For most of her adult life, Helen Fisher has been “in” love.
The anthropologist has been one of the most innovative thinkers on the topic of love, studying the way technology has changed human relationships over eons. Fisher has written books, given TED talks and worked with online dating site Match.com to help people understand whom we love, how we love and why we love. Comedian Aziz Ansari even used Fisher’s research as a foundation for his bestselling book about the perils of online dating, Modern Romance.
Recently though, Fisher realized it’s not love she’s been “in” all these years.
“Yes, I’ve been studying romantic love and feelings of deep attachment,” Fisher says. “But people have pointed out to me I’m really not studying just that. I’m studying relationships.”
Now, Fisher is falling out of love and into business, recently founding NeuroColor, which helps businesses identify new areas of growth and development through employee personality assessments. Fisher has found that the scientific study and data analysis she’s done around how we love also pertains to how we work.
An Outdated System
Since the 1950s, the gold standard for understanding personality in the workplace has been the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test—a questionnaire that categorizes personality types. According to The Washington Post, more than 10,000 companies and 200 government agencies in the United States use the test. Business Insider reports that 89 of the Fortune 100 companies rely on MBTI to place employees on teams based on the test results.
The problem with the MBTI is that the test has gone relatively unchanged since its creation in the 1950s, and it’s not rooted in science or technology—two foundations Fisher deems essential when studying personality types as they pertain to romantic relationships and, now, workplace relationships.
“The [MBTI] questionnaire is built from linguistic studies, so there’s no way to go back and really prove [its results],” Fisher says. “[MBTI] worked for a long time, but the world of technology has moved on. We don’t need to use linguistic studies to understand personality anymore. We can use basic brain science. And that’s what I’ve done.”
Nature vs. Nurture
Fisher is no stranger to personality questionnaires. For Match.com, she created a quiz for distribution to more than 14 million people across 40 countries, all to figure out how they love. Fisher’s questionnaires are based on her studies in brain chemistry and neuroscience. Simply put, she can prove her findings.
Fisher uses this same approach for NeuroColor’s questionnaires. Unlike MBTI, which is psychological at its core, the data the NeuroColor questionnaire collects intimates which areas of brain chemistry are stronger than others (e.g., higher testosterone than estrogen or more dopamine than serotonin). From there, it becomes easier to understand where test takers stand in relation not only to their work, but also to their coworkers and clients on a chemical level.
To prove her findings, Fisher had people complete the 56-question questionnaire and then put them in a brain scanner using functional MRI. She found that those people who scored high on the testosterone scale (which may make someone a better leader, but lacking in impulse control—many politicians, says Fisher, fall into this category) in her questionnaire also showed more activity in the testosterone pathways in the MRI, and so on.
"With these MRI experiments", Fisher says. “I have been able to show that this questionnaire is actually measuring traits that we have inherited—traits that are part of the brain.”
NeuroColor at Work
Fisher’s workplace personality test is slowly being adopted by businesses around the world. Deloitte, for one, has partnered with NeuroColor to train more than 100,000 employees. Fisher has seen promise in her work and hopes to eradicate the workplace misunderstandings that lead to unhappy workers and lost revenue.
“Eighty-six percent of problems at work occur because people simply do not understand each other,” Fisher says. “I think I can make a dent in that and can move business forward.”
In the 22-page profile the NeuroColor questionnaire produces, employees not only learn about how they work, but also how they can work with others. With this knowledge, employees can understand how to best interact with people in a business setting, modifying presentations based on whom they’re meeting with. An executive may be high in testosterone, while a creative type may be estrogen-heavy— and therefore more empathetic.
Fisher says she was recently approached at a Deloitte conference by an executive who told her that he’d taken her studies about how our brain chemistry aligns with the way we work to heart. Months before, he had been working on a PowerPoint deck late into the night and remembered Fisher’s ideas, called his team and revamped the entire presentation to suit the type of person he’d learned his client was. The next morning, the executive says, he made a million dollars.
“We’re just beginning,” Fisher says of her work. “I’ll die. I’d like these ideas to live. I want people to be able to use them to understand more about themselves, about their work conditions, how to deal with bosses, how to deal with teams, how to lead, how to follow, and a whole lot of other things.”
What’s not to love about that?
In the multi-part feature with WIRED Brand Lab, Lenovo looks at six extraordinary innovators who work relentlessly to move their field forward. Check all six stories from the series here.
Rahil Arora leads Lenovo’s Customer Stories program.