"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
"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
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
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."
ARE YOU HYPOMANIC?
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 . . .
b) Seven languages
c) Faster than the voiceover at the end of an insurance
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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