Analysis vs Empathy: Managers and Entrepreneurs (and anti-paranoia / psychological resilience)

I’ve mentioned before how one reason people act like | turn into | are heartless bastards may involve analytic vs, empathetic thinking. Specifically, the way people tend to be less empathetic when they’re doing analytic thinking, and vice versa.

I’ve also observed that analytic thinking tends to confer bullshit-resistance.

This therefore presents a philosophical challenge for defensive security: while there’s nothing wrong per se with you being a heartless bastard in your own little corner, I’d prefer you showed a little more empathy when it came to me and other people (especially the ones I like). On the other hand, bullshit-resistance (because it makes it harder for evil predatory types to be successful evil predatory types) is a generally good thing.

A new study suggests entrepreneurs are a middle path, at least in some situations. When doing exploratory thinking, entrepreneurs tend to use both the creative/empathetic and analytic/calculating sides of their brain. (Managers just used the latter.) It also revealed that indeed, “managerial” / “exploitative” behavior is associated with areas of the brain responsible for short-term gratification… interestingly, a focus on short-term win without regards for future cost is associated with sociopathy/psychopathy (

I realized one more thing about the “mind control parasites” thing. A belief in one’s own psychological vulnerability is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe someone or something can control you — and for these purposes, fear is nearly as good as belief — they have a much easier time of exerting influence… regardless of whether the grounds for that belief are true or not.

In stressful situations, this can lead to a downward spiral of fear and confusion(tm), characterized by questions like “they said not to do X, was that because they knew I’d do the opposite?”

Easy answer: as a rule, clever assholes never ever mention things they aren’t OK with their victims thinking about or doing. People in general, even, try to mention only the things they’re halfway OK with.

Hard answer: As interesting as it is to observe and counter the detailed dynamics of people-manipulation, the real solution involves stopping / escaping the downward spiral ™.

There are three commonly accepted ways of doing this, all good for preventing it in the first place:
o) Keeping busy with something unrelated to the subject of fear and confusion. POW counter-interrogation manuals suggest captured soldiers occupy their time with even the most menial of tasks for this reason: even spending all day cleaning the windows or building a ship in a bottle is a wonderful defense.

o) Scientific / rational thinking. Less commonly taught, because most people aren’t good at it. The mental discipline of “this is my hypothesis. this is me collecting data to test my hypothesis. this is me changing my hypothesis in light of the data” is a tremendously powerful tool for restoring sanity to the most insane situations.

o) Self-responsibility, providing for one’s self. The military is a counter-example here: one of the reasons institutions like the military, prisons, and public schools work as “you show up, we take care of you” environments is the tremendous influence this gives them over the psyches of those that serve, do time, or attend. Putting your own bread on the table goes very far towards encouraging independent thought, because it demonstrates to your subconscious / lizard brain that listening to your crazy ideas (instead of theirs) is conducive to survival.

There is one additional tactic worth mentioning, for psychological reasons. Absolutely none of the above are actually necessary. In order, they’re just ways of distracting, bypassing, and placating the lizard brain / subconscious that would otherwise be screaming “DO WHAT THE EVIL MEN SAY!”

One of the reasons — I won’t pretend to be an expert on this — that military survival / escape / resistance / evasion courses simulate captivity is to condition a more positive response in the trainee. If you can demonstrate to your lizard brain that e.g “no, really, you can be in this awful situation, not cooperate, and still survive” (or even come out better)… the otherwise hard-wired reactions that the adversary is counting on will rewire themselves to be a little more helpful to your cause.

“TThe 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”

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