Men love a busi­ness like their own baby


Have you ever heard an en­tre­pre­neur re­fer to his com­pany as his ‘‘baby’’? Does he talk about ges­tat­ing the busi­ness, or help­ing it grow to ma­tu­rity - per­haps while guid­ing it through a ‘‘dif­fi­cult ado­les­cence’’?

Well, it may be more than merely an an­noy­ing metaphor. When a male en­tre­pre­neur looks at his com­pany’s logo, sci­en­tists claim that he ex­pe­ri­ences the same surge of pride, hope and at­tach­ment that a fa­ther feels when he looks at his chil­dren.

Fin­nish sci­en­tists have stud­ied the bond be­tween self-made men and their busi­ness em­pires, us­ing brain scan­ning equip­ment to mea­sure their emo­tions to­wards their prog­e­nies.

They were prompted by the ob­ser­va­tion that busi­ness peo­ple reg­u­larly com­pared their role to that of a par­ent. A re­cent col­umn on the Forbes busi­ness web­site, for in­stance, ex­plic­itly ar­gued that cre­at­ing a com­pany was like rais­ing a child - ‘‘The first two years are bru­tal. No one cares as much as you do.’’

The Helsinki univer­sity re­searchers made sim­i­lar ob­ser­va­tions but added that the level of com­mit­ment meant that busi­ness own­ers could suf­fer from sim­i­lar delu­sions to par­ents.

‘‘En­trepreneurs make al­tru­is­tic and sac­ri­fic­ing acts for their ven­tures and fre­quently put the ven­tures’ needs ahead of their own,’’ they write in the jour­nal Hu­man Brain Map­ping.

The flip side, they said, is that en­trepreneurs’ re­la­tion­ship with their com­pany is char­ac­terised by un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions that can­not be met. Sim­i­larly, par­ents cre­ate ide­al­is­tic im­ages of their chil­dren and put them on an un­achiev­able pedestal.

To test the strength of this, they took 21 fa­thers and 21 male en­trepreneurs. Men were cho­sen be­cause past work has shown that they typ­i­cally have more con­fi­dence in their busi­ness com­pared with women. They were asked about their feel­ings to­wards their chil­dren and busi­ness re­spec­tively, and then put in a brain scan­ner. The en­trepreneurs were shown a pic­ture of their busi­ness logo, while the fa­thers were shown a pho­to­graph of their child. As they did so, the sci­en­tists saw sim­i­lar brain pat­terns.

Some were scep­ti­cal as to whether this equated to the same thing. A Bri­tish neu­ro­sci­en­tist, who blogs un­der the name of Neu­roskep­tic, told The Times that there was rea­son to be cau­tious. ‘‘The data showed wide­spread brain ac­tiv­ity de­creases in fa­thers view­ing pic­tures of their own chil­dren ver­sus pic­tures of other chil­dren . . . A prob­lem with the method­ol­ogy is that all of these dif­fer­ences might have re­flected fa­mil­iar­ity, rather than emo­tional at­tach­ment, be­cause the par­tic­i­pants were pre­sum­ably more fa­mil­iar with their own chil­dren. This might mean they needed less brain­power to process their im­ages.’’

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