What makes the entrepreneurs we coach different? Recent research indicates that there are key differences in the brain activity of entrepreneurs versus non-entrepreneurs. Below we dive into the research, discuss the differences, and how they could impact how we coach entrepreneurs.
As of May of 2023, there is evidence that the neuroactivity of entrepreneurs is significantly different from non-entrepreneurs in areas such as “creative thinking and opportunity recognition” (Aydin et al., 2023).
Researchers collected data from EEG (electroencephalography: a medical test that records brain activity source:NHS) readings for 35 participants—both entrepreneurial and non-entrepreneurial. For the creative thinking portion of the study, participants were instructed to “think about how many different ways you can use a cane” (Aydin et al., 2023). For the “opportunity recognition” portion of the study, participants were given text created with the assistance of entrepreneurs not included in the study that discussed various features of the software industry. These features included the “growth rate of the sector, its size, export amount, incentives, [and] domestic investor market share.” Participants were then asked to determine if the sector indicated a business opportunity or not (Aydin, 2023).
Differences in creative thinking
When completing the creative thinking portion of the study, researchers found a “significant difference” between entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs in the “theta band,” “theta, beta1, gamma, and beta 2 band.” Non-entrepreneurs exhibited increased “theta power” in the “left frontal region of the brain” and “higher frequency values… in the theta band in the left frontal region, in the gamma band in the right central region, and in the beta2 band in the left occipital region.” For entrepreneurs, there were increased “frequency values” in the “beta1 band in the left frontal region and in the beta1 band in the right temporal region.”
Differences in opportunity recognition
Results also found significant differences between entrepreneurs' and non-entrepreneurs’ brain activity during the opportunity recognition portion of the study. Non-entrepreneurs exhibited an increased theta and alpha power in the “right frontal region,” increased theta power “in the left temporal region,” and increased “delta and theta power in the right temporal region.” Furthermore, entrepreneurs had increased “frequency values” in the “Beta2 band in the right frontal region and in the Beta1 band in the right temporal region.” There were also increased “frequency values in the gamma band were higher in the brains of non-entrepreneurs in the left frontal, middle parietal and left occipital regions” (Aydin et al., 2023).
Why it matters
Throughout entrepreneurial literature and society at large, there is a key theme of entrepreneurs being “different from other individuals” (Aydin et al., 2023). Consider the following quotes:
“Optimistic people play a disproportionate role in shaping our lives. Their decisions make a difference; they are inventors, entrepreneurs, political and military leaders - not average people. They got to where they are by seeking challenges and taking risks.” - Daniel Kahneman (Author and Psychologist)
“To be an entrepreneur is to think differently” - Kevin D. Johnson (Serial Entrepreneur, Author of the ‘Entrepreneur Mind,’ and MIT Lecturer)
“When most people hit failure, they give up, but good entrepreneurs simply treat failure as a learning experience and use it to fuel and inform their next move." - Trip Adler (CEO of Scribd)-
“When times are bad is when the real entrepreneurs emerge.” - Robert Kiyosaki (Author and Businessman)
“Entrepreneurs are not driven by fear; they are driven by the idea to create impact.” - Bhavish Aggarwal (CEO of Ola Cabs)
Their noted difference in “emotions, thoughts and behaviors” according to researchers Aydin et al., “should also be observable at the level of brain activity.” The results of this study add credibility to the generally accepted idea that entrepreneurs are different from non-entrepreneurs specifically in areas such as opportunity recognition and creativity.
Implications for coaches
From this research, we can see that the thought processes of the entrepreneur and the non-entrepreneur are significantly different in areas such as creative thinking and opportunity recognition. As coaches, we should consider these differences when coaching both entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs. When coaching entrepreneurs, it might be more helpful to offer opportunities for creative thinking through brainstorming and ideation than it would be with non-entrepreneurs. When coaching teams, coaches can utilize the cognitive differences between entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs to problem-solve and ideate. While research regarding the neurological differences between entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs is still developing, this study marks a significant learning for executive coaches to apply to their coaching practice:
The entrepreneurial client has significantly different ways of viewing creative challenges and opportunity recognition scenarios than non-entrepreneurial clients.
This calls for coaches to consider each client’s strengths and weaknesses uniquely in their coaching process while also considering their entrepreneurial background.
The main takeaway
This research supports the generally accepted idea that entrepreneurs are different than non-entrepreneurs in terms of their thought processes and creativity. With this in mind, executive coaches should consider the entrepreneurial background of their clients when considering what coaching strategies and techniques to use. Furthermore, when coaching teams consisting of entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs, coaches should work to leverage the differing skill sets and thought processes of the individuals within the group.
View original research article here.
Dincer Aydın, H. U. , İrmiş, A. & Demirkundak, B. (2023). COMPARING BRAIN ACTIVITY OF ENTREPRENEURS AND NON-ENTREPRENEURS DURING CREATIVE THINKING AND OPPORTUNITY RECOGNITION . Mehmet Akif Ersoy Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Dergisi , 10 (1) , 799-819 . DOI: 10.30798/makuiibf.1223717.
National Health Service (2023, August 22). Electroencephalogram (EEG). nhs.uk. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/electroencephalogram/.
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