first step is to examine how you usually complete the tasks. You might be using a technique that someone else taught you – a technique that worked for your instructor, but may not match your particular way of thinking.
If so, consider what you ultimately want to achieve when completing a particular task then re-invent the process using your own thinking style. At first, it may seem a bit awkward because we are accustomed to following instructions from others, but if you make small changes in the process as you go, the transition to your own style will feel more natural.
For example, let’s say you are a strong global thinker and must complete a linear-oriented task such as bookkeeping. A bookkeeping instructor will have taught you how to make certain the numbers are accurate and in balance, but as a global thinker you should also consider how those numbers can benefit your organization. In other words, as you check the numbers, try to determine why a specific expense costs a certain amount, or why the revenue you received wasn’t higher. By using a long-term, strategic perspective to complete a very linear task, the task will feel less tedious.
Or, let’s say you are a strong linear thinker and must complete a global-oriented task such as developing new marketing ideas. Typically, marketing teams have several global thinkers who like to present broad and unstructured concepts. But following their approach would frustrate you since linear thinkers prefer details and structure. Therefore, before you start, you should create a worksheet for collecting, sorting, and analyzing all the new ideas that will be presented. As a linear thinker, this will make you feel more in control of the creative process since it provides some degree of structure and predictability. Your worksheet will also help your global thinking teammates remained focused on the goal, though they are unlikely to admit it.
MAKE IT EASY ON YOURSELF
At some point, we all need to perform tasks that are outside our thinking comfort zone. Fortunately, you can use your natural thinking strengths to make those less desirable tasks a little more appealing. Don’t like details? Put those details into context with the «big picture» so they become relevant to your overall goal. Don’t like working in an environment that is unstructured? Create a personal step-by-step process for completing your tasks to feel more in control.
Another option is to partner with someone who has an opposite thinking style. Global thinking managers often hire linear-oriented assistants to help complement each other’s natural way of thinking. Even marriages can benefit from opposite thinking styles. After all, a marriage with a global thinker and a linear thinker offers a nice balance between impulse and practicality – though there may be some debate over who possesses which trait.