Dopamine-Driven Disruption — Neurochemical Diversity

“For me life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

Initially, scientists understood the neurochemical dopamine to be a reward or pleasure chemical. Scientists subsequently discovered that dopamine is not really about the pleasure of enjoying things in the here and now, dopamine is about the pleasure of anticipating things in the future. Dopamine is the chemical of desire that always seeks more — more stuff, more stimulation, more surprises. Therefore, we often enjoy the anticipation of purchasing a product only to exhibit buyer’s remorse when we eventually get it. It is the anticipation that is pleasurable and can become addictive.

Changemakers, innovation workers and entrepreneurs are dopaminergic. This means they are driven by dopamine and have high levels of dopamine driving their behaviour. They enjoy novelty and ambiguity and quickly grow tired of the status quo. Think of the entrepreneur who sells her business for millions only to gamble it all on a new venture. Think of that friend who has always got some new crazy scheme. Think of the person who is more content with starting new projects than with finishing them. That is dopamine and it can be highly addictive.

The focus of this Thursday Thought is that we need a mix of dopaminergic people in our organisations, we need those who keep pushing for a better, more adventurous future. However, we also need people who are content to execute in the here and now. My main point is that the leaders of any organisation need to become chief storytellers, consistently sharing the vision and purpose of their organisation. Why? When we share visions of futures that do not yet exist, we activate dopamine pathways and inspire our people to action. For most of us knowing why we are doing what we are doing inspires us to action (if we agree with the why in the first place.)

Blending the Future with The Here and Now

Our guest on the Innovation Show this week is Dr Daniel Z. Lieberman, the author of “The Molecule of More,” a book that describes every aspect of dopamine. Daniel tells us the never-satisfied drive for more has a dark side as it can leave us constantly dissatisfied. To find fulfilment, we must find harmony, harmony between dopamine, the molecule of more and the “here and now” neurochemicals serotonin and oxytocin, which gives us a sense of achievement, pride and belonging.

When we talk of diversity in business, we often focus on gender, race, or perhaps background. However, to innovate effectively, we require diversity of thought. The more viewpoints we can bring to any challenge, the more chance we have of success. To drive change in legacy organisations, we need to hire a diverse team of dopaminergic workers who crave change and we need to maintain an even larger body of workers content to focus on the here and now, the business as it is today. The balance depends on the phase of your business, if it is a startup it needs more dopamine-driven employees, if it is a scaleup, it needs more here and now employees, if it is a legacy organisation innovating for the future, then it needs here and now employees managing the legacy business and dopamine-driven employees exploring possible futures. Another factor that is often overlooked is that we must ramp up exploration in times of abundance and stability when things are going well. That is when you explore and take risks. Waiting until disruption forces you to innovate because of an industry disruption or a startup competitor is too late.

Leadership must ensure that a neurodiverse team feels unified. As humans, we have a tendency to create tribes and in large organisations, tribes become silos. The unifying “North Star” for such a neurodiverse team is an organisation’s purpose, the why. When everyone in an organisation is clear on their why, they can achieve great feats, driven by dopamine.

Thanks for Reading

Episode 192 is “The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity” with Daniel Z. Lieberman.

Why are we obsessed with the thing as we want — only to be bored when we get them?

Why is addiction perfectly logical to an addict?

Why does love change so quickly from passion to indifference?

Why are some people, die-hard liberals and others hardcore conservatives?

Why are we always hopeful for solutions even in the darkest times — and so good at figuring them out?

The answer is found in a single chemical in your brain: dopamine.

Dopamine ensured the survival of early man.

Thousands of years later, it is the source of our most basic behavioUrs and cultural ideas — and progress itself.

Dopamine is the chemical of desire that always asks for more — more stuff, more stimulation, more surprises.

In pursuit of these things, it is undeterred by emotion, fear, or morality.

We welcome the author of “The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity — and will Determine the Fate of the Human Race.” Daniel Z. Lieberman

Have a Listen:







More about Daniel here:

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