The Military Mindset Solves Problems Better Than Entrepreneurs. Really! Here Are 5 Ways.

“A military mindset is objectively analyzing a planned course of action and anticipating the likely consequences before you take that action.” — Tulsi Gabbard
Written by Chris Schafer on May 17, 2018
The Military Mindset Solves Problems Better Than Entrepreneurs. Really! Here Are 5 Ways.

A recent article in Entrepreneur magazine about solving problems the author explained how entrepreneurs approach issues that make them better at solving problems. Well written and an easy read it never defined what makes these methods of thinking and solving problems better than any others, or why entrepreneurs are the ones that possess these insights. 

More importantly, it never explained how to develop this ability to solve problems like an entrepreneur. In an effort to shine some light on what may be considered an innate ability I offer the following analysis on the subject of problem-solving. 

Solving problems is like jumping hurdles.

With every new opportunity, there lurk difficulties. Success lies not solely in an innate ability to recognize an opportunity but to overcome the unforeseen hurdles as one starts down the track. And those successful at identifying an opportunity exist are not the same ones that overcome these hurdles necessarily. 

With solving problems many decisions will be made, and activities will be executed to reach a given goal. Unlike the hurdler, the business leader can't always see what lies down the track that may derail progress. Regardless of who recognizes the barriers or seizes the opportunity leaders and managers will be looked upon to make hard decisions and overcome issues to reach the final goal. 

Military Mindset

During my time in the military leading special operation teams, making hard decisions were a daily occurrence and one with the potential for deadly consequences during combat. Therefore problem-solving had to have a set of guidelines that worked in any situation to solve hard problems.

What I found was the thought process was the key to successfully overcoming the proverbial hurdle on the track. This is the reason why the military mindset is more effective than merely being an entrepreneur. 

Critical Thinking

Becoming a good problem solver relies on the ability to think creatively communicate well and think critically. Critical thinking in decision making is paramount for business leaders and entrepreneurs. It is one of the most sought-after skill sets for employers.      

 In 2012 The American Management Association stated

"More than half of executives admit their employees are “average” at best in critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication skills."


Decisions made with the use of critical thinking, are worthless without proper execution. As the runner observes the approaching hurdle, he can decide to jump over it but if he doesn't execute the jump at the right time with the right trajectory and amount of force a painful and humiliating failure will be the result.

The following is an outline that, if used and modified to fit the situation, will foster critical thinking resulting in better decision making and thus problem-solving. The most challenging part will be having the discipline to follow the outline when its easier to go with a gut feeling.

1. Define the desired results.

What does success look like? 

Understand and communicate the desired objective in simple terms. A simple test is to tell someone to give the desired result back to you in their own words. If it misses the mark, then think about how it can be restated to ensure that its crystal clear. 

2. Gather intelligence 

Collecting facts and data is essential to making a well informed decision; however, this is the easy part. It's the people that decision makers will rely upon to get the job done which will be the challenging part. Good leaders and decision makers take into account not only the data but factors that influence employees actions including: 

  • Culture 

  • Internal Politics 

  • Alternate Agendas

  • Alliances and allegiances

  • Motivations 

  • Fears

3 Understand the environment 

Understanding the facts and data is essential, but leaders and managers must be keenly aware of their surroundings. Challenge what you think you know.  When assumptions are not confirmed, or denied mistakes are made that many times increases the break-even point. Get an understanding of the following to paint a clear picture of the ability to execute any decision. 

  • Understand the needed resources

  • Available assets

  • Support required

  • Talent Knowledge of employees

4 Conduct Risk Assessment

In the military, we always reminded ourselves that the enemy has a vote. Conducting an assessment of what could go wrong and what would create failure due to the actions of other uncontrollable forces will help to recognize obstacles and prepare answers for them even if they are caned. Doing a risk assessment affords the leader or manager the ability to pivot or shift to a workable solution. 

    What is the most likely event that will or can happen? This can be based on:

  • History 

  • The ability of others to take action

Ask what would be considered catastrophic to the effort. This may not be just one thing in particular. It's more likely that a string of events will produce an insurmountable obstacle. Having an idea of what would be considered the end game can mean the difference between certain death and living to fight another day.  

5. Plan to overcome failure

Compromise is sometimes necessary to reach a given goal. It's essential to know when to compromise and when to remain steadfast. Use these three thought processes to determine if a compromise is warranted. 

  • Evaluate the possible outcomes. 

  • What is a less than desirable outcome but still considered a win? 

  • What are the second and third order of effects of making a compromise?


Making one good decision in the face of difficulty hardly makes one an effective entrepreneur leader or manager. It's the sum of several good decisions that builds confidence solves problems and creates success. Using a method to teach a mindset will solve problems better than the innate ability of an entrepreneur. 


Photos courtesy of author

By Chris Schafer

Chris is a 25+ year U.S. Army retired veteran and spent much of his military career on 3rd Special Forces Operational Detachments Alpha (ODA) teams. His career includes many deployments leading ODA teams advising and training people from all over the world. Chris earned a dual Master’s Degree in Business and Project management and co-authored Intrepid Professionals: How Principals from the Military Mindset Build Extraordinary Leaders, Teams, and Businesses. Chris is the Chief Executive of Military Affairs for SOLIDRed Concepts.