Associational Thinking

Associational Thinking

Nonlinear associational thinking is the way the brain processes information through integrating patterns, seeing contextual relationships, connecting seemingly unrelated elements, and three dimensional mental modeling. This type of thinking is characterized by the brain's rapid, fluid, cross-disciplinary ability to select and apply the appropriate thinking combination to the situation.

A nonlinear associational thinking approach is proactive, integrative and naturally strong in:

  • Solving complex problems
  • Finding the opportunities in uncertain times
  • Creating the future
  • Designing new products and processes that bring value

Action characteristics
In the nonlinear associational thinking mode, people bring a high degree of creativity to problem solving and thinking systemically.

Nonlinear associational thinkers mentally hold the big picture while building the structure for design, development, and delivery. They think in concepts and talk using 3-D models and visuals; no whiteboard is safe in their presence. They intuitively combine art and science in developing innovative solutions and have intense focus when there is strong personal interest. They bring energy and curiosity to ask the tough questions.  Frequently, they infuse humor into whatever they do.

Impacts to effectiveness
Effectiveness is hampered when associational thinkers are:

  • Micromanaged
  • Involved in minutiae that have little relevance
  • Work in an environment with many meetings and little evidence of meaningful input or output

Nonlinear associational thinkers can be impatient with people who don’t keep up with their thinking and they get frustrated with explaining something multiple times. They may appear distracted when they are thinking about something and the conversation does not interest them. Those who think in mental models can be verbally inconvenienced at times when asked to explain in words or in writing a complex situation or problem that they believed is best explained through 3-D modeling.

Conditions for effectiveness
Nonlinear associational thinkers enable things to improve and change, and they strive to attain the vision with high quality input and output. To be most effective, they need:

  • Blocks of uninterrupted time to think
  • The freedom to work in their own way
  • Big challenges and variety
  • Good resources and people who can think rapidly with them


- Putting Thinking into Action -