Imagine how entrepreneurs differ in their thinking from people running larger businesses. Linear thinking means a person thinks sequentially. Nonlinear thinking is different because no order exists in how a person thinks. I remember a situation I had highlighting the difference in these ways of thinking. Entrepreneurs embrace a more balanced approach employing both linear and nonlinear thinking skills.
To explain, I remember when I went to residency training for my doctoral work when an professor placed us in teams for a project. I had one member of my team with a military background. Although I found my previous experience with military people positive, I had a different experience with this particular person.
In my experience as an educator I taught several classes at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California and always found the people in my classes ready and willing to learn. I believe the military training these people received made them disciplined and develop good study habits. I found military students usually completed and turned their work in on time.
The gentleman in my residency class, who I shall call Mr. Roboto, gave me a different experience. Although Mr. Roboto eagerly wanted to take on the project, he quickly assumed the leadership, and dictated terms of the project. The suggestions from other people on the team he quickly dismissed in favor of his own ideas. Reflecting on this experience, I found this person’s approach highlighted linear thinking. Everything Mr. Roboto did expressed the “my way or the highway” approach and gave me a new appreciation of military thinking.
As a seasoned entrepreneur, I had a hard time dealing with Mr. Roboto because he dictated and never listened to anyone else on the team unless they agreed with him. Entrepreneurs often have more nonlinear thinking skills and thrive in a team setting, but Mr. Roboto put himself at the top of the chain of command and did not accept ideas from other team members. I found the approach Mr. Roboto took stifled creativity and more in line with the approach taken by a larger business.
In my studies, I found a better balance between linear and nonlinear skills is more desirable in my area of focus on entrepreneurship. Groves, Vance, and Choi (2011) found entrepreneurs have a greater balance between linear and nonlinear critical thinking skills and more education contributes to improving the balance.
My experience highlights some of the differences in how entrepreneurs think, organize a culture conducive to creativity, and lead. Entrepreneurs normally reject command and control settings and value more flexible organic settings. Mintzberg (1980) described entrepreneurs favoring adhocracy. Adhocracy relies on mutual adjustment in a decentralized, lively setting seeking harmonization. Masood, Dani, Burns, and Backhouse (2006) explained leadership in an adhocracy as visionary, innovative, and risk-oriented. Entrepreneurs collaborate and guide workers using continuous feedback loops.
A hierarchy culture stresses more formal setting and policies guiding what workers do. The hierarchy culture focuses on stability, predictability, and efficiency. Formal rules and policies are the glue holding the organization together (Masood et al., 2006). Mr. Roboto embodied the hierarchy culture, which clashed with the adhocracy culture I worked in as an entrepreneur. Mr. Roboto relied on command and control and avoidance of risk. No wonder I had such a difficult time in this group.
Entrepreneurs balance linear and nonlinear thinking and a good education helps the entrepreneur employ the right thinking to the proper problem. Entrepreneurs avoid all or nothing thinking and value collaborating with a team. Are you a linear thinker or do you have what it takes to balance linear thinking with nonlinear thinking? Please leave a comment. Learn more.
Groves, K., Vance, C., & Choi, D. (2011). Examining entrepreneurial cognition: An occupational analysis of balanced linear and nonlinear thinking and entrepreneurship success. Journal of Small Business Management, 49(3), 438-466. doi: 10.2307/259034.1999-08070-001 10.2307/259034 10.1287/orsc.9.5.543.
Masood, S., Dani, S., Burns, N., & Backhouse, C. (2006). Transformational leadership and organizational culture: The situational strength perspective. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers — Part B — Engineering Manufacture, 220(6), 941-949. doi: 10.1243/09544054JEM499
Mintzberg, H. (1980). Structure in 5’s: A synthesis of the research organization design Management Science, 26(3), 322-341. doi: 0825-1909/80/2603/0323^1.25