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Mindjet Productivity Series, Part II: Linear vs. Radial Thinking

Albert Einstein once said that if he were given just one hour to save the world, he’d spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution. Most people probably wouldn’t consider that to be a shining example of productivity, but that’s a troubling perspective — productivity shouldn’t be defined by the sheer quantity of things done, especially when the value of knocking out a series of tasks is totally dependent on what they are.

What’s important about Einstein’s approach to problem-solving is that it speaks volumes about the way today’s businesses could benefit from a shift in thinking; instead of equating productivity with the desperate race to check things off a list, understanding why a solution is needed in the first place could, in the end, save us all a lot of wasted brain power.

The biggest problem? We’ve been taught the wrong way to think.

A Brief History of Linear Thinking

Okay, so maybe it’s not wrong, exactly, but studies show that the human mind isn’t really built to think in a straight line; we’re naturally drawn to consider the bigger picture alongside steps and details, which isn’t the way we usually consider productivity. But linear thinking causes us to pit tasks against each other chronologically, binding them to narrow timelines. Rather than understanding the impact of tasks, perpetual communication, feedback loops, and iterations, horizontal thinking characterizes everything as something to be completed.

As a logical process dependent on agreed-upon starting points, linear thinking also reduces ideas, tasks, and strategies to finite points on a path. It limits adaptability, confines solutions to a single direction, and in general is too black-and-white to be fully effective.

For example, if you have to finish a project by a specific deadline, taking the linear approach means blowing through your checklist consecutively, as quickly as possible. A non-linear plan of attack — like Mr. Einstein’s — could involve fleshing out connections, discovering blockers, and finding ways to eliminate repetition, resulting in smarter solutions and maximized productivity. The man was a genius, after all.

Brain Topography: Mind Mapping and Radial Thinking

It’s worth noting that our brains are damn-near magical when it comes to their general capacity for learning and retaining information. Communication within their own complex system, as well as with other parts of the body, happens across innumerable pathways that resemble the pattern of a spider web or the branches of a tree.

Or a mind map.

Non-linear thinking is also known as cyclical or radial thinking, and is a foundational concept of mind mapping. The visual network of ideas in a mind map reflects the dendritic nature of the brain, mimicking the way our brains actually store and process information by applying context — not just content — to ideas. In turn, the thought process becomes more organic, less rigid, and leaves room to flesh out certain concepts without interrupting others.

A lot of the fear of working in a non-linear environment is due to the sometimes chaotic nature of defining what needs to be done. Putting things in order gives us control over their importance and execution. But the radial approach of mind mapping bridges the gap between organization and adaptability, giving us the freedom to be productive, creative and innovative simultaneously; we still get a framework for remembering and completing tasks, but a flexible one that’s interdependent and alive instead of sequential and easily disrupted.

Mindjet to the Rescue!

Our software is designed to capitalize on the mind mapping approach and task management process with a virtual, visual workspace. Whether you’re on a solitary mission or working with a team, Mindjet helps you capture, categorize, prioritize, and manage projects, complete with cloud integration and the little things we love so much about conventional programs, like reminders, progress tracking, and file storage capabilities. And, since we’ve built it with our users in mind, it’s intuitive, too.

Try it out free for 30 days or hit up the Mindjet Shop to join the mind mapping movement today.