If you’re familiar with the terms lateral and linear thinking, then you know lateral is thought of as the source of creative insight and opportunity. Or, if you’re like us and had to Google the terms, here is something to consider: Experts say there is more than one style of creativity. Behavioral strategists Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan, authors of the book Selfish, Scared & Stupid , explore the concept:
Although the “lateral” style of thinking is creative indeed, a particular bias toward one type of thinking does not necessarily render another one “uncreative.”
So rather than thinking in terms of lateral and linear thinkers, what if we frame people’s creative style as being that of a leaper or linker? These two thinking styles can both be creative, they can both innovate, they can both solve problems—they simply do it in different ways.
Leapers are people who many would probably identify as creative. Their thinking style doesn’t rely on historic precedent or existing frames of reference. They have the ability to “leap” into a completely new idea or territory without any post-rationalization of how they got there. They have what might be described as “Thought Tourettes.” In other words, ideas and possibilities spring from them unhindered and unedited in an almost uncontrollable volume. They quite simply can’t help themselves—their nature is that of generative creativity.
Linkers tend to create connections between previously disconnected concepts. They are more likely to bring their ideas to life through the use of such tools as metaphor and analogy. In other words, they create links between where we currently are and where we might be and explain new ideas by referencing existing concepts. Their nature is that of evaluative creativity.
Interestingly, some of the most successful innovations around the world are not completely new ideas, but new combinations of existing ideas.
So how do you make the most of the leapers and linkers on your team?
1. Be conscious of the creative styles within your team and yourself.
If you tend to hear comments like, “It’s interesting, but I just can’t see how we get there,” then chances are you’re a leaper. Conversely, if you more often hear, “I think you just need to push it further,” then chances are you’re a linker.
Structuring teams for cognitive diversity allows linkers to build platforms and connections for leapers, while leapers help stretch the scope of linkers’ thinking. Both are critical and you need a mix on your team.
2. Define the nature of the issue or problem you are looking to solve and assign the proper creative tool.
In other words, is the nature of the change you’re trying to effect evolutionary or revolutionary?
3. Create space for both styles of thinking to contribute and be acknowledged for their contributions.
One of the problems we face is that we have either defined everyone as creative (meaning all ideas are equal) or that only some people are creative (which ignores and neglects assets within our organizations).
Neither is true. Although we are all born imaginative, creativity is applied imagination, a capacity to solve particular problems and create value on purpose—both deliberately and congruently to our goals. So perhaps, rather than deciding who has the superior thinking style, we would do better to develop the discipline in our entire organization, not just the few.
This article was published in April 2015 and has been updated. Photo by @Polinaloves/Twenty20