Linear Thinkers vs. Organic Thinkers

While there is an infinite variety in how people behave in life, there are two basic strategies of thought that are important to understand for your career. The first strategy is that of the “Linear Thinker.” The second is that of the “Organic Thinker.” These strategies roughly correspond to the Sensor in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the iNtuitive on the MBTI, though there is not a one-to-one correlation.

Linear Thinkers

Linear Thinkers compose about 3/4ths of the population. Here are some characteristics of Linear Thinkers.

  • Rules based.
  • Like structure.
  • Value authority for the sake of authority.
  • Value appearances over substance.
  • Value tradition over innovation.
  • Black and white thinking.
  • Little intuition about things.
  • Like clear and simple explanations.
  • Give simple and clearly understood answers.
  • Like “goodies” and “baddies.”
  • Believe that force will solve many problems.
  • Believe that the main problem is that people aren’t behaving according to society’s rules.
  • Tend to believe in dogma of one kind or another.
  • Like winners and losers — zero-sum games.
  • Value competition.
  • Need someone to be an enemy or in conflict with to understand life.
  • Loyal to their own race, group, religion, etc.
  • See taking care of self and family as the most important values.
  • Factually based. They tend not to believe in spirituality, psychic phenomena, hunches or feelings.
  • Loyal to friends.
  • Not terribly creative.
  • Great implementers.
  • Not terribly visionary.
  • Get things done according to schedule and budget.
  • Want everyone to be like them in some way or another.
  • Not great at seeing opposing points of view.
  • See their point of view as correct.
  • Do not change their viewpoint, even in the face of overwhelming factual information that contradicts their point of view.
  • Little empathy.
  • Cannot exceed 135 on the WAIS or equivalent scores on other IQ tests.
  • Good managers — not great leaders.
  • Like authority over others, and do well at carrying it out…over other Linear Thinkers.
  • Hierarchical in nature.

They are prominent in government, the military, traditional religious movements, accounting, some less esoteric forms of mathematics, some of the sciences, engineering, and large corporations. The most successful people in these arenas are Linear Thinkers as they follow a clearly set out list of rules and codes of behavior.

Organic Thinkers

Organic Thinkers are much less common, comprising about 1/4th of the population. Here are some characteristics of Organic Thinkers.

  • Situationally based “rules.”
  • Creative and unstructured.
  • Comfortable with change.
  • Deal well with uncertainty.
  • Like situations where everyone can be a winner.
  • Value cooperation over competition.
  • Give complex and involved answers.
  • Appreciate and seek complex information with a great variety of possible solutions.
  • Easily see the points of view of others.
  • Great empathy.
  • Seek out opposing points of view.
  • Change their minds when new information is presented that contradicts their old system of thinking.
  • Solution oriented as opposed to following a system.
  • Value innovation over tradition.
  • Loyal to humanity as a whole, and not necessarily to a particular group, nation, or community unless that group, nation or community serves humanity as a whole.
  • Great leaders — not so great at managing (especially micro-managing, as in managing teens or lower-level workers…)
  • Comprises the vast bulk of highly intelligent people (everyone who is noted as “very gifted” on the WAIS is an Organic Thinker).
  • Flexible and open in their lives.
  • Highly value diversity and are likely to have friends of many races, religions, ages, etc.
  • “Live and let live” mentality.
  • Seek diplomatic solutions over force.
  • Do not believe that force solves problems, but, rather, that it creates them.
  • Loyal to friends.
  • Do not need an enemy or competitor to be completed or feel worthwhile.
  • Like ambiguity regarding “goodies” and “baddies.” Tend to see “good” and “bad” as definitional and relative.

Organic Thinkers tend to be found in non-profits, spiritual pursuits (as opposed to religion), small companies, the arts, physics and other creative sciences, psychology, medicine, and many other professions. Look for Organic Thinkers wherever independent and flexible thought outside of the box is required for success.

Some Comparisons

Linear Thinkers send in the Marines. Organic Thinkers send in the diplomats. Linear Thinkers build prisons and increase police forces. Organic Thinkers set up educational and diversion programs. Linear Thinkers want one nation (theirs) to be supreme. Organic Thinkers value a community of nations working together to solve the world’s problems. Linear Thinkers like clearly defined roles. Organic Thinkers like extreme flexibility in their roles. And so on.

Frankly, (as is probably obvious) I have a very clear preference for Organic Thinkers for one simple reason. Linear Thinking has gotten the world in the current mess it is in and only out-of-the-box, creative (Organic) thinking can get us out of this mess.

We will not get any solutions by concentrating on more weapons, more force, more cracking down, less creativity, less diversity, more uniformity, etc. That’s how we got here.

This gives a very brief overview of the concept of Temperaments in our society. While this division is not absolute, it is a start in understanding those with whom you live and work.

9 Responses to Linear Thinkers vs. Organic Thinkers
  1. Debbie
    October 18, 2011 | 3:17 pm

    Very interesting. I have been an accountant for most of my life, which you put into the Linear Thinkers area (for good reason, there are rules to follow and very little gray areas allowed), but other than the rules and structure I fall into the Organic Thinkers. In my “free” time I do creative things such as wood working, crafts and gardening and am on the board of two non-profits, both community service organizations. Maybe I need to read the book you recommended “Do Whay You Are”, I may be in the wrong career even though I love working with numbers and finances.

    • John Heckers
      October 18, 2011 | 3:54 pm

      Yes, Debbie. You might be happier somewhere else. Although many Organic thinkers can enjoy working in a Linear environment if they have other outlets. If you’d like to discuss it, and you’re in the Denver area, let’s get some coffee and I can analyze it with you (no charge for this). If you’re outside of Denver, go ahead and set a phone appointment. You can set either by calling my colleague, Nicole Raphael, at 303.480.5484 and just setting up a time.

  2. Lauren
    October 25, 2011 | 3:36 pm

    This seems somewhat like the difference between right & left brain thinkers, conventional vs. creative. People are more complex than this, and it’s entirely possible for people like Debbie to be very happy using both sides of her brain. I’m definitely more on the “organic” side, but I also like the satisfaction of bringing order to chaos (when I’m not creating the chaos); I think a field like accounting would be appealing in that regard.

    • John Heckers
      October 25, 2011 | 3:46 pm

      Those who are organic thinkers CAN use linear tactics and do well. Those who are linear thinkers do not have the brain wiring to think in an organic manner. Organics can be flexible in thought strategies. Linears cannot…..the hardware just isn’t there. Kinda like an Apple can mimic a PC, but a PC can’t mimic an Apple.

  3. Rick Winter
    October 26, 2011 | 2:30 pm

    This is interesting to me about the dichotomy between the two types of thinking. I’m not sure I believe in the black and white of either organic or linear thinkers. Perhaps we’re on a continuum.

    A question — We’re the only public school that I know of in Colorado that serves 6 week old infants through 6th grade. Is linear/organic thinking determined by genetics or does school and environment have a role in shaping the two different modes of thinking? If so, what is the best way to ensure students have the experiences to produce the best thinking? We’re looking into that for the 6 week to 6th grade age range, and would love any feedback or resources.

    • Zarko
      March 15, 2012 | 7:12 pm

      @Rick: I don’t know if this site accepts links but if it does perhaps this can be a good start (also see the cited research sources the end of the article): http://www.apa.org/research/action/jigsaw.aspx. Other interesting articles there as well. From what I’ve read so far I conclude it’s not only genes that influence this mindset.

  4. Zarko
    March 15, 2012 | 7:05 pm

    I absolutely love the article, maybe because I find it flattering, or perhaps because something like this had been religiously built into my collective mind in my childhood through the stories of Jesus and the Pharisees and through my college psychology classes about cooperation, win-win and Jigsaw classrooms. No matter how much of a pitiful excuse for life this world would be without organic thinkers, or as much as I can’t stand the limitations of some linear thinkers, I guess we need complements (not compliments).

  5. Kimberly
    July 13, 2012 | 10:31 pm

    Could this be a reason, why it so hard to work in a Corporate environment anymore? More and more corporate entities only hire Linear thinking, they are like robots, and sever micro managers, and there is only one way to do anything their way, and if you can’t not work like that, and I am a organic thinker then we are let go but not without a price, we are usually humiliated the process, and told we are stupid, could this be the problem?

    • John Heckers
      July 13, 2012 | 10:38 pm

      I think it is. You can get away with being an Organic Thinker a great deal more in a smaller environment. As always, I’m very happy to meet with you via Skype or in person and talk further about this.

      J.

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