Posts Tagged ‘mean people’

Do mean people tend to fail as entrepreneurs?

January 4, 2015

Paul Graham, a computer programmer, venture capitalist and wise essayist, wrote recently that mean people almost never succeed in starting successful businesses.

There is some evidence that some types of business, such as financial speculation, attract psychopaths, but the types of business Graham had in mind are those that create something new and valuable.

Graham-cover3The reasons why, in his experience, mean people rarely succeed are (1) a focus on crushing the enemy keeps you from focusing on the long view, (2) talented people don’t want to work for mean bosses and (3) creative entrepreneurs often have a vision of doing something that benefits humanity.

Successful creative entrepreneurs, in Graham’s experience, are more like great artists, writers and scientists than they are like great warriors, and, in a post-scarcity society, their qualities are more important than the warrior qualities.

I think there is some truth in what he wrote, and I would like to believe in it more than I do.  But I can think of examples of successful and creative entrepreneurs who were nasty human beings.

One example is the late Steve Jobs, the founder and CEO of Apple Computer, probably the premiere creative entrepreneur of our time.  Jobs had the perfectionist artistic temperament that Graham wrote about, and yet he was a bully, a liar, a manipulator, an exploiter of Asian sweatshop labor, a deadbeat dad, and an ungrateful son to his adoptive parents.  He was a great man, but he was not a good man.

Another example is Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.  His brilliant innovation has revolutionized the retail industry to the benefit of many, and yet he is using the power of his innovation to squeeze book publishers, authors and suppliers in the same way as Wal-mart does.  He also is a terrible employer.

Al Neuharth, the former CEO of Gannett Inc., entitled his autobiography, Confessions of an SOB, which I think was accurate.  Yet it was his vision that created USA Today, a successful innovation in journalism, at a time when printed newspapers were starting to fail.

I think Paul Graham may suffer from selection bias.   As a decent human being himself, he is predisposed to invest in businesses started by other decent human beings.  And many decent human beings do succeed in business.  But so do bullies and SOBs, just as they sometimes do in the arts and sciences and other endeavors..