National Treasure

A psychologist explains how entrepreneurs started it all.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the October 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

It's no secret that the U.S. is a nation of entrepreneurs bold enough to risk it all, go after an idea and find success on the other end. But maybe we need to start giving credit where credit's due. In his book, The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (a Little) Craziness and (a Lot of) Success in America, clinical psychologist John D. Gartner introduces a revolutionary theory that links hypomania--a medical condition resulting in elevated mood and increased activity--with our immigrant ancestors and the entrepreneurial accomplishments of today.

Entrepreneur: Can you explain your theory?

John D. Gartner: America is rich in hypomanics--that's our greatest natural resource. It's the temperament we find in entrepreneurs that helps them make discoveries, win support for new ideas and drive progress. Why are we so rich in hypomanics? We're a nation primarily populated by immigrants. They have a certain amount of energy, optimism and tolerance [for risk]. Immigration was a risk very much like starting a new business.

What type of person is a hypomanic?

Gartner: These are people with tremendous energy, tremendous confidence. They think fast, talk fast, make decisions fast. They're very driven, very creative. They're visionaries with a sense of destiny--they think they're going to make their mark on the world. And they're charismatic. They tend to excite others about their ideas. They want to accomplish everything yesterday, so they can be impatient and irritable. They tend to wear other people out.

What inspired your theory?

Gartner: I interviewed some entrepreneurs and read them the traits of hypomania. Their reaction was amazing. [America has] so many entrepreneurs and we value entrepreneurs, and that's when I started to realize maybe this isn't just about entrepreneurs, but it's really a story of America.

Will the U.S. continue to be a hypomanic nation?

Gartner: If we look back in history hundreds of years from now, we'll be able to chart the downward course of the United States from the moment we stop being a destination of choice for immigrants.

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