13 Jun How to relate to likes of Ballmer, Jobs, and Ellison
Milwaukee, Wis.– Dr. John Gartner is a colorful character who sometimes makes his point with colorful language. But when he describes the driven, creative, entrepreneurial personality by using a crude and common putdown, he’s not merely doing it for effect.
Gartner, author of The Hypomanic Edge and a clinical assistant professor psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, spoke on this and several other topics last week as a keynoter during the 2006 Wisconsin Entrepreneur’s Conference. Apparently unafraid of controversy, he also stressed the importance of taking a welcoming approach to Mexican immigrants and assimilating them into the country as a way for American society to inject itself with more “entrepreneurial juice.”
Hyping the hypo
A psychologist by trade, Gartner’s “can’t-we-all-get along” advice to hypomaniacs, the term he uses to describe entrepreneurs who send broadcast e-mails to their staffs at 3 a.m. for the purpose of radically changing the company’s mission, is simplistic but covers a lot of territory. This would be the brash, brilliant, and arrogant personality traits exhibited by the likes of Steve Ballmer (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), and Larry Ellison (Oracle). He tells them “DBA,” which stands for don’t be an a _ _. More to the point, he suggests they be more aware of their employee’s nerve endings, and build some delay into their business structure.
In other words, temper your sense of urgency. While this character type often drives technological innovation, there are no technological tools for building and maintaining business relationships, just a cognitive sense of how one’s hard-charging antics play in the office suite. “When hypomaniacs are consumed by the mission, they are not conscious of other people’s egos,” said Gartner, himself a fast-talking, energetic type. “They must try to understand how people perceive this behavior.”
Conversely, those foot soldiers who are carrying out the mission have to aware that their boss has a little General Patton in him, and develop and thick enough skin to manage both their emotions and the relationship. Smart entrepreneurs, he said, form partnerships with people who possess important skills that they lack. So since they need you as much as you need gainful employment, Gartner’s advice is to use this knowledge as a shied whenever their arrogant and edgy mania reaches a fever pitch.
“Don’t take it personally,” Gartner said. “Take a deep breath. Understand it’s just him.”
In Gartner’s view, perhaps the most famous example of such a creative rainmaker is Bill Clinton, and Gartner’s next book is likely to be a biography (and psychological profile) of the former president.
His former White House staff probably could fill several chapters. “He unloaded with a volcanic temper that terrified people around him, but 15 minutes later, it was as though it was all forgotten,” Garnter said. “His staff called it his morning throat clearing, but his tendency to act on impulses was also what made him successful.”
People’s natural response is to retreat from such people, but you can work with them, Gartner said. You can even talk back to them and gain their respect in the process. “It’s a tension,” he explained. “There is no easy answer.”
There are no easy answers in the immigration debate, either, even though the U.S. has historically benefited from the waves of immigrants that came here. It is no coincidence, Gartner said, that the nations with the highest number of immigrants also have the highest levels of entrepreneurship. The U.S. Canada, Israel, and Australia have created a culture of entrepreneurship in part because they have done more to welcome the restless and ambitious traits of immigrant populations.
In particular, California and New York City reap most of the rewards, and Wisconsin also can benefit from the hypomanic gene pool stimulated by immigrants, said Gartner, a native New Yorker. “Immigrants provided the original venture capital,” he said, “only it was human capital. One hundred years from now, we will be laughing at how we viewed Mexicans in the current debate, just as we now laugh at how we viewed the Irish and the Italians.”
Look for the rough diamonds
Although educators and taxpayers would cringe at this statement, Garnter also said he was optimistic that America would fare well in its emerging economic competition with China and India because its strength is not in test scores, but in its creativity. It’s a point that was echoed at the Entrepreneur’s Conference by Ken Hendricks, president of ABC Supply Co., winner of the “Seize the Day Award,” which recognizes entrepreneurial persistence and leadership.
Hendricks has built the Beloit-based company, which was founded in 1982, into a powerhouse that anticipates $3.1 billion in annual sales this year, and he’s done it by looking for street smarts as well as book smarts. Many of his key employees have worked their way up through the company ranks, and did so without the benefit of a college or even a high school diploma.
“That’s something colleges can’t teach – street smarts,” Hendricks said. “There is a lot of talent that we can just pass over.”
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