Over the past 20 years, we’ve learned more about the brain than in the entire course of human history. Researchers are on a quest to find out how can we translate brain science into practical strategies for increasing individual and organizational effectiveness — and along with that, more details about the relationship between neuroscience and entrepreneurship.
Research has shown that entrepreneurs’ brains are wired differently than non-entrepreneurs in that they tend to be quicker to respond to problems and less inhibited. Founders embrace a problem or opportunity — fast — and then become more thoughtful about the implications after the fact.
Other studies found that when entrepreneurs performed explorative tasks, they used both the left and right sides of their pre-frontal cortex as opposed to managers who tend to use primarily the left side. The pre-frontal cortex is associated with a person’s executive functions. The right half is associated with expressive and creative abilities; the left side, with complex cognitive behavior, decision making and problem solving.
Explorative tasks involve looking for new ways of achieving a goal rather than focusing on current practices. This type of decision making — which relies on innovation and experimentation — is often exhibited in entrepreneurs. By using both sides of their pre-frontal cortex, entrepreneurs tend to use all of their executive functions whereas managers tend to be more focused on critical thinking.
While it’s unclear how much of one’s brain is wired for entrepreneurship at birth, we know that both nature and nurture matter. Our brains are soft assembled, and neuroplasticity allows us to use our mind to improve our brain’s functions. Below are four capabilities which can help wire your brain for entrepreneurial wisdom.
1. Dynamic attention
Learning to focus your attention like a flashlight — with differing degrees of intensity, direction and scope is critical for entrepreneurial success. Starting your own business requires an enormous amount of discipline and focus as well as the ability to take a broader view of the entrepreneurial landscape. The flashlight metaphor is apt because forgetting to recharge your attention batteries with good nutrition and sleep can lead to weaker performance and poor decision making.
- Take time each day to cultivate the kind of healthy mind-wandering that fosters insight and novel solutions to strategic problems
- Protect your time by creating a technology-free zone at work and at home
2. Whole-person capacity
Bringing all of your internal resources to your entrepreneurial venture is critical to increasing performance, resilience and innovation. Developing the grit and agility necessary to weather challenge is essential to being a successful entrepreneur. This includes learning the power of regulating and leveraging emotions; understanding that reason and intuition are the twin engines of decision making; listening to your physical signaling system to increase energy and insight; and staying connected to the power of your purpose and passion.
- Reflect on the meaning and purpose behind your work
- Pay attention to what builds and drains your physical energy throughout the day
- Embrace the day’s honest mistakes with good humor and self compassion
- Check in with your gut and your analytic reasoning when making decisions
- Value your emotions as useful information
3. Strategic clarity
Being an entrepreneur requires the ability to step back, challenge your own biases and change your course of action based on what circumstances dictate. This form of mental agility is compromised by our brain’s natural default to the beliefs and assumptions, oftenunconscious, that drive much of our behavior. We have hundreds of biases that automatically influence our decision making.
Even our beliefs about learning impact our success. Carol Dweck and her colleagues at Stanford teach about the importance of a growth mindset — how individuals who believe they have unlimited capacity to learn throughout their lifetime outperform those who believe that intelligence is fixed.
Aspiring entrepreneurs can learn how to mitigate biases by rewiring neural patterns that lead to automatic responses. They can also learn how to reduce automatic behaviors that derail effectiveness and manage the inner voice that blocks healthy risk-taking and growth.
- Cultivate a network of trusted advisors who have very different points of view from your own
- Develop the habit of exploring and writing about situations from multiple perspectives
- Know your own default patterns of behavior (hint: start with your strengths — they can also become your weaknesses) and develop an internal alarm bell that alerts you to stop, review and reset before taking action
4. Authentic collaboration
Learning how to plug into the power of the social brain for more effective collaborations at all levels is critical for entrepreneurs. Our brains are social organs — we develop better brain functioning and increase neuroplasticity in healthy relationships. As human beings, our primary and most important context are the relationships that we experience.
Learning how to foster greater accountability without triggering a threat response and building compassion and empathy to increase healthy risk-taking is critical for entrepreneurs.
- Create a strong sense of “we” with rituals and rewards that support collaboration
- Embed the norm of constructive dissent by encouraging others to challenge your thinking and being open to disagreements
- Reinforce the value of experimentation and risk taking by rewarding those who “fail fast” and are open to learning from their mistakes
- Acknowledge that those who work with you are human and that their lives outside of work may call for a compassionate response from leaders and from co-workers
Developing and connecting different parts of our brain (neural integration) increases wisdom, helps us manage uncertainty and complexity and improves the quality of our relationships and increases our well being. The reality is that less than one percent of leaders are optimizing their brain-mind connection for extraordinary performance and agile decision making. Fortunately, many of these capabilities, which are critical for developing a risk-oriented, entrepreneurial mindset, can be learned and mastered.
Related: 5 Healthy Hacks for Busy Offices
Published in Entrepreneur