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An MBA isn’t the key to being successful in business, and it only teaches you some of what you need to know to make it as an entrepreneur. While you’ll learn about incorporating, revenue, hiring and more, founders are realizing that emotional intelligence and soft skills are what often get their businesses running like well-oiled machines. CEOs are even turning to surprising methods—like equine therapy—to learn what their business classes didn’t offer.
For this reason, there’s something to the idea that a line of study in a realm completely opposite of business can set you up to be a great entrepreneur. Rather than being taught how to run a business, spending your years of education learning to think in a way that will help you start, grow and lead a business offers something that’s often overlooked.
Nick Miller, of the restaurant software company Gather, is a co-founder and CEO who attributes his success to his education in philosophy. And he’s in good company—numerous accomplished entrepreneurs like Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel credit their philosophy backgrounds for their success.
We talked to Miller about why he says philosophy majors make great entrepreneurs.
1. They encourage healthy debate
“Philosophy majors learn how to follow an argument all the way to the end, which is invaluable when you’re running a meeting or in front of potential investors. Healthy debate is particularly important when your business starts to grow and you’ve got more stakeholders.”
2. They accept ambiguity
“When you’re in the trenches, it’s hard to see a clear solution as things aren’t black and white. Philosophy teaches you to manage uncertainty—an important trait for business and leadership. As an entrepreneur, you know that nothing is guaranteed and sometimes you have to make a decision with 51 percent certainty. Philosophy helps you make those tough calls and become comfortable with uncomfortable situations.”
3. They think holistically
“If you can’t see the big picture, you could end up pursuing ideas that don’t go anywhere. Philosophy helps you envision how smaller decisions will eventually fit into bigger decisions, like how a new feature can fit into your broader product offerings or how a minor tweak can affect your future expansion plans.”
4. Philosophy helps you check your emotions
“It’s important to have a passion for what you do, but make sure you don’t confuse enthusiasm with capability. Philosophy helps you take a step back and make key business decisions with sound logic, even when you feel like going with your gut feeling. It’s easy to fall in love with a new idea or product and overlook its flaws, so it’s always a good idea to take a different perspective, look at your plans objectively and ask yourself, ‘is this really the best approach?’”
5. Philosophy teaches effective problem-solving
“Albert Einstein famously said that, ‘if I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.’ Einstein’s quote highlights a skill that philosophy majors have to master—the ability to break down complex problems into simpler ones. As an entrepreneur, you’ll have to think critically and solve complex problems early, and often, and that’s where a philosophy background can have a huge impact.”