Eventually, the nerds and the geeks will have their day.
—Judd Apatow, film producer, comedy writer
Chances are that when you think of the most successful and wealthy entrepreneurs, you don’t think of a group of weird people. Instead, you probably think of well-respected and brilliant people who exhibit all the admirable qualities of well-rounded, well-adjusted leaders. Ironically, research shows just the opposite; entrepreneurs, especially those in technology, are indeed quite odd. In fact, the data show that being odd is the norm.
A recent survey of entrepreneurs conducted by Julie Login of Cass Business School found that 35 percent of those surveyed suffered from dyslexia, compared with 10 percent of the population as a whole. One reason for this trend posits that those with dyslexia, a learning disability affecting one’s reading and comprehension, tend to delegate tasks to manage their disability. Some of the most notable dyslexics of our time are founders Steve Jobs of Apple, John Chambers of Cisco, and Richard Branson of the Virgin Group.
In another study, attention-deficit disorder (ADD) is common among entrepreneurs. A recent article in The Economist mentioned that “people with ADD are six times more likely than average to end up running their own businesses.” Sufferers of ADD are known to be disorganized procrastinators who are unable to focus, all normally bad characteristics. But some entrepreneurs who have the disorder—like Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s—interpret these characteristics as an advantage because people with ADD can be creative in ways that “normal” people would not.
Furthermore, many entrepreneurs display symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a “developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others.” Some refer to it as a mild form of autism. Asperger’s is perhaps the most prevalent among software developers like me who would prefer to send an e-mail or instant message to someone sitting next to them in the office rather than to talk to them face to face. We often appear robotic and detached. Mark Zuckerberg, the cofounder of Facebook, is a good example of an entrepreneur who exhibits these traits. In Silicon Valley, several entrepreneurs display the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome. In fact, it’s cool to act this way. Most people would just call it being a geek. In the Valley, the social butterflies are considered offbeat.
In addition to these disabilities, disorders, and syndromes, entrepreneurs have habits that are just plain bizarre. Steve Jobs had perhaps the strangest habits, including use of acid and LSD. In fact, he attributed his creativity to his taking LSD. Other CEOs have been said to perform karaoke in drag, to have an obsession with guessing measurements, to ideate underwater, and to wear the same clothing every day.
In a strange turn of events, these so-called oddities that are common among prominent entrepreneurs are attracting investors. To use a term in computer science, pattern matching has become quite popular. For instance, if you are looking for the next Facebook and you have to choose between funding two CEOs of equally great tech companies, one who is jovial and the other who is introverted, you’ll probably go with the introvert. This may seem a bit ridiculous, but it happens more and more often.
So when it comes to being a successful entrepreneur, it pays to be odd. And besides, when you become wealthy and successful, people tend to forget how odd you might really be. Regardless, everyone wants to be your friend.