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Linear vs Non-linear

I’ve spotted a new trend. To stay current on as wide an array of topics as possible while saving time, I read Executive Book Summaries ( This helps me decide which books to buy and read in-depth. On a recent cross-country flight, I caught up on two months’ worth of summaries, including four long analyses and several one-pagers. Here is the trend:

Seventy-five per cent of the summaries I read on the plane dealt with the soft side of business. There was a review for Keith Ferrazi’s latest offering, Never Eat Alone and Other Secrets to Success One Relationship at a Time. The long title simply underscores a familiar idea--the importance of networking. The summary for Social Intelligence, by Karl Albrecht, reveals how we can grow in our career and personal lives through better interactions with others. Power Mentoring, by Ensher and Murphy, illustrates how to develop rewarding relationships. This shift toward a focus on inter-personal skills may have begun a decade ago with Danial Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, but it has continued to build steam until today, where books on the issue crowd the shelves.

The twentieth century, also known as the American Century, is celebrated for quantum innovations in science. It was the century that put a man on the moon, harnessed the atom, and made engineering a sought-after profession. The linear models of engineers continue to be highly relevant in our society, but they are being supplanted by the non-linear, web-enabled networks that are not the purview of engineering types. In A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink, I read about the six “new” aptitudes for professional success and personal fulfillment (design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning). Notice the value placed on soft skills.

The linear is the tangible world in which managers are most comfortable. The non-linear refers to the world of intangibles that leaders are more comfortable in. Left-brain thinkers excel at the linear tasks. They are sequential, logical, and analytical. We need people who think this way. Right-brain thinkers excel at non-linear tasks that involve using intuition and unconventional approaches. We need people who think this way, as well. But what style is ascending? The literature makes it clear that we need to take a closer look at the non-linear. The truth is that using just one style will not be enough for you anymore. The reality is that this is not an “either/or” debate, but a “both/and” situation. That is to say, we are not talking about choosing either linear or non-linear, but being fluent in both methods. That both is what presents challenges for many employers.

What does it mean for you? Does it signal opportunity or threat? It can be either, depending on your perspective. What is required is a continued effort to understand and become comfortable operating in the interconnected world of today. New competencies must be developed that enable leaders to work more effectively in our networked economy. The skills that made you successful as a leader may no longer be enough to keep you successful. To ignore the reality of the networked 21st century is to invite career stagnation and, eventually, failure. Embrace the changes of today’s world and continue to advance in your career.

So, instead of crunching a few numbers alone, who are you going to call to join you for lunch?

Wally Adamchik is President of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting. Visit the website at He can be reached at 919-673-9499 or

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