Five Unintended Consequences of Linear Problem-Solving


 Systems Are Not Linear

When solving complex business problems, it helps to remember that systems (including organizations) are not linear. Thinking of them as linear leads to easier one-dimensional decisions but ignores these things that we know about systems:

  • systems are dynamic
  • systems are adaptive
  • systems have complex contexts (they connect with many other systems)

Unintended Consequences of Linear Problem-Solving

Making decisions using linear thinking (which does not reflect how organizations work) is harmful to leaders, organizations, constituents and societies for many different reasons. Here are five:

  1. Seeing the problem as linear ignores interrelationships and limits the solutions to simple ones that may later be found to cause harm to the system(s).
  2. Seeing the problem as linear leads to picking a position on the resulting “line” and defending it against other ideas, which are then perceived as “wrong.”
  3. “Collaboration” is seen as a weakened position rather than a strength or opportunity, since it requires embracing a different point on the line (the point where we perceive that the other person or organization stands).
  4. The linear mindset does not reflect how organizations are structured (they are systems made up of subsystems), so solutions generated using linear thinking are generated “out of context” and are not likely to be successful.  This means that more problems are generated by each solution.
  5. Using a linear mindset keeps us blind to the changes going on in the organizational systems that we are leading, and therefore unable to adapt quickly as things change.  When we think our scope of influence is the point on the line where we stand, we think we are current when we are still standing.

Interesting Articles on the Subject

“The Problem(s) With Linear Thinking” by Eric Brown

Ellen Macarthur Foundation “Good Rather Than Less Bad: The Circular Approach” “Linear versus cyclical”



For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?
  7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
  2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
  About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2010 Leading in Context LLC 


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