The Stubbornness of Linear Thinking

Key Point: Thinking exclusively in straight lines gets in the way of innovative and exponential performance. A brilliant article by Bart de Langhe, Stefano Putoni, and Richard Larrick appeared in the May/June, 2017 issue the Harvard Business Review. Their conclusion:

“In recent years a number of professions, including ecologists, physiologists, and physicians, have begun to routinely factor nonlinear relationships into their decision making. But nonlinearity is just as prevalent in the business world as anywhere else. It’s time that management professionals joined these other disciplines in developing greater awareness of the pitfalls of linear thinking in a nonlinear world. This will increase their ability to choose wisely—and to help the people around them make good decisions too “

To make their point, they invite readers to test their linear thinking on the following puzzle:

“Imagine you’re responsible for your company’s car fleet. You manage two models, an SUV that gets 10 miles to the gallon and a sedan that gets 20. The fleet has equal numbers of each, and all the cars travel 10,000 miles a year. You have enough capital to replace one model with more-fuel-efficient vehicles to lower operational costs and help meet sustainability goals.

Which upgrade is better?

  1. Replacing the 10-MPG vehicles with 20 MPG vehicles.
  2. Replacing the 20-MPG vehicles with 50 MPG vehicle.

Intuitively, option B seems more impressive—an increase of 30-MPG is a lot larger than a 10-MPG one. And the percentage increase is greater, too. But B is not the better deal. In fact, it’s not even close. 

Shockingly, upgrading fuel efficiency from 20 to 100-MPG still wouldn’t save as much gas as upgrading from 10 to 20-MPG.

But choosing the lower-mileage upgrade remains counterintuitive, even in the face of the visual evidence. It just doesn’t feel right. If you’re still having trouble grasping this, it’s not your fault. Decades of research in cognitive psychology show that the human mind struggles to understand nonlinear relationships. Our brain wants to make simple straight lines.”

If you want the full-Monty on this concept, please read the entire article. I see the stubbornness of linear thinking in people all the time. However, the fact that our brain wants us to keep things on the “straight and narrow” can often hamper our ability to really challenge, experiment and explore. A non-linear thinker tends to embrace a myriad of unrelated thoughts that somehow connect in ways that might otherwise not have been evident. We know the world is getting faster, and more complex. As leaders, we have to intentionally nurture non-linear thinking within others and ourselves to discover novel approaches to daunting opportunities. 

Character Moves:

  1. Challenge yourself with questions like: What other perspectives are there? Who else is talking about this? How would ___ think about it? How might we___? Have we considered or thought of ___? 
  2. Ask people who have nothing to do with your business or who work in tangential fields how they might approach a problem. 
  3. Momentarily walk away from the problem and intentionally put yourself in a position to look at things from a completely different perspective. What do you see now?

Non-Linear in The Triangle,

– Lorne

One Millennial View: As the HBR article above states, it’s easier said than done, but tackling something from a new and different angle seems to be one of the greatest weapons Millennials have to make waves in a world that ceremoniously and uncreatively “re-tweets.” Go ahead, call another situation “____gate.” Photoshop another “Crying Jordan” meme for something obvious. Your initial results and “likes” might be gratifying, but in my opinion it’s so tired. Can’t we think a little non-linear and do a lot better than that?

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

What’s Better Than Being Smart?

Key Point: The ability to shift perspective is better than being smart. That’s the view expressed by Astro Teller, the leader who runs Google’s moonshot business, X. Chris McQueen, another Googler and the guy who leads Google’s Innovation lab, heads many of Google’s transformation and ideation sessions out of the famous “Google Garage.” He deftly makes this “perception” point by telling a story he shared with a number of us fortunate enough to spend a day with him this past week. 

A friend of McQueen’s is a crazy gear head and wanted to share that enthusiasm with his newborn infant by immediately hanging a car themed mobile over the crib. Surely the little one would be excited to view these bright, shiny vehicles and quickly begin a shared paternal love for the automobile. Much to his friend’s chagrin, the baby just never seemed to show any interest in the colorful, beautiful mobile. One day, the dad bent down to make up the crib and happened to see what the mobile looked like from the baby’s perspective. He was shocked to observe that instead of ogling, cooing, inspiring cars, the toys looked like a bunch of intertwined, unattractive sticks. It was nothing like the view from the top of the crib, or even from the side. His friend realized that the mobile was essentially for him and not at all interesting from the baby’s point of view. Hmm.

This simple, yet impactful little story reminds us when we want to deliver something of meaning to others, we have to be sure that we are looking from the perspective of the receiver or user. Otherwise, the service or product we offer is more often about us than them. During his workshops, McQueen emphasizes the only real way to deeply understand and achieve this valued actionable viewpoint, is to connect the user and their needs through observation and data. Doing this well results in actionable insight from the users’ perspective. This is often easier said than done and usually requires iterative work, including fast prototyping and testing before we invest (regardless of how well intended or how strongly we believe in our interpretation).

While I’m sharing “McQueen Nuggets,” I thought I’d provide another represented in his San Francisco “pothole” story. Chris asked us how we would prioritize fixing ALL the potholes in San Francisco (or any other place for that matter). This is under the assumption that it is not practical, feasible or economical to fix all of them at once. The obvious thing is to fill in the big ones that could cause harm or damage to people and transport. However, the next logical place would be to repair the holes that experience the most traffic. This simple and helpful guide is a principle many organizations could benefit from: Map the journeys your most valuable customers take and fix every pothole where they frequently travel! 

Character Moves: 

  1. Remember that you can add to your IQ significantly by being a naive and open learner; continuously and consciously lifting and shifting your perception. See things from every angle other than just where you are standing. Pay extra attention to the view of others/users you really want to meaningfully serve. 
  1. Map the journey of these users, smooth over the potholes of their roads most travelled, and you will be a friction, fixing genius. It is focused attention and priority more than just throwing resources at problems. 
  1. Become a Googler in attitude and action… You and I too can think Google X: It’s simple, possible, and still hard. 

Googley in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I think as Millennials, we thrive on user/customer generated feedback. We want to inquire about what “potholes” we can fix first. Thankfully, there’s always a great platform for this type of communication. But we also know the asphalt is always going to get torn up somehow, and need to be on the lookout. It’s a bumpy road out there, but if you learn how to navigate and adapt to the journey by asking those who frequent the commute, it’s a lot smoother.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Spiders, Pain and Happiness

Key Point: We can learn so much from spiders. Our chief economist, Todd Hirsch, wrote a new book entitled “Spiders in Space,” (which will officially be released at the end of April). The author tells a story about NASA taking spiders into space to see how they would react to zero gravity. Of course, spinning a web is based on gravity and spiders have been doing that the same way for more than 200,000 years! So, these unsuspecting spiders now find their home on the international space station and there is NO gravity. Now THAT’S disruption. For a while, they are disoriented and have a heck of time. The webs are a mess and the spiders are struggling. Then, one day they seem to regroup and amazingly learn to spin their webs in zero gravity. As Todd tells the story, they teach themselves to web from the corners out in windshield wiper fashion. They transform and invent a new web spinning process. Todd points out under similar circumstances, we humans would have likely formed a task force, eventually insisting the astronauts take us back home. 

I am really enjoying Mark Manson‘s book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k.” He points out that “happiness” is a verb more than a state of being. I agree with that. It comes essentially from the satisfaction of moving forward by solving problems. His view includes the premise that instead of asking ourselves what we want in life, we might be better off asking ourselves the question: “What pain are you willing to experience in your life?” “What are you willing to struggle for?” That will tell you more about what you really care about, and are willing to do. Happiness comes from struggling and resolving challenges or problems. Many of us desire all kinds of things, and frankly have no real commitment to do what it takes to get there. Our hopeful “what if?” eventually becomes “what else?” In the end, we really don’t want the “what if?” very much. Joy comes from the continual struggle to get to some desired future state and so do results. How much pain do you want to sustain? Really? Then do something about it NOW. 

Manson has another very practical tenet I really like. He calls it the “Do Something” principle. If you’re stuck or in a rut, do something; almost anything. That will often propel you. Start moving. If you wait for inspiration and motivation to act, inertia may very well win out. Forward action leads to inspiration, and then motivation. The spiders did not wait to be inspired or motivated. They just started spinning, one failure after another, and then one time – bingo, real progress! That’s inspirational and the motivation to keep acting. Spin!

Character Moves: 

  1. If you feel like you’re entering “zero gravity,” stop hoping to return to the past. It will not happen. Go forward and enjoy fighting through it. Why would you rob yourself of happiness? 
  1. Do something… Keep spinning… One day, voila! And you get to do it again. How fortunate we are to have these problems? Like the lesson from the Pixar movie “Inside Out,” joy and sad go together. So do problems and happiness. 

Spinning happy webs in The Triangle, 


One Millennial View: Ha, when people say they’re afraid of spiders, the last thing you’d think they’d be most intimidated of is their tenacity… But unfortunately for many, forcing oneself to actually “do something” is scarier than eight legs and a little venom. If you’re stuck, I bet your “spidey senses” are already tingling and you already know that you need to figure out how to spin that web again.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Who is to Blame?

Key Point: The headline on CNN news on Friday evening, Mar. 24 was: “Who is to Blame?” This was a reference to the disappointing outcome (per the Republican Congress and Trump Administration) that day, when the health care repeal and replace bill, now known by many as  “Trumpcare,” did not even get a vote in congress. This is NOT intended to be a political statement, however I clearly intend it to be a leadership comment.

Note President Trump’s tweets and/or comments referring to the health care fiasco, where he searches for someone else is to blame: We left it “all on the field,” so don’t blame us. It was the Freedom Caucus, the Democrats, Paul Ryan, others? Not me, your president! It seems that it is always someone else who is at fault with Trump. Actually, the pattern of finding blame seems to be a growing theme in today’s world. The disturbing aspect of this is that I strongly believe ALL blame is WASTE. Yes, of course all involved should ask themselves questions: “Why we’re we not able to meet our objectives?” “What did we learn from an honest assessment of failure?” “How could we have done it better?” “Where do we go from here to become successful?” Etc.  Blaming others and finding fault does little if any good at all, other than feeding egos by putting down others and deflecting responsibility. It doesn’t move anything forward. In fact, finding blame slows us down and serves as a forum for metering out punishment rather that finding progress. (Of course I’m not referring to criminal matters or the due process of law, which ideally has an appropriate and just framework for finding fault).

Note the late, great Dr. Wayne Dyer on the subject matter of blame: 

“All blame is a waste of time. No matter how much fault you find with

another, and regardless of how much you blame him, it will not change

you. The only thing blame does is to keep the focus off you when you

are looking for external reasons to explain your unhappiness or

frustration. You may succeed in making another feel guilty about

something by blaming him, but you won’t succeed in changing whatever it

is about you that is making you unhappy. ”

Great leaders at a local or global level invest zero time on blame. However, they spend laser-focused time on determining what went wrong and how to fix it. These enlightened leaders understand that everything is a process and subsequently every process can be improved. Yes… Attacking a process… Challenging the specifics of poor behavior is necessary.  But, if you attack and blame the personal essence of another, it will deter progress. People do not like to be blamed or attacked and most will fight back vigorously.

Character Moves:

  1. Be on the hunt to expunge the act of blaming, including and perhaps most importantly, self blame. Remember ALL blame is waste. We do not move anything forward with blame. 
  1. Be fierce attacking ineffective processes, unacceptable behavior, and/or situations. Do not make it a personal matter. Never attack based on assuming or judging the integrity of another. Be objective and precise in pointing out the actual specifics of what people do, don’t do, say or not say. Be curious and ask “why?” We are usually grateful for doing so.
  1. Be wary of people or organizations that promote finding blame. Their uninformed intent is often to avoid self-accountability. And that does little to promote meaningful forward movement. Remember that when something goes wrong, the most important question is: “What could I have done to make it better? What will I do to advance matters from here?”

No blame in The Triangle 


One Millennial View: I agree that blame is pretty much useless. I can’t pretend I have a clue what it’s like to be the President of the United States, or how to navigate the enormous stress that comes with a below 40 percent approval rating from 318 million citizens, but focusing on blame instead of improvement likely isn’t going to help raise that statistic.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Lorne Rubis

Lorne Rubis

The constant in Lorne’s diverse career is his ability to successfully lead organizations through significant change. At US West, where he served as a Vice President / Company Officer, Lorne was one of only seven direct reports ...
Read more about Lorne Rubis

Listen to Lorne's latest podcasts

Confidence, Patti Smith and Dylan: Failing authentically

Breathe fire: Leading and inspiring ourselves

Asking for feedback: The why

Taking on a new role: Lorne's journey

Lessons from Dot: Integrating technology into workplace culture


The Character Triangle Companion


Download the New eBook Today


The Character Triangle

Character Triangle Book CoverBuild Character, Have an Impact, and Inspire Others



Character Triangle

Our character is exclusively ours. We define it by how we think and what we do. I believe that acting with Character is driven by what I call the Character Triangle.

What, exactly, is the Character Triangle (CT)?

The CT describes and emphasizes three distinct but interdependent values:

Be Accountable: first person action to make things better, avoiding blame.
Be Respectful: being present, listening, looking again, focusing on the process.
Be Abundant: generous in spirit, moving forward, minimizing the lack of.

Read more about the Character Triangle


Be Accountable

Be Respectful

Be Abundant

Free Resources


The Character Triangle Companion Worksheet

NEW! The Character Triangle Companion Worksheet – Google Docs Version


Mind Your Own Business Radio – with Debi Davis, WLOB 1310 AM, 3/10/12 radio interview of Lorne Rubis


Would you like to view videos I reference in my blogs?  You can find them by subscribing to my channel on YouTube