Linear Thinking by Edward De Bono explained

Linear thinking - Toolshero

Linear thinking: This article explains the topic of linear thinking, developed by Edward De Bono in a practical way. The article contains the meaning, definition and general explanation of the term, as well as a practical example and useful tips to get started with linear thinking yourself. Enjoy reading!

What is linear thinking?

Linear thinking is a style of thinking and represents a way in which people perceive and process information. This type of reasoning involves thinking ahead step by step and each step must be followed before the next step can be performed.

This style of thinking is fueled by logic and is naturally oriented towards following simple paths. Think of it as a binary process, where the answer to each question or step is ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Considerations beyond these two answers are usually excluded.

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Linear thinking vs lateral thinking

The opposite of linear thinking is lateral thinking. Lateral thinking looks at a problem from multiple perspectives, often at random. The lateral style is based on discovering and investigating spontaneous events. It is therefore slow, disorganized and does not make sense to many.

Whether someone thinks linearly or laterally can also be seen from the brain activity of that person. The linear style is associated with increased activity in the left hemisphere of the brain, while lateral style shows more activity in the right hemisphere of the brain.

Linear thinking means straight forward thinking and is also known as convergent thinking, logical thinking, or vertical thinking. It is characterized by rationality, logic and rules.


Oxford psychologist Edward de Bono described these two styles of thinking in his 1967 book The Use of Lateral Thinking.

A linear thinking example

Alex is a project manager in charge of organizing a marketing campaign. He starts with market research to identify the target audience and understand their preferences.

Once he collects the data, he analyzes it to develop a strategy. With the strategy in place, he creates a detailed schedule and allocates resources accordingly.

He then assigns specific tasks to the team members so that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. As the campaign progresses, Alex monitors key performance indicators to track its effectiveness.

When problems arise, he quickly addresses them and makes adjustments as necessary to keep the campaign on track. Finally, when the campaign ends, he evaluates the success against the original goals and presents the results to stakeholders.

In this business example, Alex’s linear thinking includes a step-by-step approach to managing the marketing campaign, from research and strategy development to implementation and evaluation.
Each phase builds on the previous one, guiding the project to successful completion.

Thinking styles and different cultures

Thinking styles can sometimes be influenced by cultural factors. Linear thinking is characterized by a step-by-step, sequential approach to problem solving and decision making.

It involves following a logical progression from one point to another in a straight line.

Cultures that emphasize structure, order, and following established procedures can promote and value this style of thinking.

In such cultures, individuals may be encouraged to focus on clear goals, well-defined plans, and systematic problem-solving methods.

Non-linear thinking, on the other hand, involves a more holistic and intuitive approach to processing information and making connections.

It can include non-linear problem-solving strategies, where people explore different possibilities while considering multiple perspectives at the same time.

Cultures that value creativity, flexibility, and open-ended exploration can encourage and support non-linear thinking.

Are you a linear or a non-linear thinker?

Determining whether you are a linear thinker or a non-linear thinker requires self-reflection and observation of your thought patterns and approach to problem-solving. Here are some steps to help you find out:

Step 1: Evaluate your troubleshooting process

Think about how you approach challenges and problems. Do you usually follow a systematic and step-by-step method to find solutions (linear style of thinking), or do you prefer to explore different possibilities while considering multiple perspectives at the same time (non-linear thinking)?

Step 2: Analyze your decision-making style

Consider how you make decisions. Do you usually carefully weigh the pros and cons of each option and make decisions based on a logical progression (linear style of thinking)? Or do you rely more on intuition and gut feelings, making connections between seemingly unrelated factors (non-linear thinking)?

Step 3: Observe your creative process

Pay attention to how you come up with ideas and solutions. Do you follow a structured and organized approach to generating ideas (linear style of thinking), or do you let your mind wander freely, making unexpected connections between concepts (non-linear thinking)?

Step 4: Think about your learning style

Think about how you learn new information and concepts. Do you prefer structured and organized learning environments with clear objectives (linear thinking)? Or do you feel more comfortable in more open and exploratory learning environments (non-linear thinking)?

Step 5: Evaluate your communication style

Think about how you communicate with others. Do you usually present information in a logical and sequential way (linear thinking), or do you often use metaphors, analogies, and stories to convey ideas (non-linear thinking)?

Step 6: Assess ambiguity

Consider your response to ambiguity and uncertainty. Linear thinkers may prefer clear guidelines and well-defined goals, while nonlinear thinkers are more comfortable with uncertainty and open possibilities.

Step 7: Analyze previous troubleshooting situations

Think about specific situations where you had to solve complex problems. Look for patterns in your problem-solving approach and determine whether it aligns more with linear or non-linear thinking.

Step 8: Ask for feedback

Ask for feedback from friends, family or colleagues on how they perceive your thinking style. Sometimes others can offer valuable insights that you are not aware of yourself.

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Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Do you recognize the explanation about this style of thinking? What does linear thinking mean to you? Can you explain it in your own words? Give an example of an everyday situation in which you can apply this thinking style. How do you think this style of thinking differs from non-linear thinking? Do you think there are situations where it might be useful to apply both styles of thinking? Do you have tips or other comments?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Larrick, B. D. L. P. (2017). Linear thinking in a nonlinear world. Harvard Business Review, 130-139.
  2. Bratianu, C., & Vasilache, S. (2010). A factorial analysis of the managerial linear thinking model. International Journal of Innovation and Learning, 8(4), 393-407.
  3. Greer, B. (2010). Overview of the papers: Why is linear thinking so dominant?. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 12(1), 109-115.
  4. Zweibelson, B. (2016). Linear and non-linear thinking: Beyond reverse-engineering. Canadian Military Journal, 16(2), 27-35.

How to cite this article:
Janse, B. (2023). Linear Thinking (De Bono). Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Original publication date: 09/22/2023 | Last update: 11/09/2023

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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