This is a subscriber-only article. Join Entrepreneur+ today for access

Learn More

Already have an account?

Sign in
Entrepreneur Plus - Short White
For Subscribers

Inside the Brains of Rebellious Leaders True iconoclasts don't just happen upon a novel approach. Their brains are actually wired in a way that makes them more likely to take the road less traveled.

By Joe Robinson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Mark Twain called them "corn-pone opinions." Take a path that veers from the norm, and you'll hear from a chorus of naysayers. "That'll never work." "Don't rock the boat." "That's impossible." (Of course, once your idea has been proven to work, they claim to have known it all along.)

Bucking the herd isn't easy for a species designed to conform, so it takes a certain mindset to be an outlier. "Most people's brains are just not wired to go against what everybody else is doing," says Gregory Berns, author of Iconoclast and a neuroscientist at Emory University in Atlanta. Berns has taken an unorthodox path himself, exploring the roots of motivation and reward in ultramarathoners, sushi chefs and S&M enthusiasts. He argues that innovation occurs in brains that are adept at not just creative insights, but also at overriding the fears that come along with them--such as facing flak from the peanut gallery.

Iconoclastic thinking--defined by Berns as doing what others say can't be done--demands a brain that functions differently from the standard model in three areas: perception; the fear response; and social intelligence, which is necessary to persuade others of the validity of your unsanctioned vision.