The Business Lessons We Learn from Psychopaths
Throughout college and university, I had the rare opportunity to study and observe what we would deem as sociopaths, psychopaths. At the time, very little was understood about these groups, such that it wasn’t reflected in the DSM-IV, the instrument I was studying at the time. Professors made cases for the study of psychopathy and subsequent placement into the DSM-IV of this type of constellation of features, and also made several arguments that thrust certain celebrities into the spotlight.
Antisocial personality disorder, not to be confused with psychopathy, does not mean that a person is against being in public or doesn’t like to hang out with other people. Instead, in psychology parlance, it refers to individuals with select traits that make them “violate the rights of others,” in highly dysfunctional ways, which can include anything from lying, cheating, to killing. It should be noted however that individuals who fall within this category have a range of these spheres of behaviors, from trivial to severe and many also have different conditions where their antisocial behavior can be mixed with narcissism or histrionic disorder.
Although psychopaths can be characterized as antisocial, they come with more specific attributes. Robert Hare best defined “psychopathy” by creating the famous Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) to help detect psychopaths. He also wrote the book Without Conscience, a book that describes numerous encounters with these extraordinary (for better or worse) individuals.
Most professionals in criminal justice have used this checklist since its inception around the early 2000s and it’s considered the premier checklist for helping objectively identify psychopaths. While there are some possible flaws in the test, since it is a self-disclosure tool and there is the chance that test takers are lying when they give it, it nevertheless shows high reliability across inmates who have been given the test and also of those who have administered this test in others setting.
In Mark Dutton’s book, The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success, he makes the case for distinguishing between “good psychopaths” and “bad psychopaths.” Never before have I read in the literature psychopaths being distinguished as good or bad, so this is a very interesting interpretation and re-evaluation of the literature.
In the book, when he describes the differences between a “good psychopath” and a “bad psychopath”, he says you can distinguish them from whether they commit good or bad deeds, at least what we would consider “good” and “bad,” in a given context. A “good example” would be fighting on behalf of one’s country, doing impulsive and wrong deeds for the betterment of humanity (which of course, is subjective), while a “bad example,” would be killing someone just for the gratification of it.
Dutton describes psychopaths as being overall more casual and more straightforward and matter-of-fact. They do what they do, and they don’t need to feel anything. This is one of the main ideas in Dr. Hutton’s book, this emphasis on not feeling and just taking action, come what may. Of course, you don’t need to be a psychopath to take action on a goal, but certainly it would seem that psychopaths have this down better than most!
Dutton doesn’t say you should go out and kill someone; rather, he argues that you can and should crank up some of your psychopathic qualities — those specifically favorable to taking action — so you can be more productive, value your time better, and get the most out of your day. Obviously this has a lot to do with productivity, but there are other traits as well to consider.
At some point, you just have to move, the way money moves. Most people don’t realize that money moves. It actually does. And sometimes in order for you to catch a wave of a trend you have to act fast. This is all about being impulsive and spontaneous. Realizing what you want and taking action instead of just waiting around and wasting time.
Psychopaths just don’t get affected as much by the circumstances around them. They don’t dwell on them.
They are, for all intents and purposes, straight arrows accept that they will muddle through life and take the licks with everything else. This we learn in Dutton’s book as well, this sense of making peace with the licks that you get in life.
Lack of Remorse/Guilt
To the extreme, this could be very terrible, but a little bit of lack of inhibition and guilt in the world can really take you a long way. For example, Steve Jobs wasn’t thinking about whether people liked him or not, he just staked his claim and was even fired from his own company that he created, until he was re-hired again. Many people with lots of emotions and feelings of betrayal would need to be wooed back and demand an apology, but not Jobs. He just went to work. It wasn’t personal. He just did.
Charm can be defined in many ways, but I generally think of charm as being able to identify with another person and to give them the space to think and speak. Not to give them dismissive remarks but to actually give them the recognition of their humanity.
Psychopaths can be very charming, but so must we all be when we’re selling something to someone. As many authors have noted in business literature throughout the decades, we are all in sales.
Grandiose Sense of Self Worth
A lot of successful people have something called “showmanship” (Kennedy, 1996). Barnum had it, Jobs had it, and yes, even Trump has it. It’s that quality, that je ne c’est quois, which makes a person look electrifying in public, and that makes them seem like a character on a stage in a theater. People in business are promoters (Kennedy, 1996) and we all have to promote at one time or another the projects that we’re doing, to get buy-in support from others. For many, especially psychopaths, this quality comes natural.
Stimulation / Proneness to Boredom
The devil is in the details. But if you’re scatterbrained and jumping from one idea to the next, the way many psychopaths have done, you’re likely to just spread yourself thin and not accomplish anything. Still, there’s that sense of keeping and building momentum that psychopaths possess which actually turns out to be good for business. When we’re in a sales slump, for example, where we’re not selling enough of what we have to offer and the numbers — our income — is low, we have to keep going and keep the vigor up so that we can perform to optimal capacity and speed. Psychopaths just do this naturally, but you can too.
Don’t get scatterbrained, but keep going, keep the energy up, don’t get bored, vary your activities a little. In the book The Closers, for example, you are advised to re-group by reversing your sales pitch and doing it backwards or going out and buying something as a respite between sales, or even just acting like you don’t care about the sale at all. In a way, you are advised to vary up your strategies so that you’re not being monotonous and boring in your sales approach, to trick your mind. But psychopaths, it would seem, don’t need to trick themselves. They just… are.
All business endeavors lie in actions. Not even action steps that you write down to take later, but actions. And this is by far one of the most important lessons, if not the most important lesson, to learn from a psychopath. When they imagine what they want or picture doing something, they just do it. There are no reservations. No holding back. They achieve their goals through their impulsiveness and without letting personal emotions get in the way.
There’s a lot we can learn from the psychopath. Of course you don’t want to have all the traits of a psychopath, but some of their traits can come in handy in business. Their natural charm that allows them to be persuasive, their high self-esteem that allows them to appear confident to the public eye, and their shamelessness that allows them to do as they please without feeling guilty or judged are all traits that can help one succeed when running a business.
Persaud, T. (2018). The Business Lessons We Learn from Psychopaths. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 1, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-business-lessons-we-learn-from-psychopaths/