Last week I was invited to give the keynote speech to some of London's brightest entrepreneurs and start-ups. There's not much I could teach them that they don't already know about being motivated, dreaming big and getting out there and making it happen- but there is a really significant piece of the puzzle that most people don't know - and aren't even aware that they don't know it - and it's all about the neurology of mirror neurons...
...Whilst breaking for lunch from a hard mornings work experimenting with monkeys, lab researchers noticed that as they lifted their sandwiches to their mouths their monkey subjects began to mimic the actions of their human observers, and- tadahh!!- mirror neurones where discovered. Mirror neurones are so important in social animals, like monkeys and ourselves, as this particular part of the brain is designed to allow an individual to spot what members of a group are doing and copy them so they get to be accepted by and included in the group.
On a practical level we can notice the mirror neurones at work when we try to identify which of a group of teenage friends is speaking, just from the sound of their voice- it's almost impossible to work out as mirror neurones ensure they all develop a very similar voice tone and shared vocabulary.
But what of the entrepreneurs?
Well they, like everyone else, like to be surrounded by people who are similar to them. So when they begin their entrepreneurial journey they'll need a small core group of people, and those mirror neurones are likely to ensure they surround themselves by other people with similar ways of thinking.
Now that sounds like a great thing, having people sharing a vision and moving the same direction as you- and it kind of is - but there is also one big drawback. With everybody facing the same direction, getting excited about the same things, there's a strong chance that certain items will be missed off their important to do list; these usually include admin, back office, health and safety, stock taking and other essential, but less visionary type, endeavours.
Oil and water
At some point, hopefully before things crash to the ground, the need for this type of colleague will be noticed, but this is where things get really messy. Now we have to people with very different ways of thinking and operating trying to work together, and this is often a recipe for conflict and discord.
The same is naturally true of many of the people they will want to become investors in their business idea - although some will be of an entrepreneurial mind-set too, many others will be driven by caution, risk averse and focused on the minutiae of the planning, and will be their mirror neurones will not be firing up with joy at the prospect or communicating with them.
The key problem is that these two types of people almost seen to speak different languages. The creative entrepreneur talks about the big vision, , not worrying about the research because this is unexplored territory; the safeguarding administrator wants to hear about procedures, double checking, research, certainty.
The creative sees their colleague as blocking the idea, fault finding, getting bogged down in the mundane; but they see the entrepreneur as reckless, a disaster waiting to happen, over-stretching and unplanned.
Luckily there is a way round this, and once again it involves mirror neurones.
There are 3 steps;
1) Listen. Virginia Satir says the most important thing you can ever get anybody is your complete and undivided attention. Just spending time listening to somebody's perspective rather than ignoring, or shutting them up is so important
2) Listen. Yes listen again - but this time listen for the words they use. Anyone that you're finding it difficult to get on with notice their specific word use - the chances are they will be using words and phrases that you never use. This is why your mirror neurones get upset, they are looking for people like you and these people are showing up as not like you. Noting their words will identify how they are different (there are a number of different ways of being, this one creative vs procedural is just one).
Now start to use some of their words and phrases back to them. Explain your plan in language they understand. So if you are an entrepreneur and you notice someone who doesn't like open-ended plans such as 'we're putting out there and seeing how it goes'- you might want to express it as something more like 'we've looked strategically at this, and developed a step-by-step plan that we expect to get 'x' result from- there will be systems in place to check real time data against our cautious predictions, and feedback systems to alert us to what needs to be done to meet targets'- or something like that (yep I'm more of a creative than a procedural person- but you get the point).
Equally if you are more of a procedural person and you want to explain your point of view to someone who is more creative you need to use their kind of language- explaining how a task is inventive, creative, something they can come up with new perspectives on that no one has though of before.
3) Be authentic. It's vital to not approach this as a way of manipulating people or trying to get them to do something against their will - if you start from that point it will not be effective or useful - EVER. Instead, see this as a way of learning to speak their language, to take the time to step into their world and present your brilliant ideas in a way that they'll actually get- then you'll do something that is the secret of successful entrepreneurs: to be able to bring everyone along with your vision.