What makes you hate broccoli?

What makes you you?  A fascinating article from the National Geographic aims to shed some light on this subject and reveals some telling truths about the way human beings work. Suffice it to say, why we all benefit from third party advice.

Our preferences seem to be the defining aspect of our individuality and, consequently, our sense of self. Tribalism is an innately human trait that can manifest as political allegiance, dietary preference, or taste in music – our tastes define our group, and our group defines who we are.

These preferences are all conscious choices you make of your own free will, right? Sure, maybe you support the same football team as your dad, but your political stance couldn’t be more different – and this was a conscious choice on your part, surely.

Research is beginning to highlight three key hidden architects at work in the formation of your preferences: genes, bacteria, and your environment.

Environment is fairly well understood in this respect, as most people have an understanding of how their family and place of birth impact their sense of self. What is more disturbing to learn, however, is how your microbiome can greatly affect your mood, preferences, and personality. An unhealthy gut biome, for instance, can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety in people, which can lead to dramatic changes in personality and lifestyle.

Equally tricky to grasp but nonetheless integral to personal makeup are our genes. One example given in the National Geographic article that inspired this post was the variation in genes that allow people to taste bitter flavours in foods such as broccoli and Brussel sprouts. Only about 25% of the population (dubbed ‘supertasters’) have the genes necessary to detect those flavours so, while on the outside they might look like fussy eaters, their dislike of the vegetable is actually genetically routed.

Evolutionary psychology states that actions  carried out by living organisms can be explained by their desire to survive and reproduce. This means that certain preferences and behaviours are baked into our biological make-up and there is little we can do to change this. On average, for example, people feel more attracted to potential mates who show overt sings of health and vitality such as an athletic build or symmetrical face. In evolutionary terms, this makes complete sense, as a strong and healthy mate will be the most beneficial both to your gene pool and your chances of successfully raising offspring. So, while it might feel as though you’re attracted to people because of your own choices and personality, these preferences can usually be explained by genetic traits totally outside of our normal perception. 

So, does this mean your life is out of your control?

No, and far from it.

Knowing this about ourselves allows individuals to take control of their physical and emotional state by knuckling down on the aspects of their life and wellbeing that they know to be affecting them negatively. By first understanding the mechanisms that shape the way we think ourselves, we can then start to understand other people better too.

So what has all this to do with corporate finance? A lot, as it turns out. Deals fail or succeed largely on how well we all communicate and understand the various parties’ desires, motivations, emotions, and fears. Get these crucial aspects of understanding wrong and perfectly good deals can fail. Get them right, and more difficult deals become more likely to succeed. Consequently, we think carefully about who is on the deal team and, if things are not optimal, we will make changes; to the lead partner if required.

As we are all wired differently one of the key benefits of receiving independent advice is to gleam a wider variety of perspectives in addition to hard, technical skills. This is why even seasoned CF advisers will bring in CF advice when they are the principal.

Our actions are governed by hidden biological forces—which is to say that we have little or no control over our personal tastes. Our behaviors and preferences are profoundly influenced by our genetic makeup, by factors in our environment that affect our genes, and by other genes forced into our systems by the innumerable microbes that dwell inside us.

By Rebecca Garland on 12/09/2019