Professor Billy O’Connor is Head of Teaching and Research in Physiology at the Graduate Medical School in the University of Limerick. After 30 years directing research and running campus spin-off companies, he sees entrepreneurship as an important element of his career. His personal research interest is in neuroscience, the science of the brain, and he agreed to talk to the Small Business Show about business and the brain.
The question of ‘Nature or Nurture’ is addressed. Do our genes make us who we are, or are we the product of our upbringing. According to Professor O’Connor, the modern understanding is that it is both. The brain is ‘plastic’ he says, continually re-wiring itself in response to what we learn. Obviously, this is most significant in childhood, but it continues throughout our lives.
So, are the brains of successful entrepreneurs different? Professor O’Connor says they are. Modern science can pinpoint specific regions and activities in the brain such as the reward pathway, which in extreme cases can be associated with addiction and excessive risk-taking. Entrepreneurs exhibit similar, though somewhat tempered, characteristics. Entrepreneurs, he says, take calculated risks.
Other characteristics associated with entrepreneurship include non-conformism and confidence. He also stresses the importance of being open to change, to admit mistakes and to hand over control when it makes sense to do so.
He cites Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell’s research led him to conclude that people at the top of their game have one thing in common: they’ve all spent 10,000 hours, or 10 years perfecting their craft. Professor O’Connor explains that this is the basis of the idea of the apprenticeship. Mastering your trade, he says, gives you confidence in business, and in competitive situations it can literally separate the men from the boys.
Brain science is playing an increasing role in business. Neuromarketing analyses brain responses to to marketing messages, and can involve subliminal techniques such as the Fed-Ex logo. (Can you see the hidden arrow?) Professor O’Connor says that psycho-physical tests are already employed in recruitment and he is certain that we will see more of this in the future.
Professor Billy O’Connor’s website is at inside-the-brain.com.
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