Joshua Kendall, author of America’s Obsessives, claims that Steve Jobs, Thomas Jefferson, Estée Lauder, and Charles Lindbergh all suffered from the same mental illness.
And that this condition played into making them great innovators.
Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.
Not to be confused with its run-of-the-mill relative, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), where too many thoughts can paralyse the afflicted.
On the contrary, with OCDP, the sufferer thrives on the excess of mental activity. They are inspired by each and every conflicting thought, become control freaks, work addicts, and don’t care whose feelings they hurt in the pursuit of the revolutionary.
This obsessive perfectionism became one of his trademarks.
Pam Kerwin, marketing director at Pixar under Jobs, said he would go nuts if any document contained a single typo:
“He would carefully go over every document a million times and would pick up on punctuation errors such as misplaced commas.”
As the Managing Director of Arielle Executive, a high-end personal branding consultancy which, among other things, crafts bespoke executive resumes, I understand this type of obsession very well.
And I don’t always see the line in the sand at which my high expectations of the team become excessive demands.
But it seems that Jobs took it to a whole new level.
Also as the story goes, he was a difficult and argumentative boss who had trouble relating to others.
But his OCDP gave him the ability to focus intensely on exactly what he wanted—which was to design “insanely great” products. And, as we all know, he doggedly pursued this obsession until the day he died.
So it seems that hard work, leadership skills and intelligence can take you only so far on the innovation spectrum.
To be revolutionary, you need that super-achiever’s disease that manifests as being just a little bit “out there”. Could it be, then, that Tim Cook—with his emphasis on teamwork, inclusion and transparency—is just too normal to lead revolutionary innovation?
Well, consider that “normal” is rarely a word used to capture the essence of the greatest leaders and innovators of our time.
Inspiring? In spades.
Some quick examples beyond Jobs:
Marissa Mayer (whose ability to lead and innovate has recently come into question) slept under her desk at Google, clocking 130+ hours of work per week. She was known to shower in the middle of the night when no one was around.
Mark Zuckerberg wears a “uniform” of grey t-shirts and jeans so he’s not faced with petty distractions like wardrobe choices.
Walt Disney willingly lost everything before he finally succeeded in building his empire.
The press called Alibaba’s Jack Ma “Crazy Jack”. His response was that he may be crazy but he’s not stupid.
Speaking of stupid, Jeff Bezos has been quoted as asking his employees if they’re “taking stupid pills”. And he’s known to start senior staff meetings by requiring them to read detailed single-spaced memos in silence.
But if we take being a tad mad to a whole new level…
There’s Elon Musk.
He’s proposed to colonise Mars by 2024.
He’s stated that any human who takes that first trip to Mars should be prepared to die.
Eventually, he expects there to be everything on Mars we’re accustomed to on earth – from iron foundries to pizza joints.
He regularly debates whether humans exist in another civilization’s video game.
Now, one might argue that Musk is crazy in a good way.
A highly successful, productive brand of crazy that can’t help but innovate—a bit like Jobs on steroids.
But while you might have your quirks…
You’re Not Crazy.
What’s more, you’re proud to consider yourself “normal”, grounded and well-adjusted. Not to mention, a good leader.
You don’t want to take things to the crazy extreme. After all, Musk has been divorced 3 times and Jobs is, well … dead (and – arguably – may not have been, had his approach to work been less intense).
So, what qualities will inspire the best of your inner mad innovator?