Source: Everystocy, photographer: Ethan Hein Food For Thought

Inside The Mind Of The Entrepreneur


Researchers at M.I.T. recently released a very interesting study in which they announced that MRI scans show entrepreneurs tend to have more right brain activity during competition events and negotiations than the general populace. While this grabbed a couple headlines, the story quickly died off in the mainstream media. I have always been a closeted science nerd, so I happened to find this research extremely fascinating. When I find something fascinating I tend to focus on it and spend a lot of time dissecting and understanding it. Essentially, I like to be able to visualize a complete picture of the concept in my head before I feel a sense of complete self-satisfaction about the topic. So when I heard about the M.I.T. study, I naturally poured through books and research articles about the subject in my free time and discovered some very interesting things. Perhaps the most interesting thing I discovered was that all of the behaviors I just described are behaviors that tend to be associated with people who have abnormally high right hemisphere brain activity.

Debunking The Left Brain VS Right Brain Myth

When neural scientific studies were first performed, during the Freudian era, they studied severe epilepsy patients who had surgery to remove the connection in the brain between the right and left side. While the research was groundbreaking, and much of the core conclusions drawn from the studies are being confirmed by more modern scientific methods, this research also created a lot of the myths still pervasive in modern society about how the brain functions. Perhaps the most pervasive is that the left brain is responsible for logic and reasoning, while the right brain is responsible for emotion.

The actual truth is far more interesting than this popular oversimplification. When performing a task of any sort, both halves of the brain are engaged to a greater or lesser degree, though the information is usually processed predominantly by one half of the brain, while the other half, depending on the task, may only fire to process the background information surrounding the task. Now lets dive slightly deeper into our current understanding of how the brain functions. Essentially, the left side of the brain is very good at processing concrete information, while the right side of the brain is more efficient at processing abstract information.

Green Book VS Interesting Book

This analogy is the best summarization of right brain vs. left brain functionality I have found. Neuroscientist Karen Federmeier PhD, conducted an MRI scan study in which participants were first told to visualize a green book, and then an interesting book. Several more word pairs were included in the study, all of which presented something concrete to visualize first followed by a more abstract adjective describing the noun.

What this research, and other studies have concluded is that the left hemisphere processes information in a more predictive fashion while the right hemisphere tends to ignore predictive based information when processing. This makes the left hemisphere very good at making a logical prediction about future outcomes based on past experiences, but the right hemisphere is far superior at dissecting past experiences to reach a deeper understanding of the experience as a whole. 

Tying It Back To Entrepreneurship

One of the most enduringly true pieces of advice I constantly see handed out to entrepreneurs is that you will almost invariably fail with your very first venture. My very first foray into entrepreneurship was back when I was probably about 8 or 9 and I sold candy at school. While I was initially very profitable, my business came to an unfortunate end when my brother and sister ate my entire inventory. I learned a valuable lesson from this and immediately reinvested my remaining capital into marbles.

When writing a business plan for a new venture, I find it extremely easy to visualize potential weaknesses and flaws in the plan and formulating a strategy to fix them, but I am awful at accurately projecting future earning potentials and growth rates. Similarly, I am exceptionally good at physics and geometry-based math, but had to retake algebra in high school because I just couldn’t get it to click. When it comes to business in general, I have a pretty keen ability to hone in on good ideas, but because I’m awful at predicting future outcomes, I still doubt myself through a large part of the process. In short, I have an exceptional ability to be able to recognize that my doubts are irrational, but I somewhat lack the ability to rationally process why those thoughts are irrational, thanks Obama.

If I were to summarize what I’ve gleaned from all of the research I’ve done on the topic, I would honestly have to say I didn’t learn anything potentially Earth shattering. What I did find though was a lot of information that reinforced and deepened my understanding of why myself and many entrepreneurs often have an irrational fear of failure. However, I did find the information extremely comforting to the right hemisphere of my brain. I often feel as if I am only as successful as the support network I have around me. Finding scientific reassurance that this is a common character trait amongst a somewhat significant segment of the population is to me, fascinating.


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