By Michael E. Long, Faculty, Master’s in Public Relations & Corporate Communications, co-author of “The Molecule of More” and Daniel Lieberman, co-author of “The Molecule and More.” This article was originally on Entrepreneur.
If you're an entrepreneur or aspire to be one, you almost certainly have a "dopaminergic mind." This means you have a specific chemical tendency–a genetic gift, really–that does two things: It tends to make you more creative than other people, and it gives you an often-superior ability to channel your energies toward your goals. Here's how.
Dopamine, a chemical in your brain, is the "molecule of more": When you see something new, unusual or potentially useful, you experience a pleasurable surge of interest. You feel it when you see a new coffee shop with a line out the door, find an email from a forgotten friend, or see someone cute across a crowded bar. Dopamine is released in your brain because you just discovered something new that will make your future better, richer, or more secure.
Some forms of "new" and "better" are obvious to everyone, like the new coffee shop or finding a great new book. Others aren't so obvious, like stumbling upon a novel solution to a stubborn problem. That's the basis of creativity: making new connections between things that were previously thought to be unrelated. These connections sometimes lead to new business opportunities. Sometimes they change the world. People with active dopamine systems, like entrepreneurs, are particularly good at recognizing these connections that everyone else misses.
Dopamine does something else, too: It gives you the ability to plan and calculate. In this way, dopamine provides us with a control circuit to complement that novelty-seeking circuit–a complete neurochemical system to discover and then achieve what we want. It functions in every situation, whether earthshaking or mundane, driving us toward more. This biochemical process is no less than the engine of progress, which is the product of thinking up, creating, and providing new things. Therefore, it makes sense that entrepreneurs would have more dopamine than other people.
And the more you understand how dopamine works, the better you can take advantage of it.
Don't try to "fix" yourself.
Dopamine is why entrepreneurs tend to be original thinkers and problem solvers. It is also the reason many entrepreneurs are absent-minded about the mundane details of business. They live in a world of possibility rather than the ordinary world of the here-and-now.
Daniel is a psychiatrist. He once had a patient who was a successful entrepreneur–and severely disorganized. His lack of interest in imposing order on the chaos of his life made doing business difficult. Like most entrepreneurs, when he identified a problem he set out to fix it. But, after speaking with Daniel, the two of them decided that the answer wasn't therapy or a pill. While that might have helped him diminish the disorder, it also would have diminished one of the things that made him a successful entrepreneur: his creative ideas for new businesses that bubbled up from his imagination.
Still, the problem had a solution. Instead of changing the entrepreneur, they changed his situation. Daniel advised the man to hire an assistant. With order imposed by someone other than the entrepreneur, his problem was solved, his creativity and drive intact.
Give yourself permission to wander.
One aspect of creative thinking is the association of things we wouldn't usually connect. The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson used ordinary objects as musical instruments. Steve Jobs worried about the aesthetics not of art but of business machines. Countless startups have changed our lives by attaching technology to mundane elements of daily life. These radical improvements aren't the product of rigid agendas and sterile conference rooms. They come from random collisions of unrelated things in the mind of the entrepreneur. But, for that to happen, the entrepreneur must allow herself to do something that looks like a waste of time–doing what amounts to staring out the window.
The ability to make unusual connections comes from letting our attention wander through the abstract and the not-yet-existent. When you let your mind float, you are giving dopamine free rein. Fortunately, that's easy to do. Go to a museum. Take a hot shower. Dance. Play an instrument. Whatever turns off your focus on the here and now, do it. It is in that unfocused mental space that dopamine remixes the multitude of memories, ideas and abstractions in our imagination.
Recognize the difference between wanting and enjoying.
Dopamine is the engine that drives the modern creation of wealth, but it also has a dark side: It makes us dissatisfied with the status quo. For many, this need to make things better is the driving force behind their entrepreneurship, but most discover that it's only half the path to a satisfying life. It is the experience in the here and now that provides the rest of human satisfaction, appreciating the things we've earned and the company of those we love. This isn't just a motto from a motivational poster. It has a biochemical foundation.
We are all familiar with the high-powered executive who can afford a beautiful beach house but who is too busy to actually sit in the sand. Dopamine powers such success, but other neurotransmitters in our brain are dedicated to something else entirely, the ability to appreciate the here and now–to "stop and smell the roses," as the saying goes or, simply, to enjoy things.
With their highly dopaminergic minds, entrepreneurs are naturally more attracted to pursuit than here-and-now enjoyment, yet they will find a new kind of pleasure when they explore this palette of feelings–but it won't come naturally. They must choose to do so.
And as an entrepreneur, you can. We are not slaves to dopamine. While it inclines us toward wanting, the rest of life is enjoying, and comes with other unique pleasures.
A mindful appreciation of all the successful person has achieved is a true delight, and for many entrepreneurs, a fresh one. The power of dopamine balanced with the here-and-now chemicals of the senses–wanting versus enjoying–comprises the two halves of a satisfying life. In this way, we better appreciate why entrepreneurs do what they do, and expand further what creative, enterprising men and women can achieve.