Updated: Apr 17, 2019
Business is all about facts and figures, right? It’s just cold, calculated math, with a bit of the soft stuff layered on top to make your products more palatable to the consumers out there.
Hmmm. Think about that for a moment. Your rational enterprise needs to appeal to people’s emotional side in order to make the sales that underscore the bottom line. Can that be right?
It’s not only true, but emotional decision-making isn’t resigned to the consumer realm. Neuroscience is constantly proving that your touchy feely side is the key to business and innovative success. It appears that climbing the corporate ladder or creating a successful startup has less and less to do with logic, other than as a lovely security blanket to keep your emotions snug (and hidden).
A Resounding Call for Emotional Intelligence
Since the Scientific Revolution, people have been drawn to the concept of logical decision-making. The systematic reasoning inherent in scientific study sent people to the moon and, finally, took the phone off the long cord attached to the wall. Logic must be good.
And it is. Except usually what we consider to be rational thought is really the opposite. Indeed, it is easy to rearrange the facts to make them appealing; while simultaneously omitting other observations that may be contrary to the point. What people believe is logical and factual is mostly based on how much they agree with the principals. (At this point, you should be waving your hands in the air, wildly declaring that you don’t concur!)
You make roughly 90% of your decisions based on emotion. Everyone does. Emotions are shortcuts that help your brain determine how comfortable you are with an idea. The more comfortable you are, the more quickly you can make a decision. In your mind (quite possibly only your mind), you will feel that decision is rational. Logic has almost nothing to do with it.
How Your Brain Makes Decisions
Every time you have a new thought, you create a neuronal pathway in your brain. When you have the same thought again, you carve that pathway a little deeper. It doesn’t matter what that thought is; you can be telling yourself that you love pizza. (Who doesn’t love pizza?) It doesn’t have to be rational, or logical to enhance your neuronal pathways. After awhile, that route will be so deeply ingrained in your thinking that it may be physically difficult to say that you don’t love pizza. (Amen to that).
Add to this the fact that your brain doesn’t like conflicting information. You will always want to believe that whatever is pulsing through the deeply cut neuronal pathways in your brain is correct. Your brain will help you to dismiss anything else. If you’re told you shouldn’t eat pizza because of the fat content of the cheese or the gluten in the crust, your brain will mentally shrug it off – unless you force yourself to accept those ideas as facts.
As a result, pretty much everything is subjective. There are few (if any) logical decisions you can make. Even in business. If you believe that considering such and such a metric is the most important determiner in enterprise growth, you’ll happily make a decision using the data it provides. If you take that metric away, you’ll battle with your options. That doesn’t mean that the other indicators are wrong, or even less useful. You don’t trust them emotionally, which means you won’t be able to use them to make a decision.
Prominent neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio, demonstrates the strength of emotion in decision making in his book, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. After looking at historical cases and direct observation, Damasio captures the essence of emotion in decision-making.
If you damage your prefrontal lobe (the part of your brain that deals with your emotions), you will be unable to make a decision. It becomes almost impossible to say you want pizza over hamburgers (The Horror!). You will be able to logically riddle your way through this conundrum, but you won’t be able to make a decision because you have no emotional bias. People who have experienced such physical loss cannot care for themselves because they can’t make simple choices. Emotion is everything.
But Wait... Emotions Don’t Impact on Decision Making Alone
Go back to the neuronal pathways that you’ve created over decades of loving pizza. You’re comfortable with these emotions. What’s more, your brain isn’t even interested in new, different information. While pizza is the only thing going through your mind, (so often the case) you won’t worry about another food, the idea of whipping up something new or heading to your local Indian restaurant is not even on your mental map.
Imagine what this does for business and innovation. Your comfort levels stifle your innovation. You can’t make a decision without your emotions getting involved, and you can’t innovate if you rely on them. Your hands are tied.
At least, they’re bound until you know what you’re battling. Once you realize that you need your emotions to be effective, you’ll nurture those pathways. And, when you understand that you can’t innovate until you create new and diverse pathways, you’ll instantly take to learning and development like a duck to water.
After all, who doesn’t want to succeed? Who doesn’t want to work more effectively? Strangely enough, it all begins with those ooey gooey, touchy feely parts that we try to ignore when we want to achieve success in the cold, hard world of business.