This morning I stumbled upon an interesting book by Claudia Kalb called Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities.
I obviously haven’t read it yet, but I like the premise. The book examines 12 famous figures and makes the argument that each of them had some sort of mental health condition that aided them in their success.
Here is an excerpt from a recent Harvard Business Review interview with the author:
“The most common one may be narcissism. Frank Lloyd Wright is a good example. He had classic narcissistic qualities — a sense of grandiosity, superiority, a huge and complete belief in his aesthetic sensibility, and disregard for architecture that did not live up to his standard. Narcissists also have an ability to be charming, and to lure people into their orbit. That’s obviously useful for an entrepreneur. The issue is that while these qualities may make you a good leader, they may not make you a winning boss. Employees often feel that narcissistic bosses are ruthless or lacking in empathy. Also, unlike people with depression or anxiety disorders, narcissists don’t suffer as much personally from their condition — but the way they behave can be much harder on the people around them.”
Related to this topic is an emergent body of research that, more specifically, looks at the relationship between mental illness and entrepreneurship. And according to work done by professor Michael A. Freeman of UC-San Francisco and professor Sheri Johnson of Berkeley, there’s a significant relationship.
Below are two excerpts from a Washington Post article published last year.
“Forty-nine percent of entrepreneurs surveyed reported at least one mental health condition. Nearly a third reported having two or more mental health issues, such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety or substance use conditions. And half of the entrepreneurs who reported no mental-health conditions identified themselves as coming from families with a history of mental illness.”
Why would these conditions be of any benefit to entrepreneurs?
“For all of its ills, depression also brings empathy and creativity. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi attempted suicide as teenagers. Uncommon levels of empathy can allow a businessman to better understand a customer’s need. And a creative mind won’t be satisfied on the corporate ladder, but instead in a fast-moving start-up where he or she can unfurl ideas and dreams.
Individuals with ADHD naturally make decisions faster, are comfortable working independently and are more creative, necessary skills at a start-up. They’re likely to be bored working for someone else.”
From a city building standpoint, all of this is quite relevant. Because for all of the focus on promoting innovation and entrepreneurship, we don’t seem to be talking about healthcare and mental health systems. And there’s clearly an argument to be made that the two are connected.