Monday, 30 April 2012

Linear thinking

Most of us are aware of the various distinctions made between step by step reasoning and the creative generation of new ideas. There have been lots of names for creative thinking over the years, a famous one being lateral thinking associated with Edward de Bono.

However, I tend to divide reasoning on complex issues into linear and non-linear, which at least has the merit of acknowledging the complexity of the real world.

Linear thinking assumes there are answers to questions about complex aspects of the real world. The solution may be expressed with or without reservations, depending on how pigheaded a person is or how gullible the likely audience.

If we do A, then that will cause B.
Or - if we do A then trend B will be encouraged.

Both solutions are linear – effect B will follow cause A or cause A will at least make effect B more probable. Yet real life is often unpredictable and however much you know about a situation, unexpected events commonly arise while expected events don’t. 

Non-linear thinking on the same complex issue would go something like this.

If we do A then we may or may not see trend B.
We may also see a quite unexpected trend X.
We must be prepared to undo A if it doesn’t work out.

This of course is merely what we do as individuals – or at least it’s what we know we ought to do. Trial and error we call it. So why is linear thinking so prevalent in politics? Why is there so little non-linear thinking?

Political thinking goes more like this.

If we do A, our friends/voters will be happy.
Stuff B.
What's X?


James Higham said...

Political thinking has one end - power.

A K Haart said...

James - yes and they don't really bother about truth.