Internet success is more likely when you meet the right people

RBS boss says bankers are paid to much; but that's because of their brains

RBS boss says bankers are paid to much; but that’s because of their brains

The boss of RBS has scored a Gordon Brown-like “own goal”. The bank’s Chairman, Sir Philip Hampton, has admitted that city bankers are paid too much – “astonishingly high”, is what he said their salaries were. He went on to say, however, that if you don’t pay these big salaries, then people leave. Indeed, said Sir Philip, many of the “top people” have already left RBS. That was before he went on to explain that the bank had achieved much better results than expected. Sorry, run that past me again? The “top people” have left – and the bank has improved. Er…sounds to me like you should let more of them leave, Sir Philip…!

But why is it that everyone in the banking industry – and the Government – falls for the line “we have to pay people high salaries in order to keep them”? According to new brain research from the University of California, Los Angeles{footnote}http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2010.02.045{/footnote}, there is now clear evidence to support an idea that has been circulating within the world of psychology for ages. The suggestion has been that we have “mirror neurons” inside our heads. These are brain cells which fire when we watch someone doing something, hear them saying something, or observe them feeling emotions. Our brains mimic what we see. It is why, perhaps, we feel pain when we see someone else get hurt. It can explain why we feel sad when we see someone cry. And it suggests why we agree with people when they say something we could potentially find of value to ourselves.

But this “mirroring” goes beyond our brains. Another study published this week{footnote}http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2010/04/02/0956797610368064.abstract{/footnote} shows that your immune system reacts when you merely see someone else with symptoms of illness. It is as though your body is preparing itself to combat a cold, when you see someone else sneeze. Combined with the study on mirror neurons it is more evidence that our entire biological system gears itself up to copy other people. And that, in turn, could explain why all bankers agree they should be paid a lot. It’s not that they are greedy – though they might be – it’s just that their brains are mirroring each other’s. Get a group of bankers together and all their mirror neurons will be firing away in agreement when just one of them says they should be paid millions.

However, the implications of these two new pieces of research go beyond people agreeing with each other, or sharing emotions. It could explain success. What you tend to find is that successful people mix with other successful people. In the past, it has been suggested that like-minded people get together to share common experiences. But that’s only half the story. If you are only experiencing relatively low levels of success, when you mix with hugely successful people your mirror neurons will start firing. Whatever behaviours it takes to be successful will be mirrored in your brain, if you mix with brilliant people. In other words, your brain will start doing what it needs to do to help you succeed.

Networking experts will tell you that it’s not what you know, but who you know, that is one of the drivers of success. The confirmation that mirror neurons exist in your brain explains why that is the case. It is not the connections that these successful people bring you per se, but rather the reaction of your brain on mixing with these successful people; your brain starts to mimic their brain. And that makes it more likely you will start to behave like them and do what they do in order to succeed.

So, take a look at the kind of people you meet. Are they hugely successful in their field? If so, your success is more likely because of the reaction of your brain. But are you going to networking events where everyone you meet is finding it hard to cope with new online technologies, or who say things like they don’t understand social media? That means it is more likely you will also do badly at these things because your brain will be mirroring the negative behaviours. If you want to succeed, say, with Twitter, you need to follow those who are truly successful with it and mix with people who are leaders in social media. If you want to be a brilliant blogger, you need to read and mix with brilliant bloggers. If you want funds to flow from Facebook, then you ought to be mixing with those who make millions from the service.

You might be following the wrong people, reading the wrong blogs and going to the wrong meetings. Take a look at the circles of influence you inhabit. If you change them so you read the right blogs, follow the right people and attend the right meetings, different mirror brain cells will start to operate inside your head. And they are the ones that will make your success more likely. Your Internet success depends on who you know, not what you know. It depends on what you read, who you follow and who your friends are on social networks. Just one question remains then…who the devil is Gordon Brown mixing with?

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