A Pill for Entrepreneurialism?

Last Updated Nov 13, 2008 7:27 AM EST

  • A Pill for Entrepreneurialism?The Find: Research at a leading university reveals not only that entrepreneurs are riskier decision makers than managers, but also suggests that, in the future, those who'd like to develop a more entrepreneurial frame of mind could either take a class or take a pill.
  • The Source: Research from the University of Cambridge published this week in Nature.
The Takeaway: What sets an entrepreneur like Steve Jobs or Richard Branson apart from your average middle manager? Certainly one answer is a healthy appetite for risk. To test just how much the minds of entrepreneurs and managers differed, Cambridge scientists set up a series of experiments. 16 entrepreneurs from "Silicon Fen" (the cluster of high-tech companies in and around Cambridge) and 17 managers completed a computerized test measuring their decision-making abilities.

When making real-life decisions such as whom to hire, managers and entrepreneurs performed similarly, but throw some rewards and punishments into the mix and things got more interesting. When the researchers had the entrepreneurs and managers make "hot" or risky decisions such as whether to finance one of several potentially excellent but risky business opportunities, entrepreneurs made significantly riskier decisions. Entrepreneurs also showed greater mental flexibility and a greater tendency to be impulsive when given psychological tests.

In short, entrepreneurs' brains are wired differently, but that doesn't mean you have to settle for whatever level of comfort with risk you're born with. Professor Barbara Sahakian, lead author of the study, said: "Risky or 'hot' decision-making is an essential part of the entrepreneurial process and may be possible to teach, particularly in young adults."

No only might it be possible to learn to think like an entrepreneur, it might also be possible to medicate yourself into a more risk-friendly mindset: "From previous studies we know that drugs can be used to manipulate dopamine levels, leading to changes in risky decision-making. Therefore, our findings also raise the question of whether one could enhance entrepreneurship pharmacologically," continues Sahakian.

The Question: If there were a pill or a class that would enable you to think more like an entrepreneur, would you be interested in taking it?

(Image of pills by mattza, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.