Ari Monkarsh: Entrepreneurial Brain


We all know it takes something special to be an entrepreneur, and even more to be a successful one. Creating a business takes no small amount of luck, a hearty helping of hard work, and a whole lot of hustle.


New research suggests it may also take a different kind of brain.


It only makes sense that entrepreneurs think differently from those who find satisfaction in climbing the management ladder in an established, existing company instead of striking out to forge their own path. You have be to creative, driven, and just a touch of crazy. Entrepreneurship is an incredibly risky business, and pulling it off is no mean feat. Researchers have begun to look into exactly what it is that sets the successful entrepreneurial businessman apart from the crowd, and the results have been surprisingly identifiable.


An MIT study looked at brain scans from entrepreneurs and managers while they performed various cognitive tasks, and found that entrepreneurs had notably more brain activity across the board in the prefrontal cortex when they were doing what the researchers called “explorative tasks.” The managers, meanwhile, were primarily using only the left side of that structure to perform the same tasks.


That’s important, because the right side of the prefrontal cortex is tied to creative thinking and high level artistic functioning, while the left side is usually associated with logical thought and rational decision making.


Without saying that either way is necessarily better or “smarter,” this seems to suggest that when entrepreneurial types are engaging with a new idea or task and searching for new approaches to problems, they are utilizing both their rational and their creative minds to attack the problem. It’s not just a matter of pros and cons, but an exercise in artistic thought.


Another study coming out of the IE Business School in Madrid put entrepreneurs to the test with a classic experiment called the stroop effect, where participants are asked to read out the color that is written out, even though the ink used is in a different color. It’s a simple idea, but a tough thing to pull off quickly — give it a try in the link above and see for yourself.


Right off the bat, the people who had founded companies were much quicker to respond and significantly less inhibited in their answers. They quickly identified the problem and launched into a solution, despite the confusion. By contrast, non-entrepreneurs were slow to start but used less brain-power later in the game, presumably because they had resolved some of the confusion during their more measured start.


I’m not surprised – quick response times matter in business. It makes perfect sense that natural entrepreneurs have a tendency to dive in head first to any problem and seize an opportunity when they see it instead of spending valuable time figuring out every aspect before they begin. It’s not hard to see why those who are willing to take a risk and barge ahead with the information they have are more likely to be successful in the hugely risky gamble of building a company.


It’s certainly interesting to see the science behind it, but we didn’t need research to know that entrepreneurs, for better or for worse, think differently than the general population. I have witnessed time and again these unique qualities, and although they are not always an advantage in every situation, I have come to prize and celebrate them in the entrepreneurial sphere.


Unfazed by Uncertainty

Not every new business works, even when it’s based on a great idea. In entrepreneurship, there are no guarantees, so any hope of success is predicated on a whole lot of faith and a high comfort with the unknown. It can be scary, of course, but you can never break new ground by following a sure path.


Comfortable with Mistakes

When you’re doing something truly new, there is no roadmap. You have to make the map yourself, and that means charting dangerous territory. Entrepreneurs aren’t successful because they don’t fail, they’re successful because they fail a lot. And then they get right back up and try again, harder than ever.


In order to push through this difficult road and come out ahead, you’ll have to be prepared to make mistakes again and again, and to waste no time in turning them into learning experiences that make you and your business stronger. If you’re the type to become hung up on one mistake, you’ll miss out on the exciting opportunity to learn, grow, and make more mistakes.


Single Minded Passion

Entrepreneurs have to be so passionate about your project that they are willing to live and breathe it every single day, often for years on end. That takes grand vision, personal conviction, and laser focus. Being an entrepreneur isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle, and there aren’t any days off — the hustle never stops, and success is made not from luck but from a million hours of relentless hard work.


And that doesn’t just mean a hamster wheel of effort. Entrepreneurial work means looking at every problem, no matter how large, as solvable, and then feeling an unstoppable drive to find that solution. The entrepreneurial mind must be endlessly inquisitive and motivated by big-picture vision, even when the task at hand looks entirely specific or set in stone.


There’s no doubt that the successful entrepreneur looks at the world differently from those who prefer to play it safe. Whether you’re a manager or a founder at heart, we can all learn a little from the entrepreneurial brain and incorporate it into our own hustle.