Being a narcissistic asshole. (AKA Being a disruptive technology adopter)

Hey you, look at me when I am talking to you. I'm what's important, well not just me, but the also the amazing words that are coming out of my mouth (or in this case keyboard). They are amazing not only because I am saying/writing them, but also because once you process them, you'll agree I was right!

In doing some googling for this note, I found much like it's definition of literally, google also dropped the ball on the word narcissism.

So, I read this thing this morning about how CEOs of companies who have more narcissistic traits are more adept to embrace disruptive technologies, eschewing the perception of the risks and moving forward in spite of them. The article goes on to outline the following traits as present among the sample set of CEOs.

  • a "strong sense of superiority"
  • a drive to “dominate their environments”
  • a “high degree of restlessness”
  • a “lack [of] empathy”
  • a “strong need for attention and applause” 

I'd like to take a moment and touch on each one, because I don't look at all of these traits and think them wrong, in fact I see some of them as essential... but then again, I'm probably narcissistic CEO. 

A strong sense of superiority. 

This one is interesting, because we're talking about the Chief Executive Officer of a company. Literally (not in google's whackass way of defining it) the CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER , the title if read literally means that this executive is the chief or principle decision maker, sure, there are checks and balances in place (boards, shareholders, employee representatives) but ultimately, the decisions are made by one person. How is it possible that this person would not have a sense of "superiority"? He or She's been assigned (maybe self so) the title of Chief.  Do we want the chief to do a good job? Do we want him or her to waffle on their thought? Do we want this person to not have a clear sense of the direction of the company? So, then why are we maligning this trait, the one that has been kinda bestowed as part of the job?

 

A drive to dominate their environments.

Because the business landscape should be one where everyone should get to sell the same amount of cars, or computers, or phones. Perhaps we should keep a running tally of each product shipped, and tell our competitors that we've made 10 innovations today and are going to hold up until they catch up. Because we should be fair, this is a sandbox where everyone should play for the same amount of time with each of the toys. Yep....

 

A high degree of restlessness. 

... 

A lack of empathy. 

This one is hard. This is something that I think is a big problem. I hate that CEOs probably get a disproportionate amount of the blame for this, but, I can understand how and why. There is no explaining this one away. This is just bad behavior and a lot of people in positions of power abuse their positions. This is something that should be looked at critically and honestly, because this is something that needs to be fixed.

I can speak to my issues with respect to empathy, and more specifically to not being empathetic with my words or with my actions. This is something that I have really been working on, to try and make my words as literal as possible so that they aren't misinterpreted by the listener. This is an attempt at empathy. In my opinion, words are just handles to ideas and the words you use create thoughts in the minds of other people. Here's a silly example of misinterpretation. 

 

hey, this girl back home wrecked my head
— me

Someone with an understanding of my flair of language will know that I'm talking about something that does not involve taking a 2x4 (for the europeans) to the back of the head. This is an important concept to grasp and in my time in working on it, the interactions with other minds in the world have gone a lot smoother. This is further accentuated by my recent time in Sweden, not every american colloquialism is known to every swede, so the blank stares I get sometimes in my idle conversations have forced me to attempt to speak more clearly and thus more empathetically.

 

A strong need for attention and applause.

OK, ya got me there! Anything a person pays attention to they think is important. Having people think we're important is kind of a cool feeling. It's nice, sure it should probably be a fleeting experience so as to not completely delude us into terrible creatures. It is still something, like any decadent feeling, a nice one to have. Now, if we're good at delivering value, consistently, than I see no problem with the support and praise we get from others.

I'm a person who only recently understood the value of flowers. Flowers are awesome, they are beautiful, they are honest, and they make the world a more amazing place. When given to people, they're generally seen as thoughtful. They can be arranged, allowing the giver to express their creativity and the use of their time to show that they are thinking about the receiver. They are a display of beauty as old as time really and the simple pleasure of getting or giving them changes the world.

Up until recently, this was an understanding I was completely devoid of and one I mourn I did not understand earlier.  This need for attention and specifically and attention to detail is just a form of caring. Being cared about feels great. The feeling of caring for others is really great too. But to not get addicted to that feeling or to supply that addiction is hard. So I think just being mindful is the best approach here. It's okay to want to be attended to, but to expect it is too much.

 

Closing Thoughts. 

There is a huge difference between being an entrepreneur and the traditional view of what a CEO does. Yet, many entrepreneurs become or self assign the title of CEO. In my career, I've only recently started to consider wearing the Chief hat. Most of the time, I've been that founding technical talent, the workhorse that gets the company from the idea to the minimum viable product and the first hire or two. Now through, either through growth or insanity, I sit at the precipice of a new venture and am likely appointing myself CEO. This is a strange feeling because my yet to be found co-founders will probably have the role I'm most used to and I can foresee that this can be a point of contention. But growth isn't always easy and one should always choose growing when you can. I'm looking forward to seeing how my traits will evolve as I go through this new phase of growth. In my last venture I got a number of valuable lessons from my partners, namely the value in listening and being a bit more patient. While I didn't agree with every decision (and yelled sometimes till I understood I probably wasn't going to get my way) I learned that not every successful idea has to be mine, even the technical ones.