Brilliant Versus Crazy, Revisited.

September 21, 2010
Shrink Rap

Do bright, exuberant, fast-thinking, productive people who are filled with energy and ideas have a disorder?

The following was posted on ShrinkRap on September 19.

In today's New York Times in "Just Manic Enough-- Seeking Perfect Entrepeneurs," David Segal writes about enterpreneur Seth Priebatsch:

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual — the occupation’s bible of mental disorders — these symptoms include grandiosity, an elevated and expansive mood, racing thoughts and little need for sleep.

“Elevated” hardly describes this guy. To keep the pace of his thoughts and conversation at manageable levels, he runs on a track every morning until he literally collapses. He can work 96 hours in a row. He plans to live in his office, crashing in a sleeping bag. He describes anything that distracts him and his future colleagues, even for minutes, as “evil.”

He is 21 years old.

So, what do you give this guy — a big check or the phone number of a really good shrink? If he is Seth Priebatsch and you are Highland Capital Partners, a venture capital firm in Lexington, Mass., the answer is a big check.

But this thought exercise hints at a truth: a thin line separates the temperament of a promising entrepreneur from a person who could use, as they say in psychiatry, a little help. Academics and hiring consultants say that many successful entrepreneurs have qualities and quirks that, if poured into their psyches in greater ratios, would qualify as full-on mental illness.

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There are people who are bright, exuberant, fast-thinking, productive, and filled with energy and ideas. It's a question we've been asking for a while: is this a temperament or a disorder? I would contend that no one goes to a psychiatrist saying "Hey, I accomplish too much, I'm happy and have a lot of energy." People come to psychiatrists because they are suffering, or because they've moved far enough from reality that others are alarmed. We can joke and call it 'hypo-mania' but it's where we'd all like to be.

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