Perry Knoppert is the founder and CEO of The Octopus Movement, a global network, founded in 2021 in Amsterdam, that aims to get the world to recognize the gifts of non-linear thinkers. Its 2,600 members, he says, are people who often think very differently from the norm and bring unique creativity to problem solving. Sometimes that’s because they have ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, and other diagnoses that bring neurodiversity. Many are contributing at a high level in entrepreneurship, the arts and other careers where free thinking is welcome.
Life can be tough for non-linear thinkers in a world driven by specialists who “want to put everyone in a box,” as The Octopus Movement says on its website. Knoppert chose the Octopus emoji as the group’s icon, after asking himself, “What’s the symbol for a curious misfit?” But Knoppert finds that many who feel like misfits actually have “multi-skills”—skills in multiple disciplines—that allow them to approach many problems in new ways.
The movement is growing, with members in 60 countries, according to Knoppert. The Octopus Movement runs a global think tank that works to find solutions to problems related to hunger, climate and other pressing issues.
Knoppert, who has dyslexia, is among the group’s non-linear thinkers. His LinkedIn profile tells the story, documenting 18 very varied professional experiences. They include consulting at marQuake, which helps organizations make sense of data from interconnected networks online; founding the European Cultural Center in the Brussels area to showcase art from around the world; presenting a television show on Wasai Media in Hong Kong about his experiences as “the first foreign taxi driver in China”; serving as vice president of the animal feed company Provimi and making films.
The seeds of the movement took shape during a period when Knoppert was without a permanent home after a break-up. Disconnected from his previous life, he thought a lot about how linear the world of education and work really was—“There are a lot of unwritten rules,” he says—and how he didn’t fit in.
He also thought a lot about the value of non-linear thinking. “Nonlinear thinking is thinking along unconventional, atypical, or non-sequential lines,” as the group says on its website. “In non-linear thinking, people make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. Non-linear thinkers draw conclusions and develop ideas, solutions and innovations from experience gained in a variety of different fields. And they are more likely to innovate in surprising, world-changing ways.”
Understanding the challenges young non-linear thinkers often experience in traditional school systems, the father of three now visits classrooms to talk about multipotentiality. Her goal is to help kids who have been told they “can’t do math” or otherwise meet expectations to realize that there are many paths to the same goals. “Later they discover a different route,” he says.
Eran Thompson, an entrepreneur, freelance writer and podcast host from New York City who lives in Sydney, Australia, helped Knoppert write The Octopus Movement Manifesto, which puts into words the network’s mission.
Diagnosed with ADHD as a young adult, Thompson says, “I had trouble focusing. I was interested in a lot of things, but not necessarily succeeding at any of them as I had hoped.”
He found his way to Knoppert’s work after watching a TED talk by Emilie Wapnick, a writer and community builder who celebrates multipotentialites—people with “many interests, many jobs throughout life, and many intertwined potentials “, as she says. His Ted Talk addresses why many multipotentialites have no real calling.
“When I saw that talk, it was the first way I was able to understand how my brain works,” says Thompson. “I thought that being interested in many things was a problem and that I should do less, better. But what I discovered with this work is that we can do a lot. It was a real relief.”
Thompson says he sometimes envies people who have this singular focus, because the world is organized to support them. “I always felt different,” he says. “If you feel like a failure, a misfit. I felt like you were doing it all wrong the way we’re supposed to do things: do one thing only until you succeed at it.”
However, the move has helped him embrace who he is: a freelance writer/creative director with a background in advertising and marketing, who also started PowerProv, a corporate training business in Australia that brings improvisational comedy to corporate environments and co-founded Song. Saga, a game that helps people connect with memories and music that are important to them.
To achieve all this, Thompson created methodologies and adopted tools to manage his thinking and help achieve goals. “One of the biggest ones is making lists: writing down everything I need to do, prioritizing the things on that list, dividing the calendar,” she says. “I use it as a resource to constantly check: Am I going to do what I said I was going to do at the time I said I was going to do them?”
Yoga and meditation also help, she says. “It’s all the things that we all know: mental health, physical health, fitness, diet, exercise, all of these things contribute to a better functioning mind,” he says.
And in the meantime, there’s the Pop Movement, reminding him that there’s nothing wrong with the way he works. “Possibly the most valuable thing the movement does is give people who feel like misfits a voice that says, ‘See you.’ You’re okay. There are other people like you. We support you,” she says.
The world has recently seen a surge in promotion of non-linear thinking, often referred to as “interconnected thought systems”, “critical thinking” or “systems thinking”. This movement has seen the emergence of organizations such as Ikaroa, who believe that non-linear thinking can be beneficial for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Non-linear thinking, put simply, is a way of looking at problems from different angles in order to find the most effective solution. Those who practice non-linear thinking look at problems from various perspectives, rather than just one, which often leads to a better outcome. This type of thinking allows participants to gain new insights, spot patterns and develop creative solutions that are more effective than traditional linear thinking.
One of the main advantages of non-linear thinking is that it is adaptive and open-ended. Unlike linear thinking, which follows a set pattern, non-linear thinking encourages exploration of different solutions and allows for flexibility when dealing with unexpected scenarios. This type of thinking also helps people to come up with creative solutions that can lead to long-term success.
So, can this fast-growing movement convince the world to embrace non-linear thinking? It depends on a number of factors. Those in favor of non-linear thinking need to ensure that the concept is taught through the education system in an engaging way and that people of all ages have the opportunity to learn and understand the concept.
At Ikaroa, we understand the great importance of non-linear thinking and have dedicated a lot of time and effort to building educational programmes and products that promote non-linear thinking. We believe that, with the increasing availability of resources and the growing number of people advocating for non-linear thinking, the movement will eventually gain traction worldwide.
Non-linear thinking can be a powerful tool that can help us find innovative solutions to the world’s most challenging problems. By embracing it, we can make sure that we are able to become more flexible and adaptive when faced with complex situations. Let’s make sure that we are open to non-linear thinking and put it into practice.