James Bond’s archenemy, Auric Goldfinger, was the prototypical evil businessman. He reveled in cheating – in cards, golf and business. His attempt to explode a dirty nuclear bomb within Fort Knox in order to contaminate, and thus devalue, the United States’ gold supply was devilishly akin to real-world, 21st-century terrorist threats.
As noted in Time Wounds All Heels, despite Hollywood’s penchant for representing businesspeople as evil rogues, nefarious business tactics seldom lead to long-term success.
Although you should shun Goldfinger’s unethical approach, you may be surprised to learn that many entrepreneurs have their own “gold finger.”
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In her 2008 book The Well-Dressed Ape, Hannah Holmes describes several studies of the gold finger phenomenon. For over 150 years, scientists have known that some individuals’ right-hand ring fingers are longer than their corresponding index fingers. However, researchers recently established a link between this physical trait and certain personality characteristics after discovering that long ring fingers result from high in utero testosterone levels. Many of the personality traits that contribute to an entrepreneur’s success are highly correlated to the existence of the gold finger physical attribute.
The personality tendencies that correspond with a gold finger differ to some extent between men and women. These traits reflect a propensity along a spectrum, rather than a de facto declaration of an individual’s personality. As such, there is no need to panic, irrespective of your ring finger’s length.
Male Gold Finger Traits
- Sexually active with multiple partners
- Relatively high sperm count
- Partially ambidextrous
- Enhanced coordination; facile at sports
- Excel at math
- Struggle with reading and verbal skills; stutter
- Increased risk of autism, Asperger’s syndrome, depression, migraines and schizophrenia
- Greater propensity to be homosexual
- Relatively high levels of testosterone
Female Gold Finger Traits – same as men, plus:
- Lower risk of breast cancer
- Less likely to be left-handed
- Slower to retrieve words from memory
- Higher levels of hormones which regulate ovulation and lactation
Rather than casually glancing at your hand, as every reader has no doubt done by now, scientists photocopy each subject’s hand and then carefully measure from the fold of skin closest to the palm to the tip of each finger. This approach is far more accurate than “eyeballing” your fingers’ relative lengths, due to the curvature of your palm.
Putting Your Finger On It
In addition to a long ring finger, the following cues are also associated with elevated testosterone levels:
Hairline – male (and female) pattern baldness
Body Hair – heavy body and facial hair
Bone Structure – high cheekbones, low brow ridge; think athletes who have abused steroids
Age – youth; testosterone levels generally decrease with age
Facebook Status – unmarried; testosterone levels are lower in people involved in long-term relationships
Brood Size – no children; testosterone tends to decrease in parents
Pizza Face – facial and body acne
Weight – body weight proportional to height
Addictive – higher alcohol consumption and greater propensity to smoke and use other addictive drugs
Health – fewer common colds, lower blood pressure, fewer heart attacks (despite addictive tendencies)
Collectively, along with ring finger length, these “gold finger characteristics” can help you identify individuals with a propensity to react in a manner consistent with an assertive, aggressive personality.
And This Is Relevant Because…
Why should an entrepreneur care about these gold finger characteristics? As noted in Are You An Entrepreneur?, an entrepreneur is ultimately defined her actions, not her desires or fingers’ lengths. Even so, high testosterone levels are an indicator of certain entrepreneurial tendencies. Thus, as described in Nature or Nurture?, any clue into one’s natural proclivities (as well as those of our competitors, employees and Stakeholders) can be enlightening.
Risky Business – The relatively higher level of testosterone in individuals with long ring fingers contributes to their enhanced aggressiveness. Aggressiveness also manifests itself in the form of greater risk-taking. A Scientific American article documents a direct correlation between testosterone levels and an individual’s propensity to make risky investments. An aggressive person, who is comfortable accepting a heightened degree of risk, clearly has the makings of an entrepreneur.
Can We All Get Along? – Another interesting study analyzed the correlation between high testosterone levels and an individual’s propensity to seek mutually advantageous solutions. Subjects were presented with the following choices:
- Subject A can offer Subject B either $5 or $25
- Subject B can either accept or reject Subject A’s offer
- Subject B knows total available cash is $40
- If Subject B rejects an offer, both parties receive nothing
For instance, if Subject A offers $5 and the offer is accepted, Subject A nets $35 and Subject B only receives $5. However, if Subject A offers $25 and Subject B accepts, Subject A only receives $15, while Subject B is given $25.
The experimenters hypothesized that Subject B men with higher testosterone levels (this particular experiment was only performed on men) would reject the “unfair” $5 offers at a higher rate than low-testosterone men.
The corresponding data supports this supposition. The elevated aggression of high-testosterone men caused them to reject inferior offers, even though such rejection resulted in a worse outcome for both Subjects. Such men derived more satisfaction from punishing the other Subject (and themselves), than from accepting a de minimis amount.
However, something interesting occurred when the high-testosterone men were placed in the role of Subject A. In these instances, they made “fair” $25 offers with greater regularity than men with lower testosterone levels. This tendency was not as strong as their proclivity to reject unfair offers. However, similar zero-sum studies have established a clear correlation between high-testosterone men and team-building behavior. As such, look for gold finger characteristics when assessing someone’s Bro Factor. Their testosterone level may give you some insight into their tendency to accept or reject aggressive offers.
Scientists have long known that men with high testosterone levels often exhibit leadership qualities. One common leadership tactic is to promote compromise, as a means of maintaining group harmony. Thus, scientists theorize that such conciliatory behavior arises from leaders’ willingness to make personal sacrifices in order to keep the group intact. As noted in The Tribe, such team-building qualities are often found in effective Tribal Chiefs and successful CEOs.
Chatty Cathy – Aggressiveness also manifests itself as a key leadership characteristic in two 2009 studies performed by Andersen and Kiluff. Their research indicates that individuals who are “heard first and most often” are assessed as competent leaders, even when the individuals are no more competent than any other group member. Perceived leadership capabilities are obviously another contributing factor to an entrepreneur’s success.
An entrepreneurial gold finger does not ensure a Midas touch. In fact, unbridled aggression can be detrimental to attracting Stakeholders and appeasing their various demands, once they join an adVenture. However, recognizing gold finger characteristics and understanding the associated behavioral tendencies can be helpful as you attempt to identify and avoid the Auric Goldfingers of the business world.
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