"SO," says Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of easyJet, easyCar, easyGroup and a host of other easyThings equally untroublesome and anti-grammatical. "What is it you think I am?"

A hypomanic, I say. Sir. A sort of milder version of a manic depressive who never gets the depressive bit. Somebody who is on a constant up, indefatigable and tireless, who loves taking risks, hardly sleeps, brims with ideas and feels an almost religious zeal about what they do. It's a benign form of madness, basically. Do you think you've got it?

"Hmm," he says. "Well. It's certainly a theory."

It is that. The hypomanic theory is currently causing a stir Stateside, off the back of a new book by a psychologist, John D. Gartner, The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness and (A Lot of) Success in America (Simon & Schuster). Gartner's theory is bipartite. First, he thinks that entrepreneurs are nuts. Secondly, and by extension, he thinks that America is such an economically successful nation because it is full of nuts. Poverty-stricken, whingeing Brit that I am, I like this theory a lot.

"During the 1990s," writes Gartner, "I was planning to write a book about religious movements started by manic prophets. But I began to be distracted by messianic movements happening around me in real time . . . I was a member of one."

Gartner is talking about the dotcom boom. As an investor in tech stocks, he immersed himself in this world thoroughly. With theoretical millionaires exploding all around him, Gartner began to realise that your religious loon who comes staggering out of the desert and your entrepreneurial demon who comes staggering out of the bank might have an awful lot in common. Almost all entrepreneurs, in his view, are hypomanic.
In this sense, hypomania is not a mental illness. Illness suggests something broken, or undesirable. In Gartner's view, "hypomanics" are very much to be envied. As individuals, invariably, they are economically successful. They are tireless. Rather than being afraid of risk, they revel in it. They're too nuts to quit, so they don't. They thrive.

Here is a snapshot of a few of what Gartner thinks are the key signs of a hypomanic: "filled with energy; flooded with ideas; driven, restless, and unable to keep still; channels his energy into the achievement of wildly grand ambitions; often works on little sleep; feels brilliant, special, chosen, perhaps even destined to change the world; a risk-taker; charismatic and persuasive; prone to making enemies".

It goes without saying that these are all also the signs of an entrepreneur. And also, it goes without saying, that somebody needs to tell Sir Richard Branson.

I tried. He didn't return my calls. In fact, it's amazing how many hugely successful businessmen don't get back to you when you approach them, out of the blue, to ask whether they are nuts. Gartner reckons that a true hypomanic will always be thrilled to be identified but, in my experience, this doesn't seem to be the case. I must have tried eight or so, all semi-household names. Barely a whisper. Thank heaven, then, for Stelios.

He's not convinced, though. "I do sleep," says Stelios. "I need a good night's sleep a couple of times a week. I can only survive on three or four hours for a few nights in a row." Stelios describes himself as a "serial entrepreneur" and is famed for checking his BlackBerry e-mail the very moment that he wakes up, when still in bed. "I work maybe ten to 12 hours a day, and a couple of hours at the weekend," he says. "Although, thanks to that bloody BlackBerry, a day off is a relative term."

Stelios wouldn't quite say that he channels all his energy into work, at the expense of other things. "There aren't really other things," he says, a little apologetically. "I have this terrible habit of turning other things into work as well."

Does he grow irritated at minor obstacles? Would he panic, for example, if his business empire had to survive without him for a whole day?
"It doesn't happen," he says. "There's the BlackBerry, you see."

Yes, Stelios. But imagine that the BlackBerry was broken.
Imagine that the phone lines were down, and you couldn't get to a PC. What then? The millionaire entrepreneur is silent for a moment. "I can't imagine it," he says, finally. "I just can't imagine a day without having anything to do. I suppose that's your answer, isn't it?" I'm not so sure. I suspect that Stelios called me back not because he's a hypomanic, but just because he's a nice, helpful guy. Professionally, and over the telephone, he seems altogether too calm, and grounded, to fit the bill.

Indeed. Gartner does differentiate hypomania from actual mania, the wild up-cycle of the manic depressive, but is keen to stress that it is reasonably similar. "A hypomanic has a bipolar disorder only if hypomania alternates, at some point in life, with major depression," he writes. He does concede, however, that "hypomanics are at much greater risk of depression than the average population".

Gartner also thinks that hypomania is genetic, and hereditary.
There is a link, he writes, between people with problem manic illness and people with a beneficial, take-over-the-world hypomania. Citing a variety of sources, including The American Journal of Psychiatry, he notes that "relatives of manic patients have high rates of hypomania" and "have consistently been found to be far above average in income, occupational achievement, and creativity ".

Why does America have so many hypomanics? Because, says Gartner, it is a nation of immigrants. The very nature of being an immigrant, he reckons, means that an immigrant increases the likelihood of being hypomanic. "Do men and women who risk everything differ temperamentally from those who stay at home?" he writes. "It would be surprising if they didn't."

It might seem a little neat, all this, but it is grounded in a degree of empiricism. The countries with the highest rates of diagnosed, problem manic patients in the world are all immigrant nations: New Zealand, America and Canada, in that order. The countries with the lowest are those into which immigration is unusual: Taiwan and South Korea. Hypomanics from across the world, Gartner believes, packed their bags and moved to America.
As hypomania - like mania - is genetic, and hereditary, the America that exists today is a hypomanic nation.

Gartner identifies a series of notable Americans as displaying hypomanic tendencies, from Christopher Columbus (honorary American, I
suppose) to the geneticist J. Craig Venter. All men, interestingly. There is no reason why females can't be just as hypomanic as males, but historically, one presumes, they have been harder to spot.

Gartner suggests that the world, particularly Europe, has conflicting feelings about America. "They like our cheerful optimism," he writes, "even when it seems naive. They appreciate our confidence, but not when it veers towards arrogance . . . How an advanced nation can be so ripe with religious zealots mystifies them. And our messianic streak scares the hell out of them, especially since the Iraq war. Everything that the world loves and hates about America is a manifestation of our hypomanic temperament."

Are successful entrepreneurs actually different from the rest of us, on a genetic level? Are Americans? Personally, I nurture a fervent hope that they are. It's like discovering that those wildly high-achievers, the ones who started life as nothing and ended up as multimillionaires, like something out of a Jeffrey Archer novel, were blessed with magic beans all along. We no longer need to feel bad for not having achieved what they have achieved; they are a different animal. And it also, of course, proves the truth of that old coffee-mug motto: "You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it helps."


1. You sleep . . .
a) Ten hours a night
b) Four hours a night
c) Occasionally, and grinning

2. You want to make . . .
a) A living
b) A million
c) Countless billions

3. You have plans to change . . .
a) Your clothes
b) Milk cartons
c) The world

4. You speak . . .
a) Occasionally
b) Seven languages
c) Faster than the voiceover at the end of an insurance advert

5. Somebody blocks your path. You . . .
a) Wait for them to move
b) Ask them to move
c) Shoulder-barge them out the way and hit on an idea for padded suits made of bubble-wrap

Mostly As: Not even slightly.
Mostly Bs: Driven, yes. Hypomanic, no.
Mostly Cs: You're the genuine article. But you've probably moved on by now.

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