Thursday, February 04, 2021

Global versus Sequential Thinking

Inspired by an Althouse discussion about gender differences, real and perceived, in group discussion.

Global thinkers will tell you the main point first, then fill in the details. "We will not be moving corporate headquarters to Fort Worth. The main reasons are that the tax advantage does not outweigh the disruption and the lack of reliable vendors outside of the general Ohio area."

Sequential thinkers automatically start with the events leading-in to the decision.  "The meeting got started late. Ginny from HR was supposed to be there but was delayed and Armand is still out but we didn't know that right away. The first report was by James, who went over the three possible locations we are looking at in Fort Worth."

I don't think that sequential thinkers and expressers are much frustrated by global thinkers.  They do not comment on it, anyway.  It may be that they find it too blunt or lacking proper context to understand a whole situation, but not so bothersome as to prevent discussion.  Global thinkers can find sequential expressers very frustrating, however. Get to the point, will you?

Experienced observers of human nature will note that males tend more often to be global and females to be sequential, and this may be doubly so of husbands and wives. However, this is certainly not universal.  I worked in a largely-female setting, but our context was acute psychiatric care. Verbal interactions had to be focused on most-important-information-first.  "22 y/o female, recent suicide attempt via overdose requiring 3 days ICU at Cheshire. History of six previous attempts, all by overdose. Precipitating event is court hearing about custody of her children, etc."  It would be frustrating to the point of infuriating to gather background information and ask (usually Mom) specifically "What has been happening the last two or three weeks?" and hear "Well, they could tell something was wrong with Amber from the day she started Kindergarten. She's a lot like her older sister, and they are both like my sister Nicole."

Significantly, female social workers dealt with this better than I did. There were exceptions in both directions, however. There were females who were as global as I was who rolled their eyes just as much, and about half of the other male social workers over the years were sequentials, not much bothered by that type of information-sharing. (They did, however, develop questioning skills of getting Mom to move along to what we needed more.  We all did, but the other sequential thinkers were likely better at it.)

Also, the in-depth information we eventually need on the patient does come in sequential form: the lab work and changes in condition over days in the ER or the ICU; the developmental record from childhood; the progression of the disease. I find that tedious, but it is necessary.

This seems related to the navigational differences of overhead/cardinal direction (a more usually male strategy and literally global when pushed to the extreme) and landmark navigation (a more usually female strategy, and sequential). However, I don't know of any research which shows that globals are also overhead/cardinals and sequentials are landmark-preferring in their navigation. Just because one is more usually male and the other female, and that it would make intuitive sense is not very solid evidence. I touch on the navigation information in my Wayfaring Series from years ago, updated in 2018. A good deal of research on navigation is included.


David Foster said...

I'm always impressed that some women operating in the sequential mode can not only go down several levels, but also come back up again--like a software system pushing things onto stacks and them popping them back off again.

Texan99 said...

I get calls from constituents that are sequential; they drive me nuts. I'm strongly tempted to break in and say, "But what is it that you actually want done? I need to be able to figure out if it has anything whatever to do with a county duty or power." On days when I'm not too rushed or impatient, I figure it's more important just to let them have their say. They don't always genuinely want anything done, they just want someone to listen sympathetically to their feelings. I have to steel myself to do it.

Today someone was telling me all about how a particular projection for a project wasn't going to work, the person who did the projection was going to lose money. From my perspective, that was the problem of the person who did the projection, and all I needed to know was why my caller thought the failure of the enterprise could come back to haunt the county. But any attempt to get her to switch to that issue brought on an insistent that I listen to the whole conversation, in order, in which the other person admitted that her projection might not pan out. It had a huge emotional charge for her, something about its having been admitted to her. I don't care! But she has to say it. I can't get her off the phone until she does.

I'm so so so not the right person to pour out pure feelings to, but an amazing number of people want to do it. If someone can't stick to facts and logic, it just drives me crazy. "I know what I'm proposing we do makes no sense and in fact will have consequences contrary to what I claim to want, but feelzzzzzz."

Donna B. said...

I can be either now, depending on the circumstances. Fifty years ago, I was all sequential. I hope that even then I would have started off with "The first report was by James, who went over the three possible locations we are looking at in Fort Worth."

Grim said...

I must have been sequential in the long ago days of my Master’s thesis; my advisor use to chide me for “backing into conclusions.” Well, the young me thought, naturally the conclusion should come at the end, when the whole process of thought has been laid out. Only then can you see how it follows.

It’s a habit to be unlearned for most writing. Maybe mystery novels can get away with it. Columbo.

james said...

Math proofs are sequential, aren't they? Of course that's the formal statement of the solution. The path to finding the solution involves a lot of noodling around, and when you try to teach it you try to motivate it first--global.

Unknown said...

Like others, I've had to work at "conclusion first" writing, and in conversation my wife will often ask me to 'get to the point' when I'm trying to lay the groundwork to support it.

I'm pretty ruthless as a committee chair, however.
• Get everyone to agree that we need to come to a decision on 'X',
• verify that we have all the information needed to make the decision
-- if 'yes', great,
-- if 'no', then lets move on to the next item on the agenda so that we can finish the meeting and go do the work to get the info.


PenGun said...

I have never been lost. I just always know where I am. It was mildly shocking for me to learn, when I was quite young, that other people could got lost.

Jonathan said...

Global thinkers think sequential thinkers are self-absorbed and should get to the point. Sequential thinkers think global thinkers are arrogant, because global thinkers look for patterns. If you don't recognize the pattern, pattern recognition looks like jumping to a conclusion.

Blindness to patterns is a major weakness of sequential thinking. If there are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades happen, it's nice to have a library of models to compare to what's happening if you happen to find yourself in one of those happening weeks. Sequential thinkers, depending mainly on their recent experiences, are at a disadvantage, while the global thinker might think: "This is like November 1917" or whatever.

james said...

Sequential thinking provides a narrative--lots of people like narratives, don't they?

Tom Bridgeland said...

I ask my wife 'What's the topic?'
I often have no idea what we are talking about, sometimes for half an hour while she discusses the background. It's frustrating. Just tell me what you want me to do. If I need to know why, I'll ask.

Linda Fox said...

There is a relation to how men and women give directions:

Women: First, you go 2 blocks, and turn right at the gas station. You know, the one that always has the Blizzard special on the front of the store window?

Then, drive down that road that goes back and forth. Don't stop at the antique shop on the corner that is going out of business - it's been going out of business for 4 years. Instead, you keep on that road (What's the name of it? I don't know, it's just the one that bears first left then right, over and over again. It's got all the car dealerships on it.), until you come to the shopping center.
Turn left one block after you pass the Books-a-Million store. Then, watch out for the purple house - yes, it's a horrible purple, well, actually 4 different purples, if you can believe that. The other houses around it are lovely, but that has to kill the value of those houses.
The first street light after the purple house, you start counting and the house you're looking for is the 4th one. You'll know it by the big oak tree in the front yard. The house number? Oh, I don't know.

Men: Let me draw you a map.

One is filled with verbal information and much detail, the other is graphic, and with few words.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Linda Fox - exactly. Women use landmark navigation, men use overhead or cardinal directions, though that is an 80/20 gender breakdown, not absolute. GPS uses both together, a birdseye view from above the ground but looking forward. Good move on their part.

You will enjoy the Wayfinding series I linked very enjoyable, as I and my brilliant commenters go into many interesting places.