For a long time I have talked about the fact that all of Silicon Valley is Hypomanic. And I'm not the only one who thinks it. Mike Hirshland made a similar observation in his blog earlier this year. In fact, Mike went on to quote the official definition for hypomania.
According to the DSMIV (the diagnostic manual of mental illness) you are hypomanic if you have an "elevated mood" and three or more of the following:
- pressured speech (rapid talking)
- inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
- decreased need for sleep
- flight of ideas (thoughts are racing)
- easily distractible (attention deficit)
- increase in psychomotor agitation (can't sit still)
- pleasurable activities with potential downside (buying spree, sexual indiscretion, foolish business investments, etc.)
Now I know that the natural inclination at this point is to take the test. How many criteria do you meet? Seeing as it is 2:00 in the morning and I'm here blogging, I guess I'll take the test myself. Here's how I stack up:
- pressured speech (rapid talking) -- I THOUGHT THIS WAS JUST BECAUSE I'M A NORTHEASTERN JEW?
- inflated self-esteem or grandiosity -- DOESN'T EVERY VC HITS THIS ONE
- decreased need for sleep -- I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD
- flight of ideas (thoughts are racing) -- I CALL THIS MULTI-TASKING
- easily distractible (attention deficit) -- LIKE I SAID, ISN'T THAT MULTI-TASKING
- increase in psychomotor agitation (can't sit still) -- IT DRIVES MY WIFE CRAZY
- pleasurable activities with potential downside (buying spree, sexual indiscretion, foolish business investments, etc.) -- "FOOLISH" IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
I think if I were to be honest with myself, I meet somewhere between 5 and 7 of the criteria. And I'm certainly not alone. It is stunning to me how many conversations I have with entrepreneurs and VCs at 1:00 in the morning. We're all still up working. We are all, to some degree or another, hypomanic.
The New York Times ran a piece today on this very issue, entitled, "Just Manic Enough: Seeking Perfect Entrepreneurs." The premise of the piece (at least in part) was that Venture Capitalists love manic entrepreneurs, so long as they aren't too manic and, therefore, too dysfunctional. According to the piece, there are even VCs out there who use personality tests and other diagnostics to try to determine if a particular entrepreneur is "just manic enough" (this is apparently the manic equivalent of the three bears beds -- not too manic, not insufficiently manic, but just manic enough). The idea of the test is to determine if an entrepreneur is crazy. Of course the very idea of such a test strikes me as crazy.
It is safe to say that virtually all great entrepreneurs are manic. When you ask entrepreneurs why they started their companies, they'll tell you that they can't help themselves. And they can't. They are driven to start businesses because, like sharks, sitting still will kill them. As a country, we rely on hypomanics to drive our economy. We count on folks like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg … to work tirelessly, building greatness. Yet the New York Times' article had a deeply negative spin on entrepreneurship and hypomania -- "a thin line separates the temperament of a promising entrepreneur from a person who could use, as they say in psychiatry, a little help." I wouldn't say that these entrepreneurs need help. What they need is capital.
I don't mean for a second to make light of mental illness. I'm sure there are some legitimate down sides to hypomania. But the idea that we should be treating entrepreneurs for this particular ailment always reminds me of Woody Allen's joke in Annie Hall:
This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, 'Doc, my brother's crazy, he thinks he's a chicken.' And the doctor says, 'Well why don't you turn him in?' and the guy says, 'I would, but I need the eggs.'
Which is precisely why we won't be treating hypomania in Silicon Valley any time soon -- we all need the eggs.