• Kurt Schmidt

The Linear Thinking Crisis

America has raised two successive generations trapped in linear thinking.

I see it year after year as students get ready to enter the world of work. Many of the young people view their careers through the lens of linear thinking.

The Linear Career Path

Students come to me for both formal and informal advice.  Their career decisions leave many stressed, and even emotionally paralyzed.

They have to get into the right school. They have to get the right professors. They have to land the perfect internship. They have to land a dream job that feeds their passion.  Step after step, they are convinced that one wrong move jeopardizes their future.  They are convinced that each step along the path predetermines the eventual outcome of their careers. One misstep leads to a dead end, from which they can never come back.  They have methodically followed the “one path” in life that they believe will lead them to success once they enter the work world. However, when they reach the point in life when they enter that “real world”, the nice clean path they thought would be waiting for them is not there. No wonder so many students move back home to “figure out life” after college!

The Un-coachable Entrepreneur

Many aspiring entrepreneurs we work with also have this same mentality.  They identify the one business that will bring them fulfillment and feed their passion.  They accept no feedback from mentors, professors, or even customers that challenges their thinking.  They have “figured it out,” so they expect all to get out of their way and let them forge ahead.  Customer discovery, market research, advice from experts be damned!

They are what my good friend and mentor-extraordinaire Shawn Glinter calls the un-coachable.

Don’t get me wrong.  There have always been un-coachable entrepreneurs, at least during the four decades I’ve been working with entrepreneurs.  What is different is how many more we are seeing.  They suffer from the same generational affliction of linear thinking as many of the students I work with.

Time for New Approach to Thinking

And now we face unprecedented economic and social disruption from coronavirus.  Linear thinking no longer will work for life plans nor business plans.

Phil Lewis wrote an excellent piece a couple of days ago about the critical need for lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is coming up with novel, even non-logical, solutions to a problem.  It is creativity at its best.

The critical point is this: it does not matter a jot what you do or where you work. Everyone has it in them to add transformational value through lateral thinking—even, or especially, in times of change or crisis.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs are facing personal crises within the broader context of the coronavirus crisis. The ones whose businesses have the best chance to survive, and eventually thrive, are the ones who can become nimble, lateral thinkers.

Nothing we have learned in the past can prepare us for what is next.  Entrepreneurs, particularly young entrepreneurs, must break free from their habit of linear thinking and find new solutions to the new problems this transformation we are living through has created.

These new problems are coming fast and furious.  There is no time for a contemplative approach to business planning and business modeling.

Experiment often. Fail quickly. Find traction. God speed!

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