Posts Tagged ‘nature or nurture?’

Hard Wired to Fail?

Friday, May 6th, 2011


The connections between the physical form and functioning of the brain and behaviour continue to be revealed. Professor James Fallon,  a true believer in genetic determinism ( i.e. that behaviour is driven by the brain’s biology), makes an interesting appearance on the BBC’s All in the Mind. He reveals his own personal journey to understanding the importance of environment and nurture, recounting his discovery that he had the brain structures of a psychopath, and comes from a long line of convicted murderers. Yet in his case he has ‘turned out well’. What made the difference was nurture and environment.

At the time of writing the interview is still available on the BBC at

It was Alice Miller, back in the 1950s, who pinpointed nurture and the wider environment as key protective factors in child development. Her work was an investigation into how Hitler became such a monster. This work highlighted that most of the children she studied, who were brought up in unacceptable circumstances, went on to be useful members of society, rather than psycho or socio paths. As Fallon demonstrates by his own life– genetics and biology do not inevitably determine behaviour.

It is not necessary to scan the brains of your employees to identify and exclude the undesirable. Some of those problematic brain structures probably explain success – engineers/quantitative people with autistic tendencies for example. But the science does have useful lessons. Environment may switch certain tendencies ‘on’. We see this particularly in organisational cultures which admire strong leadership. ‘Strong’ leadership may just be sociopathic tendencies playing out – RBS and Fred Goodwin and his apparently bullying sales culture being an example.

Just as for the young, environment (culture) is protective for the organisation. Setting expectations and limits, defining and rewarding appropriate behaviour etc. All make a difference.

Good management skills are not a nice to have, they are a requirement for success.

Talk to us, in confidence and without obligation about helping your managers develop the competence and confidence to manage effectively. Solutions that engage, motivate and fit around, rather than disrupt the business.


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