Why Start a Business? Dopamine Made Me Do It


Philosophers have long puzzled over what drives humankind towards their achievements, be they small, large or attempted. Are we motivated by fear, money, love, approval of others? Especially perplexing is why people would take on immense, labor-intensive projects that have no guarantee of success, like starting a business.

Neuroscientists however, think they have the answer, and it lies in the activity pattern of dopamine producing neurons - brain cells that cause us to feel pleasure when we are challenged or exploring something novel. These neurons release the most dopamine when we have a 50/50 chance of reaching our goal. They are more intensely active during experimentation and cause us to be curious about the unknown. These behaviors it turns out were important for the survival of our ancestors.

Dopamine cells are also much busier when you are chasing your goal then once you have reached it. Once you’ve made your first sale, secured your first angel investor, received Series C funding, dopamine activity decreases. That is until you identify your next challenge and off they go again!

Starting your own business is inherently risky, and often can be even more so for women. But, as all women who start their own businesses know, taking on challenges and risk helps us to reach our maximum performance potential by stimulating growth and enhancing innovation.

When designing teams or projects, understanding this phenomenon will set you up on the path to growth and keep your team engaged as they dare to do the un-done. Especially on your path from from underdog to market giant, be sure to hang on to that part of yourself that knew nothing exciting would come from always playing it safe, at least certainly not from the point of view of your brain.

adaptED is a woman-founded consultancy of neuroscientists that provides professional development workshops, seminars and custom programs that apply neuroscience to real-world situations. Understanding the brain provides a solid foundation and practical, immediate tools to drive individual and organizational growth.

04 Dec 2018


By Anne-Marie Cziko