Are You Thinking Sideways?

A straight line is not always the route to the answer

Do you think sideways? 

We live in a world where onwards and upwards seems to be the name of the game.  There is endless pressure to keep moving, to be constantly working towards your next Big Goal. 

All well and good – there is nothing wrong with having an exciting vision ahead of you to keep you inspired and pull you forwards. 

But sometimes this kind of straight line or vertical thinking can leave you a bit blinkered.  It is as if the forward momentum means you have no time to glance to the side and see what might be there just out of your line of sight. And who knows what treasures may be passing you by?


Do you remember the poem by W H Davies?

WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.


It is when you stop to stand and stare that the value of thinking sideways comes in.  While drive is important in achieving your goals, succeeding in your career or making the changes you want in your life, it is also important to be able to slow down, relax your focus and just scan around to take in the wider picture to make sure you are not missing something crucial.


Thinking sideways for career changers

Thinking sideways can be really important for career changers.  What I often find is that people come to me with little or no focus in that they don’t know what career they want to move on to.  They feel lost because they are in a vast open terrain of possibilities.  It is almost like there is too much thinking sideways going on!  Maybe they are a little afraid to just stand and stare for a while. 

All they want to do is to lay down a clear path ahead that will take them to one specific outcome – their perfect career.  They want to think about their career future in a nice clear, straight line.

Does that sound like you?

What you need to do as a career changer is to develop the skills of both thinking sideways and thinking in straight lines.  Of driving forwards and also standing and staring.  Does that feel like I am trying to tie you in knots?! 

Thinking sideways and in straight lines are complementary skills and they will both bring value to your search for a new career.

Let’s just take a look at how the two approaches differ.


Differences between thinking sideways and thinking in straight lines

  • Straight line thinking is selective, it seeks closure, while thinking sideways is generative, it is all about being open to new possibilities.
  • Straight line thinking is sequential, it takes things one step at a time in a logical sequence.  Sideways thinking allows you to make jumps that may seem random and then fill in the gap in between afterwards.
  • If you are looking for the ‘right’ answer then you are using the vertical, straight line approach. Richness, a range of options and ideas is what matters in lateral, sideways thinking.
  • Straight line thinking is likely to follow predictable and well trodden paths, but when you are thinking sideways you are drawn into exploring the less likely, even the most unlikely paths.
  • Straight line thinking is all about being analytical, while sideways thinking loves being provocative, asking questions like ‘what if…?’
  • Vertical, straight line approaches try to define and categorise what is happening and where you are going while thinking sideways is not constrained by a need to classify and label but ranges free.

I hope this gives you an idea of how the two ways of thinking about your career change can work.  Come to think of it, it is relevant to just about everything in life.

What shall we have for supper tonight? Oh, it’s Wednesday. We always have pizza on Wednesday.  It’s quick and easy and I know I’ve got one in the freezer.  Or Ooooh, what do I fancy? What would be fun, different? Maybe I’ll let the kids choose and then it will be a surprise!

What new career could I move into? Well, it needs to build on what I have done already or all that would be wasted.  It needs to make sense in terms of a career path and I need to be able to see how I can make it happen.  Or Hmmm, if I could do anything, what would I choose?  How about starting by brainstorming everything I think sounds interesting?  Who could I talk to to find out more and who could help me make it happen?

See what I mean?

If you think changing career is all about homing in on the perfect career as soon as possible and then just going for it, maybe you should be thinking sideways a bit more?


What do you think?

  • Do you tend to be a straight line thinker or a sideways thinker?
  • How do you think sideways thinking could help you with your career change plans?
  • Do you give yourself time to stand and stare?


Over to you

I'd love to hear your thoughts about what you just read! Do share in the comment box below.

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From the 5 Minute Career Coach May 2014


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