The power of perpendicular thinking
Do you know why we have a 40 hour work week? The answer might shock you. Its origins date to the Industrial Revolution (not the Internet Revolution – the industrial one). Back in the middle of the 18th century, it was common for people to work 72 hours a week. Then, the US Congress passed the Fair Labor Act and formalized our current work week.
This concept of ‘work’ is clearly antiquated now in light of our contemporary, always-connected knowledge economy. In fact, many of the institutions that form the backbone of our contemporary existence are actually anachronisms from other centuries.
When I realized that so many aspects of our life were based on old habits, I began to wonder what else we’ve been conditioned to accept as ‘fact’ without critically assessing it first. It was then that I discovered the power of what I’ve come to call ‘Perpendicular Thinking’.
In geometry, a perpendicular line is one that meets another at a perfect, 90 degree right angle. Aside from the association with the word ‘right’ (as in correct, not conservative!), I describe the approach this way because we need to develop the reflex of coming at any commonly-held practice from an angle.
Let me be clear, though: I’m not advocating blind opposition. Indeed, this would be as short-sighted as taking what’s given to us as a given. Instead, I believe that we owe to ourselves to question what we’re told, investigate if it’s still true, and make a personal, conscious determination about whether or not we choose to embrace or reject it.
In some ways, I was perpendicular before I discovered perpendicularity. I’ve often followed – for better and for worse – my own north star in both actions and thoughts. Many of the ideas that have caught my eye share the common gene of contrarian thinking. I’ve written about being alone together, the significance of exits over entrances, the ‘return’ of history and the importance of making magnificent mistakes.
Living a Perpendicular Life
Becoming more comfortable about going against the grain is at the heart of perpendicular thinking. So let me leave you with some suggestions:
Don’t subcontract critical thinking to society. More often than not, conventional wisdom is more reliant on convention than sagacity.
Be consistently counter-intuitive. Always stop and think when someone says that you’re ‘supposed’ to do something.
Contemplate – perhaps even take – the road less travelled. It may turn out that you’re the only one who knows what they’re doing.
Finally, be uncommon. Always try to be in a ‘Category of One’ in business and in life. A noted businessman and philosopher once said, “you want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.” His name: Jerry Garcia. His achievement: turning The Grateful Dead into the most successful touring band of all-time.
If you start to ask questions like this, you will be amazed by some of the answers. Make them part of your life philosophy, and tap into the power of perpendicular thinking. But don’t just take my word for it …
Ion Valaskakis is a Consultant on Personal Leadership and Professional Development. He is Vice President, Communications at the New School of Athens (Canada), and President at Portfolio IV Media. He blogs at popphilosophy.ca.