Practical Philosophy for Entrepreneurs


Most people haven't thought about philosophy since high school. Most people think philosophy is stuffy and too old fashioned to be relevant in today's world. Most people are wrong. Truth is, a major part of philosophy is critical thinking, and critical thinking is one of the most important tools in an entrepreneur's tool box.

Wikipedia says critical thinking reveals goals, examines assumptions, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence, accomplishes actions, and assesses conclusions. All good things, right? Problem is our sneaky brains have ways to set traps for us, and these nasty traps can impair our ability to think rationally and make good decisions. 

Here's a list of 6 things that will challenge your brain into thinking critically:

1. Break the Status Quo 

We're creatures of habit and we get comfortable with "the norm" pretty quick. It's human nature to repeat established behaviors, and most people believe it's a result of our constant fear of change. It's important to detach yourself from your current situation, maybe it's a website design, or perhaps a product you're selling, and ask yourself objectively if you're letting your comfort level impact your ability to make a rational decision.

2. Think Twice

Ever walked into a store and been tempted by a sale? $15 marked down from $20 - what a deal! Well what if it just said $15, would you still think it's a deal? Would you be equally tempted to buy it? Statistics say absolutely not. Initial impressions instantly create a bias that heavily impacts your decision making process. Marketers are great at planting seeds like these, and it's important to think critically about your first thought (woah, what a deal), get past that, and move on.

3. Don't Protect The Past

Last week I was at a restaurant and ordered way too much food. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach. Anyways, I ended up reluctantly eating the last 5 chicken wings simply because I paid for them. I was protecting my initial decision to order too much food. But why did I buy the food to begin with? I got the wings to satisfy my hunger and because they're delicious. The fact that the portion was too large had nothing to do with my initial goal. I shouldn't have eaten the last 5 chicken wings. The money had already been spent, so it shouldn't have found its way into the equation. Keep your mind on the goal and don't do stupid things to protect stupid decisions.

4. See For Yourself

Too many people just see what they want to see. Don't hire "yes men" and be skeptical of people who agree with you too much. Surround yourself with people that will challenge you and provide you with the other side - even if they're just good at playing devil's advocate.

5. Who Cares What Everyone Else is Doing

Call it peer pressure. Call it the herd instinct. Other people's actions heavily influence our own, and we always have the tendency to conform. Ever read a book from Oprah's book club? I bet there are a million books that would be better for you to read. People like to consume what everyone else is consuming, but you should ignore this trap! Who cares what others are doing! You're better off to focus on yourself. Think critically and do what's best for you - ignore what's popular!   

6. Don't Drink Your Own Kool Aid

The official term is called illusory superiority, and it's a natural bias that causes people to overestimate their abilities and underestimate their negative qualities. It can also be called the above average effect. I prefer to call it "drinking your own Kool Aid" whereby almost everybody thinks they're above average at just about everything. It's impossible for everyone to be better than average. Chances are you're below average at a whole bunch of things - it's important to think about what those things might be. 


6 comments

  • Rachel Miller
    Rachel Miller
    December 09 2011, 05:13PM

    Nice post Mark!

  • Truth About Abs
    Truth About Abs
    December 09 2011, 05:24PM

    One can not find success unless he leaves critical thoughts.

  • @Shopify Mark Hayes
    Mark Hayes
    December 11 2011, 07:42PM

    Rachel: Thanks so much! :-)

    TAB: Thanks for reading!

  • Frederico
    Frederico
    December 14 2011, 05:21PM

    I must say that it was with great pleasure that I read this valuable post. Most people would do much better in their station in life – if only they applied a bit of philosophy.
    I spend a great deal of time mentoring start-up companies and practicial philosophy is at the very core of my day to day teachings.
    The toughest part of course is getting it to become a practice in an entrepreneurs mind and heart. Having the knowledge is key, but not executing and practicing fundamental actions on that knowledge – is as good as not having it.
    Thanks for sharing an excellent post. I can see why your customers are delighted by the Shopify platform.

  • anna
    anna
    February 06 2012, 06:32PM

    Hi Mark, great post, great timing, needed a little bit of perspective, so easy to get caught up in our own world and lose sight of the bigger picture! Cheers

  • jamal
    jamal
    November 28 2013, 07:02AM

    Hi, great points. i think the critical thinking has a major role but i suggest to extend the scope to other corners hasnt mentioned or usually have benn overlooked like the philosophy of risk taking and also networking

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