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Featured Business Author
Featured Author: John Coates
John Coates is a senior research fellow in neuroscience and finance at the University of Cambridge. He previously worked for Goldman Sachs and ran a trading desk for Deutsche Bank in New York. In 2004 he returned to Cambridge to research the biology of financial risk taking. His new book, The Hour Between Dog and Wolf, explores those findings. See Coates's recommendations below for more on the linkages between stress and risk taking in sports, warfare, and the trenches of Wall Street.
Economics and business studies have for too long assumed that our risk taking decisions are a purely cognitive activity, a matter of mind alone. But science does not support such a view. Body and brain evolved together and they act together when we take risks. This fusion of body and brain provides us with the fast reactions and gut feelings we need to survive in a fast-paced and brutal world. Once you start seeing your risk taking behaviour as the product of both body and brain, you see that risk taking in business involves very similar biological systems to those relied on in sports and war. For that reason I think books by athletes and soldiers can often throw light into the dark corners of business life. One of these is The Game by Ken Dryden, a legendary goalie in hockey who took his team, the Montreal Canadiens, to six Stanley Cups.
Our physiology can sometimes go awry, especially in the workplace. The stress response, a body-wide response to an emergency, seems fatally dysfunctional. Long term functions of the body, such as digestion, reproduction, growth, and immune function are suppressed -- they are metabolically expensive -- and energy stores in liver, muscle, and fat cell are flushed into the blood for immediate use. Wonderfully useful when facing down a grizzly; tragically toxic when sitting in the office. One of the best books on stress is Robert Sapolsky's Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.