Which Thinking Style Is The Most Direct Path To Creative Success?

Is the shortest distance between two points always a straight line?



The book of Genesis records the account of Joseph and his rise to the position of Prime Minister of Egypt. The narrative tells how Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers.


Eventually, he was thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit. Ultimately, he was elevated to the position of second in command over the entire nation.


Now, there is obviously a much more direct path to his destination that could have been taken, but Joseph had to learn leadership in prison. he had to learn responsibility as a slave. He had to learn patience, empathy, and faith in the midst of trials. This teaches us something.


Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line.


The greatest creative works are not always created in the most direct way. Often, artistic types create their works through patterns, repetition, etc. Generally, these patterns are connected by one of two processes: Linear Thinking and Associative (or non-linear) Thinking.


Linear Thinking

Linear thinking is the process of connecting pieces of information, one to another, in a direct, "straight-line" fashion. It involves drawing direct conclusions from one fact to another. One could argue that Isaac Newton was a linear thinker.


Jody Michael Associates puts it this way: "Linear thinking is an analytic, methodic, rational and logical thinking style. A linear process moves forward like a line with a starting point and an ending point..."


An example of this kind of thinking would be an observer looking at a leaf on the ground next to a tall tree. Because it happens to be a windy day, the observer could conclude that the wind blew the leaf from the tree to the ground.


So, the chain of events goes as such: Leaf is on tree –> Wind blows leaf –> Leaf fall to the ground


This is a linear chain of thought. In a music composition, this kind of thinking could result in motivic development – i.e. following a linear progression of a motive through variation of that motive within a piece. It could also be seen in the strict musical forms that have defined much of Western music through the centuries.


Interested in New Music? Click here!

Associative Thinking

Associative thinking is the process of creating "webs" of connectivity between pieces of information. This involves a more "thinking outside the box" approach to logical reasoning. it could be argued that Albert Einstein was an associative thinker.


The associative thinking style is "...an intuitive, creative, artistic and emotional thinking style known as right-brained (the seat of creativity). It’s less-restrictive thoughts expand in multiple directions which allows for multiple points of logic rather than just one answer."


If we go back to our previous example of the leaf, an observer could see the same leaf on the ground and think about the loose leaf binder rings on a notebook. In turn the binder rings could cause the observer to think about shower curtain rings, which could cause the observer to think about showers, leading the person to hypothesize that rain showers caused the leaf to fall to the ground.


The chain of thought would go as follows: Leaf –> Loose Leaf binder rings –> Shower curtain rings –> Showers –> Rain showers


This is an associative chain of thought.


In a music composition, this type of thinking could result in a rhapsody, a fantasia, or an improvisational-like piece.


Which one of these is better?


Well, an argument could be made for either case and perhaps it is a mixture of both. As much as I like rigidity and structure, I think that if I had to rely on one of these two, I would probably rely on associative thinking.


After all, associative thinking is more closely connected with thinking outside the box. And thinking outside the box is more likely to produce a something great instead of something merely... good.


So, which type of thinking defines your creative process? Or do you use a combination of both? Let me know...

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