psychology of entrepreneurs, personality traits, entrepreneurs, risk takers, start your own company

The Dark Side of Entrepreneurs

Yesterday I wrote about different positive qualities of entrepreneurs but psychopathology is also associated with some of these folks (think Gordon Gecko).  The pathological aspects usually have to do with early childhood losses and wounds.  Success is a way to try to heal themselves. Sometimes it works. 

For example:

  • They may be misfits and hard-to-get-along-with employees who start their own companies because they have trouble getting along with authority (Han Solo) and cannot succeed in an established company.
  • They may have trouble working in a structured environment.
  • Their high need for control can make them difficult to work with.
  • They may be distrustful of others.
  • They are often poor communicators.

Environment matters.  Anyone who has ever worked in a company, organization, or institution knows that the culture/rules/attitudes of the place matters.  Therefore, going out on your own can be a creative solution.

Some men become entrepreneurs in order to come to terms with the failures of their fathers.  They were deeply let down by their fathers.  These men may succeed or not, but they are trying to repair the emotional damage done in their early years.

Self-destroyers” are a brand of entrepreneurs who do not succeed.  They have deep-seated rage; they are cocky; they are rebellious; and they have unacknowledged guilt.  Therefore, they destroy their successes because they do not believe that they deserve to succeed.

“Grandiose dreamers” are another variety of entrepreneur fueled by old wounds but they often succeed.  They feel empty inside and are driven by an image of achieving parental love.  They want the praise and admiration. The grandiose dreamers fail if they get confused between their personal abilities and their fantasies  – they ignore warning signals.

On the really dark side, some people are sociopaths (no conscience, no empathy, no guilt) or extreme narcissists (no empathy, unable to see another point of view, “it’s all about me”).  Maybe we are better off when they become entrepreneurs and leave the rest of us alone.

For a complete article about their ideas of “Fatherlessness” in entrepreneurs, read Carlo Strenger’s and Jacob Burak’s article, “The Leonardo Effect: Why Entrepreneurs Become Their Own Fathers”  found in the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 2005, volume 2, pp. 103-128.

The Psychology of Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs can be found everywhere in the world that people are trying to enter the economic and social mainstream of society.  I am defining entrepreneurs as people who create, start or manage a new business.  They take the financial, psychological and social risks of a start-up; they devote their time and effort hoping that they will be rewarded.

The stats of entrepreneurs are interesting:

  • The generation of the 21st century is the most entrepreneurial since the Industrial Revolution.
  • 80% in the U.S. are between ages 18-34.
  • Women are 3x more likely than men to start their own businesses.
  • Millions of people try to start their own businesses each year.


There are dozens of studies that examine different types (team, female, retiree, fatherless) of entrepreneurs. I’ve got a reference at the end of this post so that you can investigate this topic further BUT, let’s look at some of the common personality characteristics of entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs are:

  • autonomous – self directed
  • self-sufficient
  • risk-takers (they don’t see the risks as great)
  • believers that own decisions matter (internal locus of control)

Entrepreneurs seem to be able to:

  • take cognitive leaps (understandings) about opportunities before all the data is in
  • identify opportunities long before others are able to see them
  • connect the dots, search, be alert and recognize possibilities (mental short-cuts)

Tomorrow, I’ll write about the dark side of entrepreneurs.

A comprehensive article, “Entrepreneurship Research and Practice” was written by Robert Hisrich, Janice Langen-fox, and Sharon Grant and appeared in the American Psychologist, September 2007, volume 62 #6, pp. 575-589.

Noise Can Help Your Thinking

More cool research. Researchers at the U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wrench in the worksexposed subjects to different levels of background noise while they were brainstorming ideas for new products. They found that a level of noise similar to that of a bustling coffee shop or a television playing in a living room, about 70 decibels, enhanced performance compared with the relative quiet of 50 decibels. A higher level of noise, however, about 85 decibels, roughly the noise level generated by a blender or a garbage disposal, was too distracting.

The researchers are particularly interested in factors that influence consumer purchasing but the results are also useful for creative type tasks.  Results: A moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks and increases the buying likelihood of innovative products. A high level of noise (85 dB), on the other hand, hurts creativity. Moderate vs. low noise increases processing difficulty thereby inducing a higher construal level and thus promoting abstract processing, which subsequently leads to higher creativity. A high level of noise, however, impairs creativity.

Ravi Mehta, an assistant professor of business administration at the university who led the research, said that extreme quiet tends to sharpen your focus, which can prevent you from thinking in the abstract.

“This is why if you’re too focused on a problem and you’re not able to solve it,” Dr. Mehta said, “you leave it for some time and then come back to it and you get the solution.”

Source: Journal of Consumer ResearchVol. 39, No. 4, December 2012Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition. Ravi Mehta, Rui (Juliet) Zhu, and Amar Cheema




Another Reason To Support Gay Marriage



This was a sign that I saw when I was walking on the high-line in NYC. It read:

Gay marriage=gay registry=gay clutter    They are advertising a storage facility!!

I loved it… every new event, change, or happening is a reason to advertise and make money. It seems that whatever social change is in the air, cottage industries (or just new advertising ideas) spring up overnight.

Reality TV: What’s The Appeal?

I have previously admitted to being a devoted Project Runway fan and,

Mood, NYC

Mood, NYC

when they did Super Fan makeovers last week, I admit that I shared some of the enthusiasm.  This, of course, made me wonder about the appeal of reality TV.

In an older article in Psychology Today, Steven Reiss and James Wiltz write,

 “Reality TV allows Americans to fantasize about gaining status through automatic fame. Ordinary people can watch the shows, see people like themselves and imagine that they too could become celebrities by being on television. It does not matter as much that the contestants often are shown in an unfavorable light; the fact that millions of Americans are paying attention means that the contestants are important.”
This may be true of viewers of Survivor, Big Brother, America’s Next Top Model, etc., but I don’t think that is my motivation; if I liked a lot of attention, I wouldn’t be a clinical psychologist whose profession depends on privacy. So, I continued to wonder…
In a more scholarly article in Media Psychology, the same authors found that viewers had above-average motivation to feel self-important and, to a lesser extent, vindicated, friendly, free of morality, secure, and romantic, as compared with large normative samples. Hmmmm, still seems very Big Brother, Bachelorish, Apprentice-like.


I know that Reality TV has helped to break down the division between the show and the audience in significant ways or the zillion viewers would be doing something else – they are engaging.  So maybe, the shows we chose say something about us, for example, American Ninja Warrior is probably watched by people who appreciate that form of competition’. Are these the same folks watching Project Runway?

What do all these shows have in common: They are all competitions; people win or lose; All have people with some skill or talent (very loosely defined); The participants ‘talk’ to the camera or interviewer so there is the illusion of a truthful disclosure; We can imagine ourselves the situations created by our favorite shows.

Yes, the photo to the right is of Mood. I took it on a trip to NYC this summer. It was fabulous.


Steven Reiss and James Wiltz, Why America Loves Reality TV. Psychology Today  2001.

Minna Aslama and Mervi Pantti. Talking alone: reality TV, emotions and authenticity in European J. of cultural studies



4 Tips To Take You From Grad School To Real Life

Since many people are finishing up graduate programs this month (and I still dream/have nightmares about my own graduate education), I thought that I would share some thoughts on the transition from grad school to employment in the real world.

Initial years of employment for professionals tend to be stressful with reports of stress, frustration, anxiety and disappointment. There is a big discrepancy between the hopes/expectations of work and the real world of work. Most grad students have not been socialized to fit into workplace organizations.dreamstimefree_741620 pencils

1.  Graduate students often relocate upon completion of their degree. The MYTH: I will feel settled once I unpack. REALITY: Geographic relocation, settling in, leaving friends and starting over produces strain. ANSWER: Be realistic about the impact of your move, your job, and your life changes.

2.  New professionals are thrown into organizations. The MYTH: People will welcome me and I will be accepted. REALITY: Don’t count on it. You may find competition and a slow adjustment to you. ANSWER: Give people a chance; they may have lost a colleague; you may be unsettling to the status quo; they are busy so, let them get to know you. You need to stay in touch with your support systems.

3.  New professionals want to get going and show what they know. The MYTH: I won’t be an apprentice. REALITY: You are a subordinate to many people in the organization. ANSWER: Take your time and learn the ropes; cultivate inter-dependence rather than pure independence.

4.  New professionals often struggle with the ‘impostor syndrome’. MYTH: I have to be an expert; I have to be perfect. REALITY: No one expects you to be perfect; it is only you who is applying intense pressure.  ANSWER: Accept your unique strengths and weaknesses.

Source: Is there life after graduate school? S. Olson et al. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice V 17 #5: 415-419, 1986.

Someday, you may want to read and write again. Start with my mystery novel.

OO v3

The Voice Finale: Bravo To All

Well, this season of The Voice is over and it was certainly satisfying – lots of talent and fun and, for someone older like me, an introduction to “hipper” music.  I’ve criticized The Voice previously for the over-sized egos that diminished the show and  had the potential to send it in the direction of the Real Housewives of Song or The Vocalist (giving roses to the remaining contestants) or worst of all,  Singing with the Superstars. When they tilted the show to the coaches needs rather than towards the singers, it slipped.

But, they nailed the finale and managed it while still including up-close-and-personal tidbits of the coaches. I thought the producers achieved quite a terrific balance of showcasing everyone, making everyone look approachable, and providing the essential peeks into the secrets or confessions that make an audience confident that they ‘know’ the people involved.

It didn’t really matter who won. All three acts have great opportunities that they didn’t have before the show and we will see what happens next.  I was thinking – whose performance would I go to see? Probably not the Swon Brothers because, although I do love classic country and they seem to have a great time, I can’t imagine an entire evening without way more beer than I ever drink.  Danielle has to be the cutest thing ever and if Disney doesn’t pop her right into a movie or make an animated feature, an opportunity has been missed.  I think being her agent would be lucrative (endorsements galore).  Danielle makes me feel the same way as I do when I watch an adorable puppy video; warm and smiley.  Would I go to a performance; not yet.  Finally, I would go to see Michelle – she is edgy with a wide range and I can easily imagine her carrying a club performance.

Seating Arrangements And Persuasion

Most of us realize that seating arrangements influence feelings and behaviors or we wouldn’t have fought for certain dreamstimefree_7308chairs in our family homes or carefully positioned ourselves in restaurants.  But psychology often takes the ideas we believe (or suspect) and tries to test them out in a more rigorous way than, “Hey, do you feel more friendly when you sit at a round table?” Here is a study that  teases out the type of emotions activated by a seating arrangement and what behaviors those emotions lead to….

Across three studies, this research shows that the shape of seating arrangements can activate two fundamental human needs which, in turn, influence persuasion. When people are seated in a circle shape, they evaluate persuasive material more favorably when it contains family-oriented cues or majority endorsement information – belonging. In contrast, when seated in an angular shaped seating arrangement, individuals evaluate persuasive material more favorably when it contains self-oriented cues or minority endorsement – individualism. These responses arise because circular shaped seating arrangements prime a need to belong and angular evoke the need to be unique.

The researchers hypothesize that, when the awakened fundamental need is: 1. to belong or 2. to be unique, consumers will be most favorable towards material that is consistent with that need.

Sure enough, when seated in a circle, consumers evaluate sales material more favorably when it is consistent with a belongingness need (i.e., it includes family-oriented information or a majority endorsement). In contrast, when a seating arrangement contains angles, consumers prefer a persuasive message when it relates to a uniqueness need (i.e., it includes self-oriented information or a minority endorsement). There are certainly plenty of implications for arranging meetings………………., yes?

Source: Z. (Juliet) Rui and J. Argo from Alberta School of Business; Research Paper No. 2013-18


Recent Grad cartoon #

Congratulations to all graduates……..


Need to relax after your hard work?  Read Object of Obsession

OO v3


Do We Always Write About Ourselves?

“Write what you know” is the conventional wisdom. It makes sense but, I’m wondering if we always creep into our writing, even when we try to write about something else.  This idea came up for me (again) when I was watching NCIS last week.  The creator of the show is a man named Donald Bellisaro and it seems to be his production because at the end of each show, a wind sweeps sand away from a stone and, lo and behold, we see a  faux carved Latin inscription ‘Bellisarius’. 

 Back to the show’s characters. Gibbs is the boss; the silent Great White Shark, an unquestioned authority. His 3 special agents each have an interesting father – Ziva’s pop is the ruthless head of Israeli Mossad, Tony’s dad is a handsome, sometimes wealthy, con man, and now we learn that Tim’s father is an Admiral. Tim hasn’t spoken to his father in 7 years, Tony quakes at the sound of his father’s name, and Ziva is having a hard time being chummy with a daddy who left her to rot in a desert prison.  And people complain about mothers!

This can’t be a coincidence. All the fathers (and Gibbs as father figure) are incredibly powerful, ruthless men, and all are estranged from their children. I know I’m a psychologist and that makes me annoyingly analytical at times but come on, doesn’t the consistency make  you wonder about Bellisario’s image of himself and/or his relationships with his kids or his father????

If you are an early career clinician, a professor who teaches interviewing skills, or a clinical supervisor, you will find my newest book, “What Do I Say? The Therapist’s Guide To Answering Client’s Questions” (with C. Waehler, published by John Wiley, 2011) a  practical, useful addition to your library.