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Living With A Non-Linear Mind; Making Yourself Useful (Final Segment)

You are walking down a pathway on a sunny day. Suddenly, someone bursts out of some bushes beside you, bumps into you, stops long enough to say “I saw a bird over there”, and continues walking.

That is how linear thinkers often experience non-linear thinkers. This is not to say that non-linear thinkers have to completely conform to the world around them… but a certain amount of compromise will be required in order to foster the sense of community, acceptance, trust, and teamwork to make it possible for anyone to even be willing to listen to the kind of unusual ideas that tend to emerge from non-linear minds. We have to make ourselves useful – to establish that we can and do contribute to our societies, and do not merely disrupt and disturb the calm progress of our friends and neighbours.

Part of communicating effectively means organizing your thoughts in presentation to others, whatever form that presentation may take, so that they can follow along with what you are trying to express and see the purpose in it. The fact that thoughts do not come to a non-linear thinker in a ‘pre-organized’ fashion does not in any way create license for those thoughts to be presented as they come, vomited out in a massive unsorted stream. Other people should not be required to do the work of sorting through a non-linear thinker’s ideas and figuring out what to do with them, and they won’t.

It took me until I was in university to learn that I could write an organized essay – just not by following an outline. I would read a lot, take many notes, write down many ideas, being careful to take note of all the necessary information about my sources so that I could quickly reference them later on. I would frequently refer back to the main topic, to make sure that I wasn’t getting too far off track and working super hard on something I hadn’t actually been asked to do. Then, having gathered a critical mass of material, I would lay it all out on an enormous table, and cut it into pieces. I would lay out the pieces in the way that they made the most sense, numbering them.

Frequently, I would find that some transition was required. I would ask W5 and How about each sentence, to see if terms needed to be defined or if I had skipped explanations that reflected a logical sequence of thought, and write the transitional paragraphs necessary to fill the gaps. I would number the new paragraphs, with letters, to fill in spaces (for instance, if the paragraphs fit between piece 6 and piece 7, I would number the paragraphs 6a, 6b, etc.). Then I would tape pieces back together in order, and type out the essay. That was how I got my best marks.

Now, with the proliferation of computers, it is technically possible to eliminate the scissors and tape. However, a single screen might be insufficient to look over all of the necessary information and bear it in mind simultaneously, so it may still be worth doing such a task in the ‘old-fashioned’ way.

My point is that, even if a thinking process is non-linear, the final product of any kind of project or presentation will need to make sense to people and will need to be properly thought through. Only organized work is likely to receive the acceptance and approval of a majority of stakeholders, and may be the only way that all those great ideas ever see the light of day. It will take work, but as I used to say to my high school students, “The question is not “Is it difficult”, but “Is it worth it?” – and I believe it is.

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Living With A Non-Linear Mind, Part 3; Getting Going

There are 2 possible outcomes when I am given a task to do.

The first and preferred outcome is that it sparks a ton of ideas, and I immediately get going on producing a lot of creative material quickly, and then get it organized (next week’s topic).

The second outcome is the deer-in-the-headlights look; not even knowing where to begin.

Simply put, the world does not wait for a non-linear thinker to acquire inspiration. People need other people to do some work in a timely manner, or else there are competitors who can get the work done. And usually, although brilliantly creative work may be preferred, any kind of output is preferable to the sound of crickets in the moonlight when something really needs to get done.

This is why a non-linear thinker needs to come up with a creative process. I have some examples that work for me.

First, writing about a given topic –

It never hurts to get together some information; figure out some possible keywords regarding the topic, and do some research.

The research itself should at least spark some questions. Even if you find what you read or hear about a given topic entirely unconvincing, you should be ready to question it. Questions have an almost magical quality to them for our brains; they somehow drive us to seek answers. But if answers aren’t what you are finding, then generate more questions. And luckily, the basic possible questions are already developed; W5 (who, what, where, when, and why) and How? Then build more questions out of those questions, and eventually your mind will begin to work.

Combine a questioning approach with a sensory approach; how would a person experience the topic you need to address? Smell, sight, touch, taste, and sound; fragrances, colours and shapes, textures and hardness, bitter/salty/sweet/spicy, loud/soft/buzzy/ringing… you get the idea.

When working with music, my composition professor (himself a composer) Allan Bell suggested generating a number of musical lines, and then inverting/expanding/diminishing/elaborating/reversing/mirroring etc. those lines until you came up with something that really appealed to your ear.

The bottom line is, if you have a process to engage in, you have a way to approach a task. If I was tasked to do creative writing – wide open topic – on a particular day, I would look around me, I would think about what I had experienced in the past day or week – anything to get some information to work with. Because if you can get started, you can get something done… and the earlier you get started, the more likely that you will give your mind the processing time required to really work with the information that you gather, and the better your chances of really doing something spectacular and utterly unique.

If you start with developing your own process – even, or perhaps especially, when there is no urgent need for it, you can set the parameters to accomplish something unique because you will be starting with a unique process right from the get-go. Whatever it is that you need to do, a process that you have developed for your own reasons and which takes into account your own experience and capabilities will at the very least give you a sense of possibility and hope, a feeling of competence and confidence to take on the task set before you. You can do it! You just need a way to get started, and to gather some kind of input that will guide you and keep you learning and fresh.

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