Want business success? Think a little differently

Maurice Ramirez

While many jobs for American MBA graduates are going overseas, those who have MFAs will be in great demand. According to Gartner Inc, by 2008, 40 percent of information technology jobs for MBAs will be outsourced to workers overseas. The reason? A person can fill in a spreadsheet from India as easily as from Silicone Valley for one-tenth the cost.


However, corporations cannot outsource creative jobs as easily. The ability to go quickly from problem to problem, problem to solution, or from initial idea to unique product does not cross cultures well. The employee needs to be a part of the culture he or she is marketing to. As a result, American employees with Masters of Fine Arts degrees (MFAs) are more in demand and earning more than those with MBAs.


Why does someone who is trained in artistic abilities do well in business? It’s not the particular artistic talent, but the thought process that creates it. Fine artists have the ability to apply non-linear thought to problems, which is a valuable business skill. Companies are looking for those employees who can apply a non-linear thought process to business problems.


What’s the difference?

Here is a simple exercise that will demonstrate the difference between a linear and non-linear thought process. Take out a sheet of paper. In the top left corner, write a letter “A.” In the center of the page, write a “B.” Halfway down the page on the right hand side, parallel to the “B,” write a “C.” In the bottom right corner, write a “D,” and in the bottom left corner write an “E.” Now draw a line from A to B to C to D to E. That is linear thought – arriving at the final answer by following a step-by-step process.


Now take your right thumb and forefinger and grab the left top corner of the page next to the A. With your other thumb and forefinger, grasp the lower left corner next to the “E.” Touch the A to the E. That’s non-linear thought – finding the solution without having to go from point to point to point.


Non-linear thinking is an inherent skill

From the moment you are born, you are an input device constantly making connections. In the first five years of life, your brain grows very rapidly and sets down patterns of recognition. For example, as a survival skill, infants smile at everyone. Next they learn to recognize mommy and daddy, then they develop a fear of strangers, and then they learn to reserve affinity for family and other trusted people. Finally, they choose their own friends.


Over time, people begin to lay down patterns of normal and non-normal. That’s why you can look at a situation and know something isn’t right. If you see someone in an airport who has recently had a stroke, you may not realize the individual had one, but you do know that something isn’t right. That is called non-linear thinking – moving quickly from an observation to an end point. Depending on your experience, that end point might have an accuracy as low as 50-50. However, for people trained in creativity, the accuracy is about 99.7 percent. These quick, non-linear solutions, called snap judgments or instinct, are valuable in life and in business. Too often, though, these instincts are not used in the business world, but that’s about to change. 


Creative, non-linear people benefit business

Creative people get in touch with the emotion of what they’re creating in themselves and use that as a guide to produce the same emotion in another person from the same society. Businesses see the value of that skill – an employee making decisions based on the mind-set of a person of the general society, not as an employee tied to a business. Your non-linear, or heuristic, thought processes are when you observe from the inside out, seeing how your own emotions mirror the ones you observe in others.

Can people only achieve this non-linear thinking ability by earning an MFA? Of course not. Not everyone is willing to go back to school for another two to three years to get their MFA. Fortunately, you can encourage the same type of non-linear thinking in yourself and your employees.


  • Eliminate your framing bias.

          How you ask questions determines the answers you get. For example, if you manufacture candy bars and you’re ranked second in sales behind Brand A, you may ask yourself, “How can we take market share away from Brand A?” The obvious linear answer: Make your product taste like Brand A. You have labs, testers and linear-thought people who can make Brand B taste like Brand A, or even better. Due to framing bias, they ask the focus group, “Which one tastes like Brand A? Which one do you like better?” Brand B wins, because now it tastes just a little better than Brand A.

            But the problem with this scenario is that nobody ever went back and asked the basic question: Will our existing customers accept this change? The executives assume brand loyalty will drag customers along. But if they have a core group of fans who love the original taste of the product, in changing the flavor, they alienate them.


  • Quantitate non-linear thought.

              Learn to apply non-linear or heuristic research methods by taking a written inventory of your own feelings, prejudices and thoughts on the subject at hand. Now you have the ability to walk into a situation and start observing how the situation itself affects you. That’s called “going with your gut.” If you are a representative of your culture, your environment and your area of expertise, as well as in touch with your customers and what you experience and feel, then you have unframed your bias. If you are honest, you will be feeling the same reaction as your customers, and you have just gone from Point A to Point E without all the letters in between.

            A business person needs to walk through the mental door to unframe his or her biases. For example, with the chocolate bar example, a good businessperson would go to the store, or go to the factory, or call his or her best distributors. The businessperson would evaluate whether the new product was flying off the shelf. If so, that’s good. But he or she would not let that framing bias affect the next time he or she goes through the door, as the opposite may be true then. Such an instantaneous response leads you to continue doing what you’re doing or more of it, depending on how well it’s going.


Learning non-linear thinking and dual processing

A new intern fresh out of medical school is the ultimate linear-thought machine. In medical school, students are taught that symptom equals possible disease. A equals B. They then run a test to confirm if B equals C. This process, however, is not conducive to all types of medicine. As soon as these new interns walk into an emergency room, they quickly learn non-linear thinking. After a few days of training, experience and drilling, they become parallel-processing machines. They still do their linear thought processes, but they also tap back into the non-linear thinking they had before they got their higher education.


Most people who are now drifting to an MFA degree already have their MBA. They’ve learned and honed their linear thought processes into a sharp edge; now they get their MFA to hone and reactivate their non-linear thought processes. At the end of all that education, they must learn to parallel-process on their own, much like the emergency room interns.


In the future, people will pursue their MFA after getting their bachelor degree in business. This way, they will achieve both linear and non-linear thought processes and they’ll learn to parallel process. Five to seven years from now, we will see people start earning dual degrees, or universities may start offering a new degree that incorporates both.


In the meantime, businesses will need to find ways to encourage parallel processing in their employees. They can do this in a few days of intense training in a corporate retreat setting, or spread over several weeks in a coaching environment. Getting back in touch with non-linear thinking is not hard. Being able to parallel-process takes some practice, but the payoff will be more success for businesses, a steady job outlook, and higher earnings for those who master this skill.



About the author:

Dr. Maurice Ramirez is the first physician in Central Florida to complete the program to qualify as a National Disaster Life Support Instructor. He is Board Certified in emergency medicine, family practice, sports medicine, geriatric medicine and clinical nutrition, and applies techniques used in the emergency room to everyday business problems. He is also a nationally recognized trainer and consultant.


Subscribe to Machinery Lubrication

About the Author