Tag Archives: thinking styles

How Random!

by Kassandra Lamb

How often we use this phrase! It’s come to mean that something is illogical. The word random also might be defined as scattered, something with no pattern, no rhyme or reason.

Rodin's The Thinker (photo by Andrew Horne, public domain, Wikimedia)

Rodin’s The Thinker (photo by Andrew Horne, public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

But there truly is such a thing as a random thinker. This is one end of a continuum that is part of a theory developed by a dude named Anthony F. Gregorc, Ph.D. The other end is sequential.

(There is another continuum in his model of how humans think — concrete vs. abstract. More on that in another post.)

Sequentials tend to think in a linear fashion. They are very good at following step-by-step instructions, and they tend to be organized. What we think of as logical or analytical is essentially sequential thinking.

Random thinkers are more intuitive. While they tend to frustrate the bejesus out of sequentials, they have their shining moments. Often they are more creative and come up with novel solutions to problems.

They not only think outside the box, most of the time they can’t even find the box. To say they are messy is an understatement. Indeed, the quickest way to tell if someone is a random vs. a sequential is to look at their personal spaces–their desks, offices and bedrooms. Do these places look like a bomb just went off? If so, the person is probably a random thinker.

My study--not totally neat, but I know what is in each pile, and you can see the floor!

My study–not totally neat, but I know what is in each pile, and you can find the floor!

Now that doesn’t mean that sequentials are always stick-up-their-butts neatniks. But if you ask a sequential where something is, they can probably tell you which pile it’s in. If they say the don’t know, the item is truly lost.

With randoms, they almost always say they don’t know where it is. They have no conscious memory of where they put it, nor any “logical” organization to their piles of stuff. But they are indeed organized, in their own intuitive way.

My husband is a hardcore random. His study in our house is almost impossible to walk around in. There are papers and books piled everywhere, on all flat surfaces including the floor.

By contrast, my husband's random study.

By contrast, my husband’s random study. (Yes, that is a bottle of window cleaner on the floor; I’ve no idea why it’s there.)

If I ask him where some piece of paper is, he will tell me he has no clue. But then he will go looking and almost every time, he’ll come up with it within ten to twenty minutes. On some intuitive level, he knows where it is.

So why has random vs. sequential thinking been on my mind lately? Because I’ve been trying to figure out how these two thinking styles relate to two other phenomena. One is whether or not people finish what they start. That was actually the blog post I set out to write, then decided I needed to explore randomness first. So more on that subject in a couple weeks.

The other connection I’ve been pondering is with creativity. Theoretically randoms are more creative. But I’m very much a sequential thinker, and I’m a writer.

(By the way, this theory of random vs. sequential thinking has replaced the old right brain/left brain theory. The latter didn’t hold up well under scientific scrutiny. While certain intellectual functions tend to be centered in one hemisphere of the brain or the other, individuals do not seem to routinely have a more active right or left brain.)

a brain full of computer circuit boards

A sequential’s brain–just kidding 😉 (by Gengiskanhg CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Common)

But they do seem to fit into the patterns of random or sequential thinkers, or somewhere in between (keep in mind, this is a continuum).

Amongst writers, we also have a continuum of writing styles: plotters vs. pantsers. Plotters are very organized and plan out their story before they start to write. They do character sketches and outline the key plot points. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. A story idea occurs to them, and they just sit down and write.

I fall a little bit in between (a plantser?) but I lean much more toward pantsing than plotting. This is very strange to me since I am so hardcore sequential and organized in the rest of my life. But I find with writing, that if I plan a story too meticulously I lose interest before I’ve gotten it written. So I just sit down and write and see where that takes me.

My husband, on the other hand, realizes that some things need to be planned–teaching, for example. For his classes, he writes out a fairly detailed lesson plan. But because I am more naturally organized, I can get away with a fairly loose outline of what I want to cover when I teach a class.

So I’m curious about the relationship here between plotting/pantsing and random/sequential. I’d like to take a little informal survey.

Based on this limited description, do you think you are more random or sequential? And how do you approach the demands of your job, do you plan it carefully or wing it? Writers in particular, I’d love to hear how random vs. sequential thinking correlates with plotting vs. pantsing.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist and college professor turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

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