Nature or nurture? Boyatzis and Shane on the biology of business | Weatherhead

Nature or nurture? Boyatzis and Shane on the biology of business

Posted 12.11.2012

Are some people genetically destined to launch start-ups? Research from Weatherhead faculty examines the question.

Scott Shane, PhD, A. Malachi Mixon Professor in Economics, first found a genetic link to entrepreneurship in a 2008 twin study.

"What we really wanted to do was molecular genetic research ," he says. But funders wanted initial proof before investing in such expensive processes. Later, with funding from the European Union, Shane and coauthors found evidence that some genes were linked to aspects of entrepreneurship.

Read more from Shane on entrepreneurial risk-taking and the best industries for start-ups.

"The reality is that the relationships are going to be very complex," he continues. "People have been looking for individual genes and their association with intelligence for a long time, for example. To date, individual genes have been found to explain only about 2% of the difference in intelligence. For entrepreneurship, it could be 50 to 100 genes or 500 or 1000 with different stimuli and interactions with one another."

Shane thinks an interdisciplinary Center for the Biological Basis of Business would be a great way to help CWRU faculty collaborate on research.

"There is a lot of expertise here at Weatherhead and at CWRU generally in this stuff. The center would do interdisciplinary research into different avenues of brain function, genetics—doing both molecular and twin studies—and then also hormones," he says.

Shane has discussed the idea with Richard Boyatzis, PhD, Distinguished University Professor and H.R. Horvitz Professor in Family Business, whose fMRI studies have revealed what happens in the brain during coaching.

Boyatzis reflects, "Scott comes at this in a more deterministic way. I come at it in a developmental way based on plasticity. So in the extreme, he’s nature and I’m nurture. I agree that genes play a part, and he agrees their effects can be changed. But our research comes from different angles."

Read more from Boyatzis on how to make positive change and how NOT to study.

He agrees that having a center for research into these questions would encourage interdisciplinary collaboration among CWRU faculty, collaboration that could help students and the business community as well.

"The more we talked about a Center for the Biological Basis of Business, the better I saw it would work by having the two of us offer these ideas to students and executives, and continue our research on them," Boyatzis says.

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