Examining Entrepreneurial Cognition: An Occupational Analysis of Balanced Linear and Nonlinear Thinking and Entrepreneurship Success

Article excerpt

This empirical study advances entrepreneurial cognition research by examining whether entrepreneurs possess a high nonlinear (e.g., intuitive, creative, emotional) thinking style, as some studies and a common stereotype of entrepreneurs would suggest, or whether they possess a more versatile balance in both nonlinear and linear (e.g., analytic, rational, logical) thinking styles. As predicted, 39 entrepreneurs demonstrated greater balance in linear and nonlinear thinking styles than their professional actor (n=33), accountant (n=31), and frontline manager (n = 77) counterparts, though they did not significantly differ in thinking style balance from senior executives (n=39). Unexpectedly, educational background was associated with thinking style balance, suggesting that years of formal education may contribute to one's versatility in utilizing both linear and nonlinear thinking styles. For the entrepreneur sample, linear and nonlinear thinking styles balance predicted years in current business after controlling for industry, number of employees, and demographic variables. Implications for future entrepreneurial cognition research and entrepreneurship education are discussed.


Entrepreneurial intent and subsequent activity are increasingly recognized as vital to economic viability and growth, and particularly worthy of considerable support and resource investment in education and economic policy (Aquino 2005; Floyd and McManus 2005; Garcia 2005). This widespread recognition is especially keen as organizations and governments struggle to survive a serious global economic crisis (Bosma et al. 2009; Lohr 2008). Successful entrepreneurship is based on the prudent use of multiple information sources, both formal and informal, providing new knowledge and information about potential venture opportunities, and about the appropriate utilization of knowledge gained from prior learning and work experience (Fiet 2002). Effective problem solving and decision-making in our increasingly uncertain and global business environment call for entrepreneurs who are not limited to traditional information sources and linear thinking patterns of rationality, logic, systematic analysis, reason, and cause-effect predictability (Siggelkow and Rivkin 2005), but also employ creative and lateral thinking, intuition, conscious emotional assessments, integrative and synergistic thinking, imagination, and insight (Csik-szentmihalyi 1996; Damasio 1994; De Bono 1992; Maani and Maharaj 2004; Sadler-Smith and Shefy 2004). As a complement to linear thinking, these nonlinear cognition patterns for coping with the nonlinear dynamical nature of today's global business environment have been referred to as nonlinear thinking (Horgan 1989; Losada and Heaphy 2004; Sadler-Smith and Shefy 2004; Vance, Zell, and Groves 2008).

Thinking style has been described as one's preferred pattern for using mental abilities in addressing daily demands and activities, including perceiving and solving problems and challenges. Partially developed through socialization and often operating unconsciously, an individual's thinking style also may consciously vary depending on perceived expedience and demands of a given situation (Dane and Pratt 2007; Sternberg 1994, 1997). In their recognition of viable new venture opportunities, successful entrepreneurs are commonly portrayed as relying heavily upon nonlinear thinking modes such as intuition, feelings and emotion, creativity, imagination, and optimism, all of which support risk-taking and perseverance in the face of obstacles and disappointments (Aquino 2005; Bird and Baron 2005; Blume and Covin 2005; Gartner 2005; Markman, Baron, and Balkin 2005; Runco 2004; Simon, Houghton, and Aquino 2000). In short, both popular business press and empirical research appear to offer some support for the notion that successful entrepreneurs possess a predominant nonlinear thinking and decision-making style compared with other successful professionals. …