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 organisational 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 behaviour, 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 neuro-plasticity 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 humour 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, often unconscious, that drive much of our behaviour. 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 behaviours 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 behaviour (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 neuro-plasticity 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 optimising 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.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
A Future-proof You
Fostering a growth mindset is critical if you want to be irreplaceable in the future.
Our ability to succeed and grow is determined by how adaptive we are, and our ability to learn. The good news? You can foster a Growth Mindset.
Have you ever wondered why some people can view failure as the end of the world while others see it as an exciting opportunity? Psychologists and neuroscientists have focused on this phenomenon over the last decade to better understand how we approach challenges in our personal and business lives.
The phenomenon has been defined as a ‘Growth Mindset’ by Stanford Psychologist Dr Carol Dweck and has been linked to higher levels of collaboration, resilience, motivation, performance and innovation. Since publishing her book, Mindset (1.6 million in print already), the term Growth Mindset has begun to appear in many major leadership frameworks and school curriculums, both locally and internationally.
In fact, Growth Mindset has become a core strategy at many global companies, including Microsoft, Google and NASA. It’s also been put forward as one of the key skills for the future world of work, as it’s believed to have a significant impact on the ability to handle change in our environments.
Some believe that in order to future-proof ourselves in the new world of work, driven by rapid change, the question we should be asking ourselves is no longer “what skillset do we need to have?” To ultimately determine both personal and business success we need to rather ask “what mindset do we need to have?”
Cultivating a Growth Mindset
A mindset is the unconscious way that we view our world. It’s the lens that influences the way that we make sense of, and interpret, information. This ultimately guides our decision- making and our behaviour.
Our lens is largely determined by our experiences and interaction with the world. A Growth Mindset is a lens by which you interpret the world based on a belief that you have about the ability to grow and learn. Specifically, it’s the belief that you can grow and learn throughout life and that your ability is not something that you are born with.
Sounds philosophical and soft, but it has since been underpinned by advances in neuroscience and psychological research and has proven to have a hard business impact. Research started with school children and the way that different children handle challenges and setbacks. Since its application to the business context, researchers have seen it linked to higher levels of performance, greater frequency of feedback and different ways that information is processed in the brain. Some of its biggest applications have been in goal-setting, performance and development conversations in the business context. It’s also believed to be a core principle underpinning an innovation mindset.
Growth vs Fixed Mindset
A Growth Mindset is contrasted by a Fixed Mindset, which is a belief that you are the way you are and that you can’t get better. In truth, we possess both mindsets that vary related to certain tasks that trigger either a Growth Mindset or Fixed Mindset response. Sometimes, having a Fixed Mindset is okay, but for important tasks it can hamper our performance.
For example, I can have a belief in my ability to improve my rugby skills, but if I’m not big enough to make the Springboks I still won’t make it. Although I can definitely improve my ability at rugby, I also have to be realistic and recognise what parts of the environment trigger which mindset to leverage the best parts of my thinking.
Where having a mindset does not serve us, and is easily triggered, is in learning something new, which normally prompts a Fixed Mindset reaction. In the new world of work there is an increased need to learn and adapt that will ultimately determine our ability to succeed and grow. However, our mindset is at the core of how we interpret the inevitable challenges thrown at us.
A Fixed Mindset response generally focuses on looking good at all times. This places an emphasis on proving oneself, demonstrating skill and performing better than others. Although this can be used to describe the current status quo of business, many companies and institutions are beginning to realise the negative side effects of this dated approach in the new world of work.
This mindset makes us focus on problems, get bogged down in details, be defensive or anxious and get derailed by negative emotions. However, if we change the focus to not ‘look good’ (Fixed) but ‘get better’ (Growth) we can change the way we interpret the same challenges or changes. We focus on improving ourselves, developing skills and performing better than before. When you apply this approach to work you seek out role models, take better risks, set better goals and ultimately become more effective — because it comes from a belief that you can get better.
Leverage your brain for better performance
A Growth Mindset can be nudged with language and changed over time. How you set goals, give feedback and have conversations can all influence whether you trigger a Fixed or Growth Mindset response.
Once you understand Fixed and Growth mindsets there are two strategies to make sure you elicit the best response to challenges in your business environment. One easy way is to simply add the word “yet” when communicating feedback.
Instead of saying that someone “did not do a presentation well,” say that they “did not do the presentation well yet.” This places a focus and a belief on the ability to improve and not a focus on judging performance. This enables the brain to be at its best to process this information and see it as an opportunity to grow and not an opportunity to justify performance or get bogged down in details.
Another great way is to apply the Rule of Three when faced with a challenge that you find threatening. When faced with a challenge think about where you were six months ago, or how you had previously approached a different challenge, and reflect on your progress.
Once you acknowledge your progress, think about where you might be six months after this challenge. This reaffirms the belief that we can all get better and that challenges, although they may stretch us, make us better by the end of it.
By being aware of how our mindset affects us and taking active steps to reframe the same challenges that initially scared us, we can leverage our brains for better performance.
Trust, But Don’t Be Stupid. Get Agreements!
Everyone has been disappointed at some time in their lives, and often by the people you least expected it from. Trust is not given, it is earned. But even after being earned, don’t be naïve about it. Temper that trust with a splash of cynicism regarding the human race.
There are many entrepreneurs who have lost everything because they placed all their trust in a certain individual or group of people. Accountants and financial directors have stolen millions from entrepreneurs who trusted them with their banking. Sales reps and account managers have made businesses go into liquidation after taking all the customers or key accounts. Business partners who you trusted with your life — the godparents of your children! — left with your business and hard-earned cash, laughing all the way.
Business is a funny thing and money makes people react in unpredictable ways. Business people are still just people. And not all of them are awesome. Agreements were invented for this very reason.
The smart entrepreneurs protect themselves against these possibilities. As a basic principle, draft and conclude proper agreements with everyone you do business with. Include restraint of trade clauses with employees, partners and suppliers. Set up internal controls in the company to ensure that no one individual is allowed to make payments or have access to cash.
Never rely on customers to fulfil their promises and don’t take risks that could sink you. Customers often over-promise and under-deliver, so be careful with their credit terms and ensure that there are proper agreements in place in case anything should go wrong.
These are all basic principles in business and most corporates will comply with them but the SME owner wants to hustle and conclude the deal. That’s a shaky tightrope to walk when you don’t have piles of cash to cushion the fall.
Related: Understanding Shareholder Agreements
As a bare minimum, you need to ensure that you have the following agreements in place to help you run your business effectively and protect against any disputes that may arise as your company grows:
Despite being sure that the relationship will last, it’s wise to prepare for the worst. A partnership or shareholder agreement sets out the responsibilities of each party and the procedures for settling conflicts. It also sets the terms and mitigates risks for all involved should one party wish to exit the agreement.
Employment agreements regulate the relationship with your employees and help to avoid misunderstandings and disputes. They regulate leave, working hours, deductions, termination, etc. The last thing you ever want, is to end up at the CCMA without an employment agreement in place.
A sales agreement sets the framework for delivery (inclusions and exclusions) and payment expectations. It creates a shared understanding between you and your client. When everything is working, no one ever refers to a contract. When there’s a problem, you can have endless disputes or simply refer to an agreement both parties signed.
4. Suppliers or subcontractors
When you depend on suppliers or subcontractors to fulfil your service obligations, you should definitely mitigate risks and protect your intellectual property. Have an agreement that stipulates delivery or performance requirements, includes a confidentiality and restraint of trade clause, and specifies how and when payments will be made. Most importantly, include provisions for rights and the action you can take if any part of this agreement fails.
The point of having agreements in place is to protect your business interests. There is little use in a contract that can’t be legally enforced. Having an attorney draw up your agreements may seem expensive, possibly over the top, but it will go a long way to ensuring that you can avoid legal proceedings in the long run.
Don’t be pennywise, pound foolish. Get the right agreements in place and protect yourself! Trust, but don’t be stupid about it.
Will You Make The Right Decision?
Our lives are an accumulation of the decisions we make, both big and small. Improve your decision-making process, and you’ll improve every aspect of your life and business.
“When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.” — Paulo Coelho
Much of what I do in coaching is to help my clients gain clarity around the decisions they make. Every day we must make hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions. Some of them are big and will have a dramatic impact on our personal and business lives. Others are small and made automatically without us paying much attention to them.
No matter how big or small a decision is, it pays to have a clear intention for why you are choosing a specific course of action.
After all, our lives are an accumulation of the decisions we make. The small and the big ones.
1. The Values Link
Society has conditioned us to think of success mostly in terms of achievement. This means that when faced with a decision about your future, you should take the option that would potentially deliver more money, more certainty, and more stuff.
I have often spoken to clients who think they want something, but it turns out to be a temporary infatuation. Once the emotional high wears off they realise that the shiny object was merely a distraction.
So, one of the best things you can do is to first create some distance from the decision you have to make. However, this is not always possible. In such cases I talk to my clients about the Values Link.
Essentially, we are trying to see which decision will link best to your values (current and future). I recently met with a great business coach to discuss potential collaborations. Our coaching differs in many ways. One of the key ways is that he has an awesome office where clients come to meet him and I do all my coaching digitally.
Leaving the meeting I had some office envy. I immediately started looking at To Let signs and googling office spaces to rent. I could see in my mind how my office space would look. Leather chairs. A wall filled with books. A tray with crystal glasses and premium whisky.
When the emotional high died down I realised it was not what I wanted at all. Conducting all my work digitally is exactly what I want because I value my freedom and mobility. This is not to say he doesn’t value these things, it just means that we prioritise and action our values differently. Be aware though that making decisions in this manner requires you to know what your values are.
2. Visualise the future
Visualisation is a great tool with many applications. Something I often ask my clients to do is to spend time visualising the possible outcomes of the decision they have to make.
I am not talking about a quick glimpse of what it may look like. I mean immersing yourself in it and feeling it.
What does it feel like when you have unhinged yourself from a certain commitment? What does it feel like when you have a new opportunity in front of you?
Try and visualise yourself into a day in the future and feel what it feels like. Sounds weird but you should try it!
3. Binary is boring
Many of us think that a decision is choosing between X or Y. In reality it could mean choosing between X, Y, Z, A, or B.
There is a paradox here. Research has shown that we make better decisions when we limit the amount of options we must choose between. However, do not limit yourself unnecessarily.
Use this paradox to your advantage. Take the time to be creative before making a decision and create as many different scenarios as you can. Create extreme versions of the decision, look for the middle ground, look at it from above and below. Generate possibilities.
Once you have done that, eliminate as many options until only the most useful ones remain. You do this by linking it back to your values and by checking the decisions against other criteria that you have determined.
Decisions that count
Decision-making is your most powerful tool for creating a bright future.
So, take care of the decisions you make, and they will take care of you. Remember above all to bring intention to every action and decision and watch the magic happen.
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