Fear of the Unknown: How to Be Bolder When Taking Risks
Elevate Your Potential Magazine
In a recent podcast for Harvard Business School, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey defined entrepreneurship in terms of risk-taking. “The definition of entrepreneurship is actually taking on significant risk, usually financial, in order to build something,” he says. “That means anyone can really take on an entrepreneurial attitude. An entrepreneur does not necessarily create a business. It’s just a very bold attitude of taking on risk.”
Dealing with Negativity Bias
The world is full of uncertainty. Take, for instance, the business world, which is especially prone to unforeseen disruptions. In the past 50 years alone, we’ve seen the rise and fall of Fortune 500 companies and the creation of entirely new industries. Every decision, including the decision to do nothing, carries some element of risk. “The problem is the negativity bias—we tend to exaggerate the riskiness of certain moves and underestimate the opportunities of others,” entrepreneur and productivity expert Tim Ferriss writes on his blog.
It’s important to add that building confidence in risk-taking doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll take smart risks. It might be helpful to build in parameters or conditions for each risky decision. When Todd Goldberg, co-founder of digital event organization platform Eventjoy, left his job in August 2013 to pursue his startup, he gave himself one year to generate significant revenue or funding.
It turns out that Goldberg was uncannily perfect in his one-year limit. In September 2014, little more than a year later, Ticketmaster purchased Eventjoy for an undisclosed amount. “We had more lows than I can count—getting no’s from dozens of investors and the product breaking at critical moments, just to name a couple,” Goldberg says. “Despite all that, we’ve had an amazing year that included being accepted into Y Combinator’s winter batch, raising funding, making great progress on the product, and most important, growing at a good rate.”
Know that failure is an option and come up with a plan on how to handle loss. Being mentally prepared enables you to make positive risk-taking decisions without fear of the unexpected, which can be the most crippling component of taking a risk. | Read the full story…. success.com
William von Hippel is an author and expert in evolutionary psychology. He studied at Yale and the University of Michigan, and is now a Professor of Psychology at the University of Queensland.
His book The Social Leap: The New Evolutionary Science of Who We Are, Where We Come From, and What Makes Us Happy, traces our evolutionary history to show how events in our distant past continue to shape our lives today.
William has published over one hundred academic articles and been featured in The New York Times, USA Today and The Economist. Watch the FULL EPISODE here: https://londonreal.tv/e/william-von-hippel/
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pleasure to be here and get to hear all these talks and have an opportunity to talk about our work as well the story I’ll be talking about today begins in 1936 it’s a story that will take us to the neuroscience of social intelligence but before we get there let’s rewind the tape a little bit um to this man Dale Carnegie now in 1936 Carnegie wrote this book how to win friends and influence people Carnegie was a traveling salesman who had then become a public speaker so he had no particular expertise in winning friends and influencing people other than the fact that he’d actually been immensely successful at doing so and in this book which by the way since 1936 has now sold 15 million copies and can still be purchased today so an enormous Lee successful book in this book Carnegie gives us advice about how to do exactly that to win friends Carnegie Carnegie suggests that we shouldn’t criticize condemn or complain that we should encourage others to talk about themselves in order to influence people he suggests that we show respect for others opinions and that when we’re wrong we should admit it quickly and emphatically now essentially what Carnegie’s saying here in this book and of course he offers more than just this four pieces of advice in his book but essentially what he’s saying is that social knowledge social IQ social intelligence they’re all one in the same thing if you know the rules of social behavior then you can be socially intelligent and then you can be socially effective but if you actually think about the advice that he’s giving there’s something a little bit unusual here something a little bit confusing and that is that the advice that he’s offering is so incredibly obvious this is the kind of thing that most of us have learned in primary school so how can you sell 15 million copies telling people something that they already that they already know and that’s a question I’d like to explore but before we do let’s rewind the tape a little bit further let’s go back to this guy here Phineas Gage now in mid-september of 1848 Phineas Gage who was the foreman of a road of a railroad crew was blasting through this rocky outcrop and to lay that exact railroad line that you see right there outside Cavendish from aunt and he was using this tamping iron that you see in his hand and he was tamping the gunpowder down into a piece of rock when he accidentally struck a spark against the rock and causing the Gunpowder to explode that tamping iron in his hand then shot right through his head I’m passed through it right below his cheek and came out the top of his head landing a full 25 meters further away now this would kill almost anyone almost every time but somehow Phineas Gage actually survived us you can see that’s his actual skull that’s held in the museum and you can see that piece that got knocked out when the tamping iron passed through his head nonetheless a few moments later he sat up he walked back over to the horse and cart and they drove him back to town where admittedly he took several months to convalesce nonetheless he survived it and in so doing he became the most famous neuro science patient of all time and the reason for that is that his personality had forever changed he went from somebody who’s incredibly reliable who could be counted on who was planful and thoughtful to somebody who’s impulsive who was profane who just did whatever the mood whatever mood occurred to me acted upon that mood so he was living in the moment after that now he did improve over time but there was an enormous shift right at the time of the accident and it lasted for quite a few years in fact the shift was so strong that even though the company that employed him felt a great deal of sympathy for him they felt terrible about what had happened they refused to employ him anymore after that he simply couldn’t work in that capacity any more he couldn’t serve as the foreman of this crew so with gage in mind we can then ask the question why is it that we need somebody like the Dale Carnegie to tell us things that we already know why is it that we need to get this lesson that really all of us pretty much learn in primary school and what I’d like to suggest is because that lesson is so hard to follow if you think about it what he’s saying we actually fail to do this all the time we do criticize and complain we when others talk about themselves we fail to listen we can hardly stand it we we rarely show respect for others opinions and when we’re wrong that’s one of the most difficult things on earth is to admit it especially to do so quickly and emphatically we hate to do that now why is this I don’t think it’s because we don’t know Carnegie’s advice we know full well what we should do it’s because we can’t actually execute that advice doing so is incredibly difficult and it’s difficult for the exact reasons that Phineas Gage taught us and that is the problem with the standard model of social intelligence which we’ve had since Carnegie is that it doesn’t take into account how difficult it is to execute these social rules you know we all want to do the right thing but it’s not so easy to always do so so this um what I’d like to argue therefore is that the model ignores this lesson taught to us by Phineas Gage and what is that lesson well that’s the main point of my talk today and that is that social intelligence is more than just social knowledge it’s not just knowing the rules it’s an actual ability to execute those rules to do that which we know is the right thing to do now this can actually be very difficult particularly when our emotions are strong it can be very challenging for us to engage in the right thing and probably all of you have had the experience where you knew exactly what you should do and you knew you were doing it even as you were doing it and you might have even known that you were going to regret your behavior later but you still couldn’t stop yourself from doing that which was so dominant in your mind at the moment from yelling at somebody from being selfish from whatever the case might be like Phineas Gage in this case our frontal lobes are just not up to the task so what I’d like to do now is talk to you about what we’ve done in our lab to study what I’ll call the Phineas Gage lesson to study how it is that we can actually use our social intelligence in order to behave properly in a variety of different kinds of everyday social situations now if you think about Phineas Gage before his accident he he pretty much did the right thing most of the time he was a reliable person who could be counted on after his accident he became impulsive he started to do and say whatever occurred to him so we can look at this exact same phenomenon the lab by simply look at putting people in challenging circumstances and testing their ability to do the right thing particularly when the rules are obvious and see if they can execute those rules so we began this line of research by bringing people into the laboratory and telling them them they were doing a study on the effects of food chemicals on memory now that was just a cover story we weren’t interested in food chemicals and we weren’t interested in memory we were really just interested putting people in a provocative situation and seeing how they responded so in the key experimental condition our experimenter was always Chinese and our participants were always white Australians and what she told them is oh you’re in luck you’re going to get to eat my favorite food it’s the national dish of China now they don’t know what they’re about to be fed but they do know that whatever it is they should at least pretend to like right it’s it’s personally significant to her and it’s culturally significant to her as well and then in close proximity to the participants face voila we show them a chicken foot that’s cooked in a Chinese style which we actually cooked up every morning and so the thing is that white Australians aren’t used to seeing this item as food and so what we can then do is see how do they respond to it well some people actually responded very well they would look at that in their gum it looks lovely but alas I don’t think it’s kosher I can’t eat that or I’m a vegetarian I can’t eat that or they pop it right in the mouth I’m other people though didn’t do such a good job keeping it together and my favorite quote was from one participant who said that is bloody revolting and then he looked at her and she looked at him and sorry you know he’s pretty much put his foot in his mouth and what can you do about it at that point right sorry so so the thing is this this certainly shows us that there’s big individual differences in our abilities to be socially inappropriate or socially appropriate but what role to the frontal lobes play well we also gave them a very simple test of frontal lobe functioning and what we found was the people who do better on that test of frontal lobe functioning we’re far more likely to say an appropriate response far less likely to making inappropriate face which we could easily pick up on our hidden camera so having good well-functioning frontal lobes an able people to execute a rule that they all knew they all know exactly what they should do but not everybody could do it now we’ve also looked the same kind of idea among older adults as we age our brain tends to shrink just like our muscles does and one of the first parts of the brain to shrink are the frontal lobes which you see up there in purple now remember the frontal lobes are the seat of self-control and also remember that not everybody ages and not everybody shows this process at the same pace some people show a lot of frontal lobe shrinkage as age some people less so it’s all part of the normal variation now what that suggests though is that one of the things that might happen as we is that we could unintentionally become socially inappropriate so we looked at this idea in our lab by bringing people in and given them tests of frontal lobe functioning and then in one set of experiments looking what their friends say about them and what we find is that those older adults who don’t do very well on our tests of frontal lobe functioning also have friends who for example say that they tend to ask about private events in public situations so they might say hey Tim how are your hemorrhoids doing now that could be a great and friendly question if we weren’t at an audience of 100 but under the circumstances it could be a little bit embarrassing if you had a hemorrhoid problem now if we were in private my god bill they’re killing me thanks for asking but in this circumstance what people actually find that more humiliating than they find it touching and concerning and so what was interesting was that in our experiments all the older adults in our sample know full well that that behavior is inappropriate they know it’s the wrong thing to ask but those who show greater atrophy the frontal lobes are more likely to engage in this kind of behavior now the key here though is that really all we’ve been doing so far is looking at one half of the problem of – of how to engage in socially intelligent behavior and that is stopping yourself from saying something inappropriate but of course it’s not enough to just not say inappropriate things you have to say the right thing and you have to do so at the right time and so also in our laboratory we’ve been very interested in how people can find themselves right pathway so that they know what to say and they know when to say it and what we thought might be happening here is that there’s another frontal lobe ability that might play a critical role in knowing what to say and when and that is our ability to detect changing contingencies as we go through the world that the rules of the social game change all the time so I can come home from work and kid around with my wife she can usually smile but today she doesn’t and if I have with my frontal lobes work really well I’ll detect that change in contingency I’ll say gee usually that joke gets a smile today didn’t maybe something is different and so some of us are quite sensitive to these changing contingencies some less so we can test this very simple in the laboratory by looking at people’s abilities to detect when rules change so we give them a task where they learn a rule and then as soon as we can see that they’ve learned it we reverse that rule and we see how long it takes them to learn that reversal we call this reversal learning and we know it’s a frontal lobe function that makes us right in here and what we’re trying to test is whether this two might play a critical role and enabling people to be socially intelligent so what we did in this in our first experiments is we brought couples into the laboratory people have been married or dating for years and years and we asked them in the laboratory to discuss a contentious issue something that they’ve been fighting about for a while and each couple have their own issue we then set up the video camera and we leave we then measure how good they are at reversal learning this task of contingency detection and what we find is the following those couples who are relatively poor at reversal learning when they’re arguing about contentious issues they look like this they’re screaming in each other’s face and it’s really unpleasant it’s not a nice conversation in contrast those couples who are good at reversal learning who can detect changing contingencies even though they’re arguing about contentious issues they look much more like that they’re they seem calm they seem friendly and they’re discussing the exact same issues in a way that doesn’t insult the other person that doesn’t put them down and as a consequence they’re actually much happier in the relationship which is all brought about just by this little timing bit of the front of the brain that allows us to detect changing contingencies now from this work we started a reason well if being good at detecting changing contingencies allows people to manage the moods of others maybe it also allows them to manage the impressions that are formed of them so we conducted an experiment where we wanted to look at this idea we wanted to see if people who are good at reversal learning could avoid suspicion being the onion the targeted suspicion so we ran an experiment where people came into the laboratory and they had a group discussion it was groups of friends they all knew each other well and they had a group discussion with the goal of coming up with a solution to a rather complex problem and they were told that they’ll be paid if they can come up with a red solution but secretly we took one group member aside we told them look your job is to sabotage your friends here’s the wrong answer and we want you to try to talk the group into doing that and if you can talk them into losing their money we’ll pay you now they actually really resonated to this idea that sounded like fun to them and so they did their best to sabotage the group but the key is we warned them in advance we will reveal at the end of this discussion that there was a saboteur and if you are discovered to be the saboteur we won’t pay so your job is to undermine them but to do so in a way that’s sufficiently subtle so that you get away with it at the end so then what they do they have the group discussion and then they’ve go through a series of interrogations where the group interrogate every group member and we measure how good they are rehearsal learning and what we find is the better they are reversal learning the more capable they are is coming across as innocent the less likely their group is to think that they’re the saboteur that they’re the one that they should be suspicious of now we did one other thing in this experiment that allowed us in some ways the clearest test of this hypothesis that that knowledge isn’t enough that you must also have the capacity to act on that knowledge and what that last test was was we remember their groups of friends and so we’d also asked them to report on everyone else in the group with regard to their social skills we said you know how socially skilled is this person is this person and we had a brief scale that they filled out about everybody else so what this allows us is sort of a summary judgment of the social skill of every member of the group and what we could then do is to divide them into people who are good at reversal learning and people who are not so good at reversal learning and we can look at the relationship between their actual IQ which we measured in our experiment and their social functioning how their peer reports about how socially skilled they are and what we find when we do that is that people are good at reversal learning if they’re not too bright which I’ve indicated by this small brain they use this strategy that my son is using on this day to try to endear himself to my daughter of whacking her over the head a socially relatively unskilled strategy in contrast for the as they got smarter when they’re good at reversal learning they develop better social they develop better strategies for convincing and here you see the high IQ version he’s convincing his sister to share her ice cream cone with him so in the same exact sense in the laboratory as if they’re good reversal learners as they got smarter their friends said that they were more socially skilled in contrast if they were not good reversal learners amongst those who are poor at this task well when they weren’t too bright they were mildly annoying but interestingly as they got smarter they got more annoying and you can think of this as something like the Sheldon Cooper effect from the Big Bang where he uses his massive brain primarily to belittle and frustrate his friends so it seems to be the case that being smart is not enough we also have to have the capacity to use that intelligence in a socially effective way now in some what I’ve tried to do today is try to convince you that social knowledge is not enough that being socially intelligent is more than that it also involves a variety of capacities capacities that are seeded primarily in frontal lobes of our brain and those capacities are what enable us to endear ourselves to others to charm ourselves into other people’s hearts rather than to continually put our foot in your in our mouth so and I’d like to thank my collaborators in this project I also like to thank you for your attention at the end of this long day you
What is social intelligence? Psychology professor Bill von Hippel argues that the frontal lobes of the brain play a critical role in enabling socially intelligent behaviour.
He describes research from his lab showing that seemingly trivial mental abilities stop us from doing the wrong thing and help us do the right thing in various socially challenging circumstances.