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In 1985, Steve Jobs was fired from Apple computer. Fired, by the very company he had founded, one that has become an iconic success story of the computer age. How was that possible? The reason can be boiled down to one word. At Apple, Jobs’ nickname was: “the asshole.” He was arrogant, belittling, stood on tables and screamed. When there was controversy over a new potential product, the LISA, Jobs took over the development team and hoisted a pirate flag over his team’s building, in essence declaring war on his own company. That Jobs ultimately came back, and steered Apple to a new heights—introducing the ipod, iphone, and ipad--only highlights what a senseless loss of value it was for Apple to lose Jobs
Surprisingly, Jobs’ story is not unusual. Once angel or venture investors get involved in the growth of a new company, firing the founding CEO is often the result, and for the same reasons. The “asshole factor,” if I may be so crude, has an underlying cause. Like most visionary founding CEOs, Jobs has a hypomanic temperament. Hypomania endows entrepreneurs with the drive, energy, creativity, charisma, and confidence that allow them to accomplish their feats of magic. Yet, the same temperament that underlies their success also manifests in traits that can lead to their downfall, making them disruptive influences in their own organizations: irritability, impatience, impulsivity, arrogance, overconfidence and poor judgment.
The promise and the peril of the hypomanic entrepreneur was introduced to the public for the first time in my 2005 book, The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (a Little) Craziness and a (a Lot of) Success in America. The Sunday New York Times Magazine named it one of the most “original, innovative and important ideas” of 2005 in their annual “Year in Ideas” issue, and it was hailed in virtually every major financial publication including, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Inc., Entrepreneur, and Worth to name a few. More recently, five years after its publication, The Hypomanic Edge (and its author) was featured on the front page of the Sunday New York Times Business section in an article entitled “Just Manic Enough: Searching for the perfect entrepreneur.” It was the most frequently emailed article from that week’s Sunday New York Times, showing that these ideas are as fresh and relevant to business today as they were when the book came out, and within the business community, there is no subgroup to whom these issues are more salient than venture capitalists
“Venture capitalists,” wrote the Times, “spend a lot of time plumbing the psyches of the people in whom they might invest. It’s not so much about separating the loonies from the slightly manic. It’s more about determining which hypomanics are too arrogant and obnoxious.” Millions, even billions of dollars can ride on getting this often subtle call right. One of the services I offer is aid to the VC in making these elusive judgment calls. If you’re going to be plumbing entrepreneurs’ psyches, why not employ the psychologist who discovered the link between hypomania and entrepreneurs in the first place? In my research for the book, discussions with venture capitalists, many of whom I have met in talks I have given to their organizations, and through my own years of clinical work with hypomanic entrepreneurs, I have evolved a set of principles that help separate the those on the cutting edge from those over the edge.
In addition to helping VCs and angel investors make decisions about who to bet on, I work on a one on one basis with entrepreneurs that have already invested in, to help these CEOs modulate and channel their hypomania in ways that will make it the most productive, maximizing the upside and minimizing the down side. Teaching them to slow down and become more mindful of, and thus to gain more conscious control over, the traits that can alienate people, disrupt group dynamics and lead to poor decisions, in an effort to avoid what I call “value destruction:” A Steve Jobs is a terrible thing to waste.
My fee is $5,000 a day, plus expenses. In some cases a small equity stake can be negotiated in lieu of payment. For further information feel free to contact me at 410-337-8207, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org