Why entrepreneurs innovate better than managers

MIT research suggests it’s because they ‘use their brains in a different and more complete way’


Entrepreneurs may innovate more successfully than do managers not because they try more often - MIT researchers were surprised to find that isn't so -- but rather because when they do try they apply more of their brainpower to the task.

From an MIT press release:

The study involved scanning 25 entrepreneurs and a group of managers with similar demographics through fMRI while they performed simple tasks that replicated "exploitation" and "exploration" type of innovation decisions. The exploitation type is associated with optimizing the performance of current activities, and is connected to areas in the limbic system where expectations for short-term gratification form. In contrast, the exploration type of innovation decisions entail disengaging from the current task -- resisting the urge for immediate gratification -- to start a broad, uncertain and emotionally taxing search for alternative courses of action, which will eventually generate novel and hopefully superior outcomes, explains (MIT Sloan School of Management Visiting Prof. Maurizio) Zollo.

"We found, somewhat surprisingly, that managers and entrepreneurs did not differ in the probability with which they would undertake explorative courses of action. But when entrepreneurs did select explorative tasks, they used both the left and right sides of the frontal cortex of their brain whereas managers only used their left parts of the frontal cortex," he says, noting that this is an important difference because the right side of the frontal cortex is associated with creative thinking, involving to a larger extent emotional processes, whereas the left side is associated with rational decision-making and logic.

"The fMRIs showed that there are differences between managers and entrepreneurs in terms of what happens in their brains when they make decisions, and that the entrepreneurs use their brains in a more complete way when making explorative decisions," says Zollo. "This should not be taken to mean entrepreneurs are smarter or even that they are more innovative than managers, but when they do explore, they use more parts, and especially the more creative parts, of their brain."

In other words, it's why Steve Jobs was Steve Jobs and the Pointy-Haired Boss is the Pointy-Haired Boss.

You can read the research report here.

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