I have never been one to fit in. I have typically never been one to be considered one of the “cool guys”. Sometimes, this has been intentionally of my own doing but also as a result of my inherent nature. This definitely has its cons, but also has its pros as well. However, I am no psychopath.
Humans are a complex bunch and in fact, have a tendency to exhibit different personality traits at different times. However, it is safe to say that most people can be broadly categorized into “normal” and just plain “weird”. Apparently, the great majority of people can be categorized as “normal” when it comes to the way they think and the way they relate with and interact with other people. Still, there is that small minority that can be charcterized as “weird” or “strange” or maybe even “psychopathic”, people who have a tendency to be “antisocial” by default but also find a way to constantly change their personalities depending on the environment in which they find themselves.
When one is considered “normal”, it generally means that such a person tends to say and do things like most other people will, given the same circumstances. In fact, “normal” people can be fairly predictable given a set of stable external conditions. In other words, such people tend to act within the expectations of other supposedly “normal” people, at least, most of the time. On the other hand, the “weird” ones, or “psychopaths” tend to do things outside of the ordinary, things that most other people would consider abnormal, and in a manner which can hardly be predicted. Pyschopaths are characterized by their lack of empathy/remorse, shallow emotions, selfishness, deceptiveness, and sometimes antisocial behaviour.
When one takes a look at the personalities of the most successful people in the world today, it is easy to see that their personalities are a bit out of the ordinary. Steve Jobs? Bill Gates? Mark Zuckerberg? All these people are known for their “weird” approach to issues, circumstances and relationships with their peers and colleagues. In fact, if you’ve read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, or watched “The Social Network”, you would see many examples of weird behaviour exhibited by the entrepreneurs in question. Now, the question is “what does the weird personality of these individuals have to do with their apparent success?”
People who are ambitious and interested in holding positions of power and great responsibility always need to remember that the ability to separate their emotions, ideals and certain other traits from their responsibilities as leaders is essential. According to this article, “business leaders are four times more likely to be psychopaths than the general population”. In fact, today’s ruthless corporate culture tends to reward people for their natural callousness and disregard for other people’s feelings. Certain studies have shown that people with psychopathic tendencies might even be prevalent in certain occupations such as politics, business and entertainment. Well, at least, many of the “successful” politicians in my country are psychopathic liars anyway. Psychopaths are actually known to have at their disposal a very large repertoire of behaviours and therefore have the ability to use charm, manipulation, intimidation, whatever is required to achieve whatever they want to achieve without having to feel the pain and emotions of others that they trample upon. Furthermore, these “weird” people are very comfortable in environments that are constantly changing, and this happens to be an essential characteristic of high performance environments. Therefore, these “psychopaths” tend to function very well in such environments where they have to constantly adjust to various roles and responsibilities. As a result, it is a known fact that there are very many popular successful people who have very strong psychopathic tendencies.
In the tech startup world, we are inundated with stories of twenty-somethings who are turned into millionaires – or even billionaires – through their exploits. In the midst of these success stories are episodes about the weird behaviour and attitudes that these startup founders have exhibited at one time or the other. In this interview (you might need some Google Translate help here), some researchers studying the entrepreneurial personality have said that borderline personality disorders can actually be crucial elements behind startup success. In other words, there are several personality traits that may be highly unpleasant in ordinary life but can help startup founders succeed. Research has shown that higher incidences of certain particular traits are prevalent amongst successful entrepreneurs: self-regard, narcissism, manipulation and trickery, which are basic elements of “subclinical psychopathy”.
But how do people with “strange” personalities and tendencies manage to do so well? It seems certain personality disorders actually have advantages, or at least make one more likely to achieve certain kinds of things. This formidable and very useful set of personality characteristics that can result from some personality disorders include:
- superficial charm, egocentricity, manipulativeness;
- grandiosity, lack of empathy for others, exploitativeness, independence;
- perfectionism, excessive devotion to work, rigidity, stubbornness, dictatorial tendencies (why does this make me think “Steve Jobs”?)
The above listed traits seem to enable individuals rise quickly through the ranks to positions of power and influence and this has been attested to by the fact that some of these traits are inherent in many of the most successful people the world has seen. This is not surprising since “the successful psychopath” often seems to have extraordinary self-control and conscientiousness. This seems remarkably evident but has not been successfully proven by psychologists though. Nevertheless, I do not see anyone responding to an advertisement asking people to volunteer for a study of successful people who are psychopathic.
This blog post is in no way a glorification of psychopathy, which in fact, is a serious mental disorder. The “psychopaths” I refer to in this blog post do not have full blown personality disorders. The truth is that there is a bit of “psychopathy” in everyone. The levels of psychopathy amongst individuals just vary. The primary difference between “successful psychopaths” and people who are just plain sick seems to lie in their conscientousness. Individuals who are highly successful often have the same characteristics as people with psychopathic disorders except that they lack the irresponsibility, impulsivity and negligence common among “standard psychopaths” and instead, find a way to harness their psychopathic tendencies toward a high level of competence, order, achievement striving and self-discipline.
So, the next time you feel bad about the fact that you seem to be different and strange in your approach to relationships and circumstances, it is necessary to always remember that your “psychopathic” tendencies are probably the very reason for SOME of the things you have achieved in your life.