Manic captains of industry

Energy, drive, cockeyed optimism, entrepreneurial zeal and overflowing confidence are traits that are attributed to the "American temperament" that yields entrepreneurship. These characteristics could also be linked to a real psychological mania – hypomania, says John Gartner of Johns Hopkins Medical School.

Hypomania is a mild form of the psychiatric disorder mania; it is characterised by an elevated mood state that feels highly intoxicating, powerful, productive and desirable to the hypomanic, says Gartner.

  • Hypomanics are usually filled with infectious energy, irrational confidence, big ideas and often work on little sleep.

  • They are risk-takers, fast-talkers, witty, gregarious and live on the edge between normal and abnormal.

  • About five to ten per cent of the population is hypomanic.

    While their "flight of ideas" is a typical sign of hypomania, one trait that distinguishes successful entrepreneurs is their motivation, says Gartner.

  • Master industrialist Andrew Carnegie, MGM movie mogul Louis Mayer and bio-engineering pioneer Craig Venter are classic examples of manic entrepreneurs.

  • Modern-day examples are Jim Clark, co-founder of Netscape, and Bill Gross, CEO of Idealab.

  • A study of 10 Internet CEOs found that 100 per cent showed symptoms of hypomania and when presented with a list of hypomanic traits and asked to rate their level of agreement on a five-point scale, many gave fives and sixes, one even asked to give a seven.

    America has attracted hypomanics like a magnet; one out of 100 people emigrate and tend to be imbued with drive and ambition. America has made good of the high-energy, risk-taking instincts of its citizens – by giving them freer rein, more opportunity and greater respect than they have received elsewhere – and they account for 31 per cent of the planet's economic activity, concludes Gartner.

    Source: John Gartner, America's Manic Entrepreneurs, American Enterprise, July/August 2005.

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