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Practice Management > Building Your Business

The Thrill of it All

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Have you ever been in the midst of a presentation to a potential client when they stopped you and told you there was no need to continue–he/she liked what you were saying and wanted to move forward with your service? If so, congratulations–you lit up your new client’s pleasure pathway.

In his article, “Playing it Safer,” in the June issue of Wealth Manager, Andrew McElwee discusses from an insurance perspective how wealthy boomer clients seek diversion in the form of high-risk activities, and the opportunity that provides the advisor. McElwee opens a topic I have wanted to address for some time, but haven’t known how to approach.

What McElwee’s observations reveal is that risk-taking gets riskier with age. While no one over age 45 will argue about the physical truth of that assertion, what isn’t being talked about is that risk-taking behavior is driven by the continual quest for dopamine, the neurotransmitter that activates the pleasure centers of the brain. The same need that previously fueled the drive to achieve or attain their wealthy status is now causing high-net-worth individuals to seek new stimuli in order to supply the dopamine. Once the risk-taker’s struggle to attain wealth is over and a level of non-sensational security is reached, new challenges must be created to fill the dopamine gap. If you wonder why you can’t hold the wealthy risk-taker’s attention as you talk about security, insurance, or moderating risk, it’s probably because you are recommending the opposite of what that client craves most. He wants to be out on a limb.

What is dopamine? Dopamine does two things: it allows you to focus in a linear fashion, and it’s the pleasure chemical. Dopamine is the chemical that turns your brain on. Technically, it’s a neurotransmitter that aids concentration and provides feelings of pleasure or well-being. You know that sense of well-being generated by a full stomach on Thanksgiving afternoon. That feeling of well-being is triggered by enhanced dopamine levels.

How does it work? Imagine your own brain. The largest part of the brain is the cortex–sort of the brain’s command center. There is a continuous stream of sensory information moving in and out of your cortex through the thalamus.

Picture the brain’s thalamus as a water faucet with a spigot. When the spigot is open, your thought process is activated. When the spigot is closed, your thinking is dulled. That spigot is controlled by dopamine.

What also creates dopamine? Physical activity and movement are one way. Anxiety also creates dopamine.

Why is dopamine important? People with genetically high levels of dopamine tend to be more passive and demonstrate less sensation- or novelty-seeking behavior; whereas, those whose dopamine levels are genetically low seek out greater stimulation. The current theory is that about 15% of the population is born with fewer dopamine receptor sites, and these people spend their entire lives unconsciously trying to create the brain chemical.

This article will attempt to explain the connection between dopamine and your client’s attitudes towards physical risk-taking or risk avoiding.

“They think differently,” says Jim Dobbs, president of Dobbs Wealth, LLC, in Golden, Colorado. Dobbs has noticed that he has difficulty working with creative wealthy, entrepreneurial type of individual who enjoyed taking big risk–one who, for instance, builds a successful business, then impulsively sells it for $50 million. “It’s as if we don’t speak the same language.” Not surprising, really, since Dobbs’ responsibility is to control risk.

Instead, Dobbs tends to attract a certain kind of wealthy client–the highly analytical doctor, pathologist, or technical specialist (non-risk-takers)–who won’t make a decision unless they’ve been given an abundance of information. Dobbs did admit that he’d like to know if there was anything he could do that would attract this other type of personality that seems to fit with the wealthy entrepreneur.


People who exhibit the above characteristics are most often found in the following professions: financial advisors, managers, university professors, coaches, politicians, civil litigators, judges, CPAs, writers, economists, teachers, and software analysts.

They need to analyze and comprehend the logic in each step before proceeding to the next. Of course, the majority of the population is located somewhere in the middle, having some traits found in each box.


People with a greater need for dopamine are most often found in professions that match their need for stimulation: entrepreneurs, emergency room physicians, astronauts, high profile attorneys, star athletes, undercover narcotics officers, Navy Seals, madcap comedians, convicts and some freelance writers.

This type of person is normally classified as a thrill seeker who enjoys all forms of risk taking, from business building to bungee jumping, or mountain climbing–almost any sport or venture designed to create dopamine! Some of the richest people in the world are in this group.

Case in point

Pete is a big picture guy, a wealthy entrepreneur. Joe is a financial advisor who decided he might pick up a wealthy prospective client by being more active in his community, so he volunteered for a committee seat on a local charity. That was where he met Pete. They rarely agreed and complained that they found each other frustrating, but it was vital that they understood each other’s point of view. Whenever they got together to make decisions, Pete was in a hurry, wanting to get a quick grasp of the situation and make decisions based on his gut feeling. Joe, on the other hand, liked to talk his ideas through in full. Typically, he would have a list of points that he wanted to discuss. Pete would quickly get frustrated with Joe and usually cut the meeting short. Their inability to reach a satisfactory conclusion resulted in Pete taking himself off the committee, and that was the last contact the two ever had.

Pete and Joe were speaking a different language. Pete made decisions based on “gut feel.” Joe had a very “auditor” way of communicating; he would “talk his ideas through” and have “points to discuss.” They were using different senses to communicate, or rather try to communicate.The problem is that neither of them realizes they could benefit from the other because their behaviors are on the opposite sides of the spectrum. Read more on The Dopamine Connection.

Unless you are aware of these differences, the relationship between these two personality types will be challenging and often conflicting. Pete may have great ideas and accurate business insights, but Pete “hits a wall” when he has to do all the follow-up details needed to maintain his great ideas. Why Pete fails at detail work is the exact opposite reason Joe is good at the details.

Pete fails at tasks that don’t create enough dopamine in order to hold his attention. No dopamine and time expands, which Pete experiences as painful–and avoids. On the other hand, Joe has a surplus of dopamine, and can spend hours focused on the paperwork and accomplish the tasks that Pete consider mundane or tedious.

Joe could provide a stable and secure foundation, adding common sense, reason and practicality to Pete’s ideas. Joe could handle all the details which would free up Pete to go out and hunt for more business. Hunting–for guys like Pete–compresses time and equals pleasure.

The fact that Joe is not the risk-taking type makes him an excellent partner or advisor for Pete, our dopamine-starved entrepreneurial example. Two years ago, one of my friends, a well liked doctor in town suddenly gave up his family practice and went to work as a full-time emergency room physician. I saw him last Christmas and he told me that he was the happiest he has been in years. Why? Chaos, bedlam, and pandemonium all create dopamine.

Being curious I wanted to see for myself, so I visited him at our local hospital. That night he saw: a woman in her last stage of labor; one stabbing; a motorcycle crash victim with two broken arms; and three drug overdoses. Then as I was about to leave, two ambulances arrived with sirens blaring and lights blazing. As they unloaded four car-crash victims, each person with progressively worse head wounds, cuts, puncture wounds, abrasions and assorted broken limbs, the room became frenzied and I figured this was a good time to make my exit. I turned to leave when my friend shouted my name: “Larry, see yah later!” He had a look on his face that is hard to explain–like he was in dopamine paradise. My doctor buddy got more dopamine in one night than most people could stand in a lifetime.

It is almost always about dopamine!

Larry Chambers ([email protected]), is president of Chambers & Associates, Ojai, California. He is the author of Credibility Marketing and Separate Account Management, among other works. His free e-book, How Not to Market, is available at


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