The chemistry behind a successful team

The life of an innovator is never easy. You have to maintain a high level of attention, continually improve any given product, and listen and empathise with the life and actions of the people who have to use your products. Each of these three actions is linked to particular chemicals produced and released by our bodies.
Over time, research has identified a specific stress-related hormone called cortisol. It is considered one of the greatest enemies of contemporary working life, because stress is always detrimental. But is this really the case? Recent work in neuropsychiatry says that when there is no stress, there is an ‘overconfidence bias’, an overconfidence in one’s own abilities that leads to an underestimation of the importance of commitment and of each work step. The team can achieve unsatisfactory results, but the most important example to highlight this concerns a subject which is dear to us, mountain climbing: too much confidence and self assurance leads to trivial but tragic mistakes, such as making a wrong figure-of-eight knot, badly spinning a rope or, worse, hooking your harness in the wrong place. Overconfidence is therefore just as dangerous as a lack of confidence in what you are doing. Even in innovation, a certain amount of stress must be maintained: products have to pass complex tests, they have to meet extreme demands, and they can never reach the market and not meet expectations, they have to exceed them.

These needs also raise the levels of another essential element in our bodies: adrenaline. But today we know that you cannot live just ‘at high tension’ alone. Challenges and adrenalin also have to be measured and included in a routine, in an effective pattern that allows us to always perform at a constant pace, but in which we insert peaks of interest, of necessity. The objective of a team that innovates must be to work effectively (and for this we need routines) but without ever forgetting that there are stimuli and ideas around us that could change our perspective at any moment (and for this reason we need the unexpected, the adrenaline).

And how does all this ‘chemistry’ relate to the production of life-saving devices? Obviously with empathy.

We can describe it as the ability to feel the emotion that the other person feels when experiencing something. Let us leave aside, for the moment, the issue of emotional empathy, which is a very important issue in the world of rescue. Here again we have a substance that our body is able to produce, which is called oxytocin. It is a hormone that is often associated with love, pro-sociality and trust. It is an important hormone when trying to understand what a rescue team needs in order to perform at its best, but not so important when making effective decisions for others. A team that wants to build effective products for the future of an industry must know how to create the right formula, where stress, adrenaline and empathy balance each other out. And where, at the end of the project, there is plenty of room for the production of serotonin: the good mood molecule that infects those who have completed a great job.

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