Change happens. It may be slow and at a glacial pace but it happens. There are reasons why change occurs and why it is so difficult and slow to happen. Change occurs in two ways: It is either forced upon us or we initiate change. Our thought process has a lot to do with the change we experience. Also, unique emotions tend to guide us on how we will accept, refuse or initiate change. The path of change may be denial as we hold on to what we know to be true, and then resist change at all costs. Some experts predict the younger generation is more adaptable to change as they rely more on “conceptual” thinking than us in the older generations.

Conceptual thinking is focusing more on the big picture, being a bit more creative and searching for new solutions to old problems—thus creating new opportunities and taking advantage of societal changes. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are inventions from these conceptual-type thinkers. They saw an opportunity and thought to themselves, “How can I make something happen? How can I take advantage of new technology?” They often are labeled as “free thinkers” by believers; and, as “out there” by the “linear” thinkers. The linear thinker relies on a basic step by step approach and sees a straight line through a series of tried-and-true steps to solve a problem. The conceptual thinker works a more complex process to reach a goal. Successful linear thinkers have achieved success by lineal thinking; they know what has worked, made them successful, and ask themselves, “why change?” You can’t blame them—it worked.

Conceptual thinkers bring new ideas, they tend to think outside the box and can come up with alternative ideas that are labeled as great or possibly dumb.


Lineal thinkers are more predictable; they focus on that lineal path, and only deviate from that path when forced by circumstances. They tend to be more dogmatic and want to follow that proven historical path.

In our industry, we have both types of thinkers and they tend to gravitate to a particular side of our industry. Most contractors are linear-style thinkers, simply by the nature that they are driven to that mode of thinking in order to succeed. They bid work and to make money they need to be more efficient than the competition.

They push for lower costs, push their workers harder and cut waste to a minimum. This linear thinking—coupled with hard work—functions quite well for contracting. Conceptual thinkers generally gravitate toward manufacturing or consulting, and some move into marketing. They tend to create new products that solve old problems. They see the opportunity to capitalize on a situation, trend or change in law and conceptually come up with an idea. They think in terms of market share, embrace change and often have an equal amount of failures and successes. The contractor can’t afford failures—it is not an option. But the successes of conceptual thinkers re-shape the world; linear thinkers may learn to adapt to it and make it work for them.

Lineal thinkers are not very interested in change and most find it difficult to even sit long enough to listen to the conceptual thinker’s concepts. Conceptual thinkers tend to look for change, sometimes even when change is not needed. Lineal thinkers avoid taking a risk: the path is clear, the plan basic and the road to success is hard work, and staying on that course following what others have done before them. They will just be better at it.


Are you trying to figure out which one you are? Most of us are a bit of both; we all tend to be brought up with a leaning toward one direction or the other. Both are valuable assets. The trick is to recognize and respect the traits in each.

As the experts predict, the next generation will be more conceptual in their thinking process. They will want to know the ultimate goal and be allowed freedom in reaching that goal in their own individual way. Successful organizations will recognize conceptual and linear thinkers for their value and will prosper or fail accordingly depending on how well they manage each.