20 Jul Psychologist – technology entrepreneurs frequently experience hypomania
“What, are you crazy?”
There’s a question that every technology entrepreneur has heard at least once. It’s asked by spouses, families, friends, employees, customers and, yes, investors. When you’re operating on technology’s bleeding edges and trying to introduce that new-to-the-world and must-have tech breakthrough, your sanity will be questioned. It’ll probably questioned repeatedly, too.
What’s even more interesting than the question is how tech entrepreneurs answer it. Are you crazy, Mr. Entrepreneur?
John D. Gartner, a clinical psychologist who teaches psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins Medical School, thinks he has the answer. He has a recent article about crazy entrepreneurs in The American Enterprise magazine, which is published by The American Enterprise Institute and was adapted from his new book entitled “The Hypomanic Edge”.
While Gartner doesn’t actually call entrepreneurs crazy, he does say they’re not entirely normal. He says that entrepreneurs – especially serial entrepreneurs – have a specific psychiatric disorder known as hypomania, which may be the wellspring for the talent it takes to be an entrepreneur:
He added: “Hypomanics are brimming with infectious energy, irrational confidence and really big ideas. They think, talk, move and make decisions quickly. Anyone who slows them down with questions ‘just doesn’t get it’. While hypomanics aren’t mental cases, ‘normal’ isn’t the first word that comes to mind when describing them. Hypomanics live on the edge between normal and abnormal.”
Gartner recounts a survey he did of entrepreneurs who were asked whether a list of hypomanic traits culled from psychiatric literature are typical of an entrepreneur. These traits include:
1. Filled with energy.
2. Flooded with ideas.
3. Driven, restless and unable to keep still.
4. Channels his energy into the achievement of wildly grand ambitions.
5. Often works on little sleep.
6. Feels brilliant, special, chosen and perhaps even destined to change the world.
7. Can be euphoric.
8. Becomes easily irritated by minor obstacles.
9. Is a risk taker.
10. Overspends in both his business and personal life.
11. Acts out sexually.
12. Sometimes acts impulsively with poor judgment in ways that can have painful consequences.
13. Is fast talking.
14. Is witty and gregarious.
15. His confidence can make him charismatic and persuasive.
16. Prone to making enemies and feels he is persecuted by those who do not accept his vision and mission.
Of the entrepreneurs Gartner talked to, 100 percent said they showed these symptoms. Considering the list includes some less-than-savory traits, this might mean his sample was skewed or it might mean that entrepreneurs are as weird as most folks think they are.
Gartner explains that hypomania is clinically related to a true mental illness called mania, which is also known as manic depression. Manic depression occurs in about 1 percent of the population. Hypomania occurs in about 5 to 10 percent.
He further explains that mania and hypomania are biologically related as well. Both conditions run together in families at much higher rates than would be predicted by chance.
He added: “Though we know that their genes overlap, we don’t know how. Simplified somewhat, it is probable that a certain combination of genes produces the undesirable disease of mania while a more frequent combination produces the advantageous outcome of hypomania.”
Gartner considers hypomania to be an advantageous condition because it is “a temperament characterized by an elevated mood state that feels highly intoxicating, powerful, productive and desirable” and motivates people to perform and most often over achieve and lead to success.
In fact, Gartner believes that hypomania helps to explain why the U.S., a classic nation of immigrants, is far superior to most other nations in economic performance.
He added: “A ‘nation of immigrants’ represents a highly skewed and unusual self-selected population. Do men and women who risk everything to leap into a new world differ temperamentally from those who stay home? It would be surprising if they didn’t. Only one out of 100 people emigrate. They tend to be imbued with special drive, ambition and talent.”
So if you’re an aspiring tech entrepreneur and you’ve noticed the symptoms and traits of hypomania, congratulations. You may be just crazy enough to succeed.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.