In Spanish, we use the phrase “sentido de la orientación” all the time. In English, you can speak about a sense of direction or my preferred, though rarely used term, “sense of orientation.” Being an entrepreneur, I think that what is most needed, is a sense of orientation…in business. It is interesting that now researchers are finding out how the sense of orientation works.

Here´s a summary:

To orient ourselves, we mainly need two pieces of information: where am I and in which direction am I heading? Experiments in the rat have shown that these types of information are directly accessible and independently coded in the brain. When the rat explores a new territory, so-called place cells and head direction cells form within only a few minutes. Place cells are active when the rat visits a particular area, no matter which direction it is facing. In contrast, head direction cells code the direction the rat is heading, independent of where it is. Also humans presumably have these and other types of cells which specifically instruct its sense of orientation. Scientists around Mathias Franzius and Laurenz Wiskott from the Humboldt-University and Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin (Germany) have now developed a theoretical model that can explain the emergence of all orientation-specific cells that are known in rats and primates to date.

Now my personal experience is that most successful entrepreneurs I know have a very good sense of orientation. Many are pilots, skippers, mountain bikers. When I have gone cycling in the mountains with top entrepreneurs like Sergey Brin, Niklas Zennstrom, Michael Dell and others, I have found that they are all very aware of the two key variables that manage orientation: knowing where you are and knowing where you are headed. Loic LeMeur, founder of Seesmic, is an amazing pilot. Needless to say that, in business, knowing where you are and knowing were you are headed is essential.

Moreover, I am convinced that the sense of orientation is not equally divided among men and women and, since I don´t run Harvard University, I can say so. The women entrepreneurs that I know, though, do seem to have a great sense of orientation. I know that there´s nothing scientific about commenting on my life experience and coming to conclusions but for whatever is worth it is what I observe. Emily Cinader, founder of J Crew for example, who was my girlfriend in the 80s when I was at Columbia University, is not only an outstanding entrepreneur, but she definitely knows her way around.

At the same time, there seems to be a genetic component to the sense of orientation. I have a good sense of orientation and so do my four children. The two boys and the two girls. Recently I have been observing the sense of orientation of Leo, my two year old son and it is uncanny. Leo can barely talk, but he can walk, find a water fountain that he saw in a park the previous week, which is out of sight and 200 meters away from him. He just says agua and goes for it. I follow.

I hope one day we understand much more about how we orient ourselves.

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Barry on March 27, 2009  · 

In English, it’s “sense of direction”.

By the way, how do you say “proof read” in Spanish?

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Martin Varsavsky on March 27, 2009  · 

Well in the medical literature that I found it was called sense of orientation. But you are right, I had heard sense of direction but never sense of orientation.

Peanut on March 28, 2009  · 

“orientation sense” is listed in medical literacy like a “sense” of spatial self consciousness. “Sense of direction” is correct on colloquially speech and is like go in the right way. I not running Hopkins, “por un pelín”, o Mount Sinai, but, everything is possible in a life, I’m a pathfinder. I never has a guide, only a “exploration sensitiveness” of my environment. At three years i running away from my mom custody, and call (tok) in to the doors of my neighbor’s asking for friends to play. I become very popular in my neighbourhood. My child friends feeling pretty sure whith me, But, is a very heavy responsibility. I feel safe alone now. But i still searching friends to play.

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Wilson on March 29, 2009  · 

Hi Martin, i agree 100% that there seems to be a genetic component to the sense of orientation ,i mean consider for instance how many people study to become entrepreneurs,Economy,Master of Business Administration ,but only a small number of them become successful entrepreneurs,in life there are so many examples of successful entrepreneurs who had a very strong sense of orientation (Amancio Ortega no terminó siquiera la preparatoria) and no college degree like Michael Dell.,but still i think completing advanced levels of education is an indicator of a great drive and commitment to learn and apply knowledge on a variety of tasks. Hence, the more you learn, the more knowledge you have,to become a successful entrpreneur,at least i hope.

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Avery on March 31, 2009  · 

In English, it’s “sense of direction”.

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Javier Guillén on March 31, 2009  · 

So, i am not a successful entrepreneur, beacuse I always lose my car at the commercial centers.
Is it posible that most successful entrepreneurs are pilots, skippers, mountain bikers because they have free time and a lot of money?

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mariana on April 2, 2009  · 

Intresting correlation, never thought about it.
I was thinking about the opposite kind of people, the disoriented ones. I guess almost all scientists, including myself, tend to be at least a little disoriented; we also tend to be pretty bad doing business, therefore I do not think we could be good entrepreneurs (I am not 100% sure that you need to be good ad business for being a good entrepreneur). If the last is true the theory from the article seems to work in almost all the cases I know.
About the difference between men and woman, I think it is true that our brains are different, we have different strength and weaknesses, like the fact that men tend to have better orientation sense than womans; but this is not a rule, it is general tendency.
By the way I am a friend of erika, who recomended me to get to know what you do and write.

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