Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Neurocapitalism

Valeh Nazemoff, The Four Intelligences of the Business Mind: How to Rewire Your Brain and Your Business for Success

First-time entrepreneurs stereotypically commence their careers with one of two approaches. Either they rely upon unique flashes of creative insight, which may show glimmerings of inspiration; or they front an analytical, data-driven technique that mainly repeats what others have accomplished previously. Valeh Nazemoff believes real success combines these two approaches. But having aggregated the left and right brains, she immediately identifies wholly new components.

Nazemoff, a business consultant whose résumé includes Walmart, Lockheed Martin, and several government agencies, lumps intellectual approaches into four angles: Financial, Customer, Data, and Mastermind Intelligence. Each serves specific roles within business structures, and each subdivides into further unique specialties. Her description runs short, punchy, free of ornamentation, and her discursive technique attracts a very self-selecting audience. Only you know if that includes you.

First, what this book isn’t. Nazemoff doesn’t use a narrative approach, like Malcolm Gladwell or Duncan J. Watts. She doesn’t tell stories to introduce concepts, and doesn’t consciously connect her important points to historical precedent. She assumes audiences already share her fundamental interest in “neuroeconomics,” and proceeds directly into difficult, sometimes jargon-laden explanations of complicated topics. Nazemoff demands an audience as dedicated to her topic as herself.

This produces a very slim book, under 120 pages including back matter. She doesn’t bother fleshing topics out once she’s introduced them; much of her text consists of bullet lists, schematics, and flow charts. Though occasionally she introduces narrative elements that connect hypothetical ideas to concrete examples—one extended interview with a Veterans’ Administration administrator comes to mind—she largely assumes you understand her thesis without clarification or object lessons.

Valeh Nazemoff
Similarly, though Nazemoff names concepts, she doesn’t elucidate instructions. She frequently throws business terminology aggressively, like a thought grenade, and trusts audiences to comprehend what she’s said and why it matters. Very complicated principles like PR or social media marketing get named, but nothing further. Nazemoff’s principles rely upon readers’ prior familiarity with business technique; she basically assumes an audience already versed in MBA procedures.

Therefore, Nazemoff’s target audience doesn’t encompass aspiring entrepreneurs or sole proprietors. Throughout the text, Nazemoff implicitly expects readers to have a functioning business plan, and a managerial team segregated into utilitarian departments. She often mentions the separate but overlapping responsibilities of marketing, HR, and legal departments. Thus her assistance will primarily profit organizations large enough to foster actual departmental structure.

Not that entrepreneurs need not apply. Garage innovators and store-front start-ups can adapt Nazemoff’s technique. She just doesn’t write with such an audience in mind.

Rather than coaching newbs in rudimentary entrepreneurial principles, Nazemoff instructs established businesses in applying sophisticated approaches to existing plans. Oh, and what approaches she describes! Nazemoff anchors her precepts in “neuroeconomics,” a burgeoning discipline that, like its cousin Behavioral Economics, studies the core neurological origins of human action. By understanding how economic forces stimulate the prefrontal cortex, Nazemoff says, we can predict human economic action.

This is especially important because Nazemoff, unlike standard neoliberal economic business pros, doesn’t demand economic behavior follow famous graphs. The supply/demand arc, the Laffer curve, and other famous mathematical representations don’t appear herein. Instead, Nazemoff admits, your business is subject to unpredictable forces like “the economy, legislative mandates and regulations, customer and partner needs, technology implementations, and of course your competition.”

In such fluctuating environments, Nazemoff writes, human judgement becomes the one utility we cannot standardize and commodify. You must assess and respond to changing circumstances, which requires awareness, not only of your own deeper mental processes, but those of your clients and competitors, too. When is cooperation more economically viable than competition? What means of governing near- and long-term payoff ensures durable client loyalty? What patterns make our lives comprehensible?

These questions, Nazemoff explains, have no single answer. Rather, by understanding how human brains work, and what networks of action produce which common outcomes, we can make informed predictions and respond accordingly. Nazemoff reminds me of Duncan J. Watts, who writes that outcomes are never inevitable; we must resist the impulse to believe, because some event transpired, that event was deterministically predictable. Instead, we learn to read complex, sometimes contradictory evidence.

Consultants write books like this to support their business structures. They send copies ahead to advertise their services, or leave copies behind to memorialize their precepts in clients’ practices. Sometimes they merit reading separate from the consultant herself; usually they don’t. Nazemoff’s writing, because she eschews the journalistic touches Gladwell and Watts employ, makes tough reading. But it’s detailed, innovative, and up-to-the-minute enough to justify professionals’ time.

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