How to Think Like a Psychopath and Succeed

How to Think Like a Psychopath and Succeed

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“Psychopaths,” writes research psychologist Kevin Dutton, “are fearless, confident, charismatic, ruthless and focused.”

They’re also, it seems, frequently found in the oak-paneled boardrooms of companies spread throughout this great country and beyond.

But why are business leaders with psychopathic characteristics so effective? Wouldn’t this unsettling diagnosis be a hindrance to success, rather than a help?

The Spectrum

Not so fast, says Dutton. “There is a spectrum of psychopathy along which each of us has our place, with only a small minority [of us being arsonists, Milwaukee-based cannibals, etc.]”

In other words, it’s crazy like a fox versus crazy like an axe-murderer. The former–cunning survivors who use every talent at their disposal to prosper–are more likely to win a Senate seat (Caesar’s assassins aside) than the latter.

Is it possible to emulate the less destructive traits of psychopathy, avoid the destructive ones, and reap the benefits?

The Silver Screen

I believe that it is. We can learn important lessons from all kinds of sources, and sometimes the weirder ones will jolt our imaginations–and thus our behavior–awake.

With the most recent Academy Awards fading fast behind us, let’s take a look at five famous silver screen psychopaths and see what they can teach us about getting ahead.

1. The Silence of the Lambs

Why not start with the silkiest psychopath of them all, the man-eating psychiatrist from Baltimore? Hannibal Lecter’s lethal appeal is in some part due to his mastery of language–a skill that you as an entrepreneur should never neglect.

Whenever you come across a word you don’t know–in conversation, a book or article, a podcast, etc.–write it down and look up the definition.

Memorize it. Learn how to pronounce the word correctly. Purposefully begin using it in your daily speech. The point isn’t to impress with big words–your goal should be to more effectively communicate with more and more people.

2. American Psycho

The appalling Patrick Bateman teaches us that vanity metrics–data that makes you feel good, rather than providing an actionable picture of reality–are strictly for losers.

Who can forget the scene where Bateman suffers a nervous breakdown over a colleague’s aesthetically superior business card?

Forget about fluff–focus on fundamentals. How’s your business credit score looking? Are your customers happy, your cash flow healthy?

3. There Will Be Blood

Daniel Plainview is an archetype of the ruthless American businessman–brilliant, single-minded and ferocious.

“I have a competition in me,” says Plainview. This relentless drive spurs him to gobble up oil-rich land before his established competitor, Standard Oil, can so much as survey a map.

You’ve got a competition in you, too–you wouldn’t have gotten into business otherwise. Use it to get there first in your own endeavors.

From large matters to small, never procrastinate. Need to shed a few pounds in order to increase your energy and focus? Arrive at the gym before anyone else.

Want to incorporate your business, so as to enjoy the legal protections and tax advantages incorporation provides? Do it today.

Your most daunting competitor will always be the voice inside you that whispers it’s okay to put something off. Crush it mercilessly.

4. Nightcrawler

The reptilian Louis Bloom is despicable to the bone, but he’s a great example of “fake it till you make it” in action.

Lewis’s confidence may stem from his inability to feel embarrassment, but the fact remains that people believe in him because he conveys an unwavering belief in himself.

This is bolstered by his habit of being at the right place at the right time–he “pounces on opportunity.”

My initial success in small business was owed to my habit of driving around at night looking for electric signs that needed repair.

I took on a small job that had left my competitors scratching their heads, and through a stroke of luck, succeeded. The owner of the sign was thoroughly appreciative, and this led to bigger things.

I’m not going to lie–it was scary. Faking it is uncomfortable. You’ll feel embarrassed, small and alone. Push through it.

5. No Country for Old Men

In a climactic scene of Joel and Ethan Coen’s masterpiece, contract killer Anton Chigurh corners a competitor with a shotgun.

Shortly before pulling the trigger, Chigurh asks a fundamental question. “If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”

In a cutthroat, bloody industry, Chigurh is at the top of the food chain because he steadfastly follows a code.

As an entrepreneur, what is the rule that you follow? What is your vision for your company? What are the values you hold dear?

Add kindness and empathy to the five strategies listed above, and you’ll be killing it in no time.

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