Critical Thinking for Bootstrapping Entrepreneurs

Saturday, October 20, 2007 at 6:00pm by Site Administrator

What do Sherlock Holmes, Batman and Adrian Monk have in common? Besides being fictional crimefighters in their own ways, they’re all what some people might call critical thinkers. Applied to business, critical thinking might make the difference between producing a truly groundbreaking product or service and just another variation of existing offerings.

What is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is hard to define exactly because there really is no universal definition. It’s based on principles, not procedures. It involves non-linear, open-minded, multi-disciplinary approaches and considering multiple potential solutions. It takes a lifetime of continuing to learn, and considering input from all five senses before applying analytical principles to complex problem solving. (Think Batman or Adrian Monk.) Critical thinking is about how to think, not just what to think, and for some it’s a pursuit of truth. To me, critical thinking is the ultimate application of “lifehacking”.

Examples of Critical Thinkers
Who are critical thinkers? Logicians, philosophers, detectives/ CSIs, FBI profilers, forensic scientists, to name a few. They go beyond the basic principles to solve problems, using multi-disciplinary thinking, and have many attributes.

How Can Entrepreneurs Use Critical Thinking?
Entrepreneurs, especially bootstrapping entrepreneurs, probably have the mental framework and background to become critical thinkers, if they’re not already. Bootstrappers in particular have to solve problems in the most cost-effective long-term manner, not just put a bandage on the problem. The bandage is just a superficial solution; the root cause of the problem still exists.

To accomplish this requires both an basic understanding of various types of thinking (science, math, history, anthropology, economics, philosophy, logic, etc.) and an open-mindedness to consider various solutions. To really solve a problem, find not just the symptoms but the root cause, then attack that.

In my opinion, one of the most ideal tools for critical thinking is the use mindmapping. However, not once in over 30 years of using mindmaps have I ever seen anyone connect radiant thinking (mindmapping) with critical thinking.

Why Don’t More Entrepreneurs Use Critical Thinking?
There are probably three main reasons that more entrepreneurs do not use critical thinking:

  1. Critical thinking is not learned naturally by most people, without catalyzing conditions.
  2. It’s not commonly taught in the public education system, if anywhere at all, and certainly not in many careers.
  3. The results of critical thinking sometimes resemble idealism, and there’s a chain of confusion about idealism. It’s confused by some with “bleeding-heart liberalism”, which is confused with socialism, which is confused with communism – considered a sin by most Americans. Idealism and communism are wholly different, buthow do you go against this kind of societal misconception?
  4. Having capital to throw at a problem often dulls the thought process towards coming up with more cost-effective, efficient solutions.

Even if you find you’ve learned to think critically on your own, it takes discipline to experience constant application, and it’s a lifetime learning process. The path of least resistance – which is related to the principle of least effort – suggests we’ll take the easy road out. That is usually to throw money at a problem and have done with it.

That said, bootstrapping entrepreneurs have the greatest opportunity to become critical thinkers. Out of necessity due to lack of capital, they’re open to alternate solutions.

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  1. You mention that critical thinking is “not commonly taught in the public education system, if anywhere at all”. Have you come across CoRT Thinking Lessons?

    This is a programme for schools that goes back to 1974 or before and is the work of lateral thinking proponent, Edward de Bono.

    My daughter learnt this at school in Cambridge, UK, and certainly benefitted from it. The main site for it is and this provides substantial academic experimental results in the use of the method in schools.

    De Bono himself has been particularly active in putting forward methods to enhance creativity and problem solving.

    Roy Grubb

    Comment by Roy — October 21, 2007 @ 1:36 pm

  2. Hi Roy, thanks for the info. I am not famliar with CoRT, but I am talking about North America, particularly the United States. Critical Thinking is not commonly taught here, though that might be changing now. True, Edward de Bono has done a lot in this general area, though I wish more schools would pick up such teaching.

    Comment by Raj Dash — October 21, 2007 @ 3:02 pm

  3. Raj,
    I agree with your comment regarding “what is critical thinking”. It really is hard to define. Action Management developed processes for our Problem Solving & Decision Making Workshops and from this, we developed more processes or tools to teach Applied Critical Thinking. We have found it is a difficult concept to teach, because you first have to understand what is critical thinking. We have found that people who have the confidence to act with minimal planning are the ones who are best at critical thinking. We try to teach how to think logically (no small task) and comprehensively about a situation and then idenfify an appropriate course of action.

    Comment by Katherine Bianchi — October 23, 2007 @ 1:57 pm

  4. Hi Katherine, thanks for dropping by. It’s nice to see that there is some effort to teach critical thinking. Here’s something else to look at. I always had grief from workmates who were not critical thinkers, who felt me a threat to their career because I was. It’s one of the many reasons I despised being a salaried employee and am mostly happy working online.

    Critical thinking, amidst people who don’t do it, might cause you career problems – especially if your colleagues feel threatened, not to mention your boss. Not everyone is open-minded.

    Comment by Raj Dash — October 23, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

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