What makes doers

There are people who talk about it, and then there are people who do it: doers.
There is no conjunctive form to describe them. They don’t just talk about problems, they solve them. But what makes a doer into a doer? Is doing something innate or acquired? To find out more, we asked the charismatic expert for intercultural management, Nicole Brandes, along with the famous geneticist, Dr. Markus Hengstschläger.

To be a doer or not – is it a question of culture or genetics? Our interview partners agree that both are necessary. That’s because possessing the talent to be a doer does not guarantee success. And even the doer-friendliest environment does not only produce proactive, responsible people of action. Who becomes problem-oriented, and who becomes a doer? Nicole Brandes and Markus Hengstschläger provide interesting and surprising answers to this question and more. We interviewed the cultural ambassador and the geneticist separately.

According to Nicole Brandes, expert for intercultural management, the environment contributes a great deal towards becoming a doer.

Ms. Brandes, are doers heroes in all cultures?

Doers are people who not only do things, but who also achieve something. While others see opportunities, they create opportunities. Regardless of whether on a large or small scale, people who are successful are always admired to some degree, irrespective of culture. You become a hero by doing extraordinary deeds. Just what such deeds might be, depends on the culture and its Zeitgeist. You can become a hero by chance and from one moment to the next, because you were at the right place at the right time and took the right action courageously or reflexively, such as saving someone who is in trouble. To be a doer is something more lasting. He or she pursues his/her goal with passion and perseverance. 

A doer can become a hero. A hero need not necessarily be a doer. As a result of globalization, there are many doers who are cross-cultural heroes including businessmen like Steve Jobs, musicians like Bono or athletes like David Beckham.

What distinguishes internationally successful doers?

There are people who we follow because we have to, and then there are people who we follow because we want to, because they move us. Doers are distinguished by the innate ability to mobilize themselves and other people, because they know the “invisible laws” that drive us. One can move others only through emotions, which are the same for us all regardless of our skin color and culture. However, culture does provide visible and many invisible framework conditions. A doer will recognize these and know how to deal with them and improvise. He or she also possesses the wisdom to decide when the set rules must be overridden. You don’t have to be brilliant to be wise, but brilliance without wisdom is not enough.  

Do certain cultures offer especially fertile soil for doing?

Naturally, the environment plays an important role for the emergence, realization and success of ideas. Creativity and innovation take place everywhere – perhaps particularly when the circumstances are difficult. I recently read about a 15-year old Massai youth: He was a shepherd and the family was desperate because their animals were being killed by lions. To protect themselves, they did everything they could to kill the predatory cats. By doing so, they came into conflict with the law. One night, the teenager came up with an ingenious idea to install a light that also moves while the shepherds sleep. The light successfully scared the lions off. His idea has since really caught on. He now travels throughout Africa and demonstrates how people, cattle and predators can live together in peace with his invention. The government supports him in the process. This boy is a doer, and at the same time he is a hero. 

“Doers are people who not only do things, but who also achieve something.” 

Nicole Brandes

What happens when doers from different cultures collide?

I would not speak of a “collision” right off the bat. Doers can mutually inspire and help one another because they are carved from the same wood. However, they can also feel antipathy for one another for the same reason. A person is shaped from three sides: First, he has a wonderful uniqueness with his very personal talents and abilities. He might be inventive, for example, he can be communicative or reclusive. Second, there are the universal needs that we all have: love and affiliation, drinking, eating, sleeping or to be successful. And thirdly, we have culturally specific characteristics that shape our behavior. These are our values, the way we communicate, how we solve problems and attitudes about relationships to one another, to time and to the environment. People can thus be likeable on a personal level but misunderstood on a cultural level, because they can not decode the rules of conduct and action reflexes of others. Small differences on this level can cause major problems despite sympathy. This can be obvious, for example, in culturally mixed marriages or during business negotiations between people from different cultures. Cultural knowledge is helpful here because experience does not suffice for mutual understanding.

What was your greatest intercultural “faux pas”?

(Laughs) Oh my, there have been so many! And surely there will be more. Having an intercultural intelligence makes it possible to anticipate, analyze and also to de-escalate situations and extends far beyond business etiquette. Yet, intercultural intelligence is not a recipe and life is not a cake. Besides theoretical knowledge, it is important to constantly question one’s own ambiguity tolerance. How open am I and can I accept deviant behavior? That requires great attentiveness and yet can quickly be lost in the heat of the battle. 

How can you avoid “faux pas”?

You can’t! Life is too diverse. You can, however, reduce the likelihood of making a ’faux pas’ by getting to know cultures and by having a “both/and” attitude instead of an “either/or” mindset. That requires having the courage to make mistakes. Those who are open, treat others with respect and show authentic interest can not really go wrong. 

How important is personal contact for doers?

Doers also need other people for productive doing. Personal contact is always central for confidence building and for building relationships. In many parts of the world, the relationship comes before the product in business as well. To be successful through purely economic considerations is not possible in many cultures. Many business deals have failed because of this.

How can proximity be established over geographical distance?

Just as it normally would be: with regular contact and exchange through all possible means of communications. However, regular on-site visits are also important because they convey appreciation of the customer and employees. Doers move people. CRM can offer great support to engage with customers. In addition to CRM, we also need ERM, employee relationship management. We need to know more about our employees so that we don’t just involve them through their performance.

How important is intrinsic motivation for doing?

That is the motor that drives everything! True doers can be possessed by their idea. For whatever reason, they pursue their goal tirelessly, push themselves through periods of self-doubt and have the stamina to hold out against negative people, critics, pressure and setbacks. Nothing can stop them; at the most, only delay them. I think that such motivation can only come from within. There is, by the way, an interesting study that shows that extrinsic motivations function, but only for simple, mechanical routine tasks, such as in factories. The greater the motivation the greater the performance. For more complex tasks, precisely the opposite was determined. The greater the motivation, the lower the performance. 

How do you tap into the power of culture?

By building your own culture! Doers bring people together and connect them. They not only create ideas, but also value systems, through which people orientate themselves and then act upon.

You are described as a doer. Can doers also get on peoples’ nerves?

(Laughs loudly). Yes, that’s certainly true! (Laughs again.) Doers are constantly reinventing themselves, challenging what is, questioning and always seeking to improve. In the process, they constantly are throwing the status quo overboard. Naturally, this can be strenuous for people who are not this way. I’ve experienced this with certain bosses, and also with my teams. I always had really great teams, but I also drove them crazy (laughs aloud again).

“The worst thing would be to not do things out of fear of making a mistake.”

Nicole Brandes

Many people talk about doing things differently and then don’t do it. What has been your experience, Dr. Hengstschläger?  

Unfortunately, today it is easier, and under some circumstances, even more advantageous for a career to go along with the crowd, than to be right all on your own. Every person is born an individual, but then for the rest of their lives must resist dying as a copy. The greatest problem I see is that many people take great efforts to level everything: “If everyone is doing it, then it can’t be so wrong,” is a wide-spread opinion and apparently calms far too many people.

Is being a doer innate or acquired, is it a talent or gene?

Such complex tendencies or patterns of behavior are controlled by multiple factors in people. This means that it depends on both genetics and the environment. People are fundamentally not reducible to their genes for such things and it certainly does not come down to just a single gene. Genes are, at the most, like a pencil and paper, but each one of us writes his own story. On the other hand, would two people who practice equally as long, achieve the same artistic level on the violin? Can everyone sing like Elina Garanca or Placido Domingo – is it just a question of practicing and learning? Can anyone ultimately play football like Lionel Messi, if he trains equally as long and hard? The answer to these questions is, of course, no. It is commonly said in this regard that, “either you have it or you don’t!” But what does this mean? For every success there is something like a special performance condition – one or more talents. Yet, talent alone is no guarantee of success. What is talent anyway? Talents are special performance conditions (= genetics), which through hard work (= environment) must be discovered and converted into a special performance (= success).

What generally makes doers into doers?

I think that self-confidence and decision making capability are important factors here. Just how much of this is innate and how much the upbringing, education and the environment contributes, simply can not be measured.

How do we make doers?

The Austrian author, Peter Rosegger, has stated that every person has talents, and only the light of education reveals them. Every person must have the chance to discover their individual special performance conditions and through hard work to turn them into a special performance. Individuality is the greatest asset if you want to be prepared for questions that you do not yet know, because you will be confronted with them in the future. But everyone also has the right to ignore his talents or to compensate for a lack of talent by working harder.

The genetics professor, Dr. Markus Hengstschläger, is convinced that, “Parents and schools must discover and encourage skills. We cannot afford to do without the many talents that would otherwise go undiscovered”.

Friedrich Nietzsche said: “Skills are innate: They seek to become accomplishments.” How do you turn the doer capability into doer accomplishment?  

You don’t become talented through your teacher. The task of parents, teachers and the education system is to do everything they can to discover and encourage the talents in our community. The focus must be placed on what the individual can do especially well and not an exclusive concentration on weaknesses. We must discover our peaks and promote them. Uneducated levels must be educated, not to raise the average, but because we can not afford to do without the many talents that would otherwise go undiscovered. 

What incentives motivate doing?

The best incentive for hard work is success – and don’t forget to praise, praise, praise.

Doers must stand out – which is not viewed positively in every culture.  

Like I said: Genes are merely the pencil and paper. There is no story that is not worth writing! We just have to be left to it; we must try it out, dare to take a risk – that’s what we have to encourage the next generation to do – even if it means standing out in the process

When is it better to do, and when is it better to let it be done?

The recipe for success is: To make up for lacking intrapersonal intelligence with interpersonal intelligence. If you cannot do something yourself, then you have to find someone who can. No one builds a house all by themselves anymore, but then a hundred electricians also cannot build one. The more complex the task is, the more diverse the team must be. On the one hand, each one of us must find out what he can and cannot do. For the part that you must depend on teamwork for (and that is actually the lion’s share), you need social competence, emotional intelligence and empathy to interact

“The focus must be placed on what the individual can do especially well and not an exclusive concentration on weaknesses.”

Markus Hengstschläger

Were you always a doer? What people/experiences in your life have animated you the most to become a doer?

I very much like to make decisions, as a researcher, am constantly seeking for new things, for the fantastic things that happen each day. On top of that, my parents always encouraged me as a child.

What problems are to be anticipated as a doer?

That not everyone wants to cooperate.

What leverage do tools have on doing?

Only he who has a hammer and nail, and knows how to use them, can hang a picture.

Is everything doable?

No, and besides that, not everything that can be done, should be.


Nicole Brandes has worked for and with some of the most powerful doers in the world. As a manager, she established VIP clubs in international corporations, and among other things, managed a foundation for Queen Silvia of Sweden. Today this charismatic businesswoman with Asian and European roots is dedicated to an improved understanding between cultures.  She is equally passionate about being a sensitive mediator between cultures, a sought-after speaker and a management coach.

Book information
“It doesn’t matter who you are, but how you come across”
How to successfully speak, appear and seem in other cultures. 

Business with people from foreign cultures can bring managers to the boundaries of their comfort zones because, despite international experience, minor differences can trigger major problems. They can lead to the failure of entire projects. In this book you receive short and concise tips on which cultural challenges you must be aware of if you want to present your projects worldwide. They will save you time, nerves and costs.


University Professor Dr. Markus Hengstschläger was a punk rocker at the age of 16. He received his doctorate title in genetics at 24, at 35 was named the youngest university professor for medical genetics, and today is Head of Medical Genetics at the Medical University in Vienna. As the author of three number one bestsellers: “Die Macht der Gene”, “Endlich unendlich” and “Die Durchschnittsfalle” (in German), a multiple award-winning scientist and well-known science moderator on ORF Radio, Hengstschläger impressively proves that success arises from individuality and that you need to depart from old paths to embark on new ones. 

Book information
Die Durchschnittsfalle: Gene – Talente – Chancen

Either you have it or you don’t. Is that right? Isn’t it possible to be successful without specific genetic prerequisites? Or is the opposite true? No gain without pain? In our much-discussed performance-oriented society, the raising of average all-rounders has become top priority. But, who determines what is normal in the first place? We do not know what challenges will confront us in the future. We can only overcome them when we promote those unique talents that slumber within us all. It must become normal to deviate from the norm. Or to put it differently: We need peaks and freaks!