Does Crazy = Success?
March 21 issue -
Do a google search for "manic" and "businessman"—and
you get nearly 18,000 hits. A psychologist at Johns Hopkins
Medical School thinks he knows why. It's not just that these
folks are go-getters. According to clinical assistant professor
John Gartner, many U.S. entrepreneurs actually meet the diagnostic
criteria for hypomania, a mild form of mania characterized
by restlessness, creativity, grand ambitions, euphoria, risk-taking
Not that this is a bad thing. In Gartner's
new book, "The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (a Little)
Craziness and (a Lot of) Success in America," he argues
that the dynamic business environment of this country over
the last 200 years has been due largely to people with hypomania.
Gartner cites historical figures like Alexander Hamilton and
filmmaker Louis B. Mayer, as well as modern genome decoder
Craig Venter. "They may be our greatest natural resource,"
he writes, for these are precisely the people who have the
zeal and arrogance to conceive and implement bold schemes.
They come by it naturally, Gartner says. After all, they bear
the temperament-shaping genes of the great risk takers who
settled the New World.
But as Gartner makes clear, hypomania
cuts both ways. Those big ideas can be brilliant schemes or
ill-conceived flops, but the hypomanic entrepreneur is likely
to endorse both with equal zeal. "When you dig into their
biographies," he says, "it's amazing the stupid,
impulsive mistakes they made." Henry Ford wanted to build
a $250 car that every working man could afford. But in a lesser-known
episode, he also formed the grandiose notion of sailing to
Europe and personally bringing a speedy end to World War I.
The endeavor brought him nothing but ridicule. "When
it succeeds, we say they're a genius," says Gartner.
"When they fall flat on their face, we say, 'What were
they thinking?' "Let the investor beware.
— Anne Underwood