LeWeb – Day 1 (part 2)

Couple of really cool things from the pre-lunch session. Firstly, the conductor Itay Talgam spoke about.. conducting and stuff. I missed most of that but got there in time to be part of an audience singalong. A nice idea in theory – he ended up dividing the audience into four segments to sing Frere Jacques. Except.. the segments were ‘men under 30′, ‘men over 30′ and similarly women. Now, there are a fair few women here but I’d still only peg it at about 2 in 10, so the latter two sections of the choir were pretty quiet. Oh well, it was quite a fun experience to bond a little with the people sitting nearby and I ended up with a smile on my face from it.

After the singing was a chat with Linda Avey from 23andme. A really interesting company but one pretty much every entrepreneur in the audience would be jealous of (having a cofounder married to a Google founder makes some things a little easy, no?). The possibilities from having a bank of users and their DNA are huge, from research via questionnaires to helping people trace their ancestry and find out more about their own health. The possibility that you find out things you didn’t want to from your DNA is there, but obviously nobody’s forcing you to spit in a tube and pay $400 or whatever.

Finally was a detailed and really fascinating presentation by Helen Fisher. An academic expert on love, Helen talked about the brain chemistry behind love and attraction as well as the four basic personality types that everyone’s made up of. It might not seem to be that relevant to business at first, but if we go back to one of Loic’s very first comments of the day — that being an entrepreneur is very much like being in love — it all starts to fall into place.

Let’s take these traits that Helen outlined as symptomatic of romantic love (as opposed to lust and long-term affection). Focused attention; energy; euphoria and mood swings; emotional dependence (will do just about anything for the loved one); possessiveness; motivation; obsessive thinking; involuntary feelings. How many of these are just as applicable to the early-stage entrepreneur, throwing everything into a business, and desperately obsessing about it? Waking up in the middle of the night, making personal sacrifices, throwing everything else aside… Yes, love and entrepreneurship are more similar than one might think.

Taking this further, Helen outlined the symptoms of addiction and pointed out that love is, in many ways, as addictive as cocaine (but you can’t just stop taking love!). In the context of a rejected lover, traits such as focus, obsession, craving — plus tolerance (their faults are endearing) and withdrawal symptoms — are evident, and as with other addictions, despite months on the straight and narrow it’s very easy to relapse. The example given was hearing a song that reminded one of the target of one’s affections. How does this apply to business? Not quite so clear – but perhaps if we think of a failed business that we might pour everything into but ultimately has to be let go, the parallels start to emerge. Months after we buried it as a lost cause, perhaps something stirs off a spark of hope and we try again — only this time we’re determined to succeed. Is this why so many people are serial entrepreneurs? As opposed to staying in a long-term relationship with one business, and moving from obsession into the calm, relaxed state of affection, we move on and obsess about something new.

But why do some people start businesses and others don’t? This is where the four types of personality come into play. I initially started listening to this more keenly because of my familiarity with Bartle’s model of MMO gamer, but this is possibly more relatable to the Myers-Briggs scale and other such dividers. Only without the black-and-white “if you’re X, you can’t be Y”.

Each type is related to a particular chemical in the brain, so it’s all about biology and brain chemistry rather than socioeconomic factors (it’d be interesting to see a 3D scale with these involved too):

  • Explorer (artisan) – dopamine, noreinephrine
  • Builder (guardian) – serotonin
  • Director (rational) – testosterone
  • Negotiator (idealist) – oestrogen

The explorer type fits this bag of words: risk-taking, optimistic, impulsive, energetic, creative, autonomous, flexible, unconventional – but also manic, addictive, disorderly, opportunistic. Sarkozy and Obama are examples. Addressing the LeWeb audience Helen pointed out that many of us will have strong tendencies towards this type and higher amounts of dopamine.

In contrast, the builder type is far more orderly – they’re calm, social, managerial, fact-oriented, traditional, but also stubborn and close-minded. The word that came to mind when I thought of this was ‘middle management’, and examples given by Helen were Gordon Brown and Sarah Palin. Interestingly and perhaps predictably people in this type are more ‘red states’ sorts, who want to live in the suburbs or country – as opposed to the high dopamine types who get off on city buzz.

The director type is analytical, direct, focused, resourceful, understands rule-based systems, is emotionally contained and self-disciplined and exhibits heroic altruism (will jump into a burning building to rescue someone). They’re also less empathetic, impatient, rude, have poor verbal skills and a workaholic. Your typical geek falls quite solidly into this type, as do John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Check your hands – if your ring finger is longer than your index finger, you had plenty of testosterone in the womb and might exhibit many of these traits. (Mine’s significantly longer…)

Finally the negotiator type sees the big picture and is imaginative, with linguistic and people skills and can be nurturing, introspective, intuitive and idealistic. They might also be indecisive, unfocused and hypersensitive. Examples here were Bill Clinton and Jose Zapatero, though I think a lot of people reading the negotiator traits – a result of high oestrogen – would say ‘women’ are a good example. (Of course, tarring us all with the one brush is always a bad idea, but as generalisations go it’s not the worst I’ve seen).

What’s interesting is where these four types interact — for example someone with a high Explorer tendency but also a lot of Director is likely to be a tech entrepreneur, marrying the creativity and risk-taking of one with the analytical, geeky mindset of the other. A blogger is likely to lean more towards Explorer/Negotiator, being unconventional and energetic with a lot of linguistic and social skills. Helen’s also done research on how each type interacts when it comes to mating — explorers match up with builders, pairing stability with spontaneity, while negotiators and directors pair off. More on this will be in her book in January (plug alert!) but it’s interesting how this is all backed by looking at thousands of registered members on a dating site, observing and questioning people and their relationships.

Another interesting side effect of these chemically-grounded personality traits is what happens when you alter the brain’s chemistry. Looking at Helen’s latest blog post, there’s a sensible and important point made about SSRIs (selective serotonine reuptake inhibitors, a very common type of antidepressant). SSRIs raise levels of serotonin, helping with many of the symptoms of depression, but also suppress dopamine. Helen points this out as a bad thing because people who may only be suffering a short-term bout of depression might stay on SSRIs a lot longer than necessary, and dopamine is key to the way we experience romantic love — so what’s the effect of inhibiting this dopamine circuit over a long term, both on an individual and societal level?

I find this more fascinating when you go back to the love/entrepreneurship parallel, and also combine that with the fact that the swings associated with running a business mean that the lows can be vicious, leading an entrepreneur to perhaps seek medication. (In fact I read something recently linking manic depression with entrepreneurial tendencies, but the wifi’s down and I can’t find it right now.) So what happens when someone whose very core revolves around high-dopamine traits starts reducing this and becoming higher in serotonin? Does their basic personality change – do they stop taking risks and seek out safety? Would SSRIs, in fact, be enough to make a confirmed entrepreneur seek a day job? Scary stuff.

3 Comments LeWeb – Day 1 (part 2)

  1. Pingback: Love… is a way of feeling? | Ex-Ante

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