I think as marketers we are all interested in Psychology … aren’t we? We have to understand the motivation of people/consumers to be able to construct our strategies and the more we understand, the better we are at our job. I find the subject fascinating, so I clicked straight away on the link that arrived in my mailbox this week to Kas Thomas’ article on sociophathy in BigThink.

Actually the chain of links tells a story itself.  Kas Thomas is discussing an article that he reveals is penned under the name M E Thomas by someone called Jamie Lund who until recently was teaching law at St Mary’s University School of Law in Texas, but is now the owner of the domain sociopathworld.com. If this all makes you wonder whether any of what the various articles say is worth bothering with, believe me, you are not alone. I’ve always suspected that psychologists and psychiatrists were all pretty screwy anyway and this goes some way to confirming it. However, I have been engrossed in the definitions of a sociopath offered in these various writings and have found myself flipping mentally though my address book marking the entries of my friends and acquaintances who might fit the bill. Sociopaths have reportedly no sense of social obligation to other human beings. Beneath a charming exterior lies a rage that they believe they have the right to express whenever it suits them. They are not malicious, they just lack the equipment to understand how they are viewed by and impact on others. Apparently if you display any three of the following traits you are probably a sociopath:

  1. Callous unconcern for the feelings of others;
  2. Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules, and obligations;
  3. Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them;
  4. Very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence;
  5. Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience, particularly punishment;
  6. Marked readiness to blame others or to offer plausible rationalizations for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society.

My virtual thumbing through my list of contacts produced numerous racing certs and even more potential borderline cases, but maybe its just the circles I operate in. Actually, that’s not as flippant as it may sound, because as the article and a number of commentators point out, many of these traits are not only encouraged in modern society, but, as anyone who’s watched The Apprentice on TV will tell you, could be considered tantamount to essential to success in today’s business world.

I’ve come across loads of people whose single-mindedness has made them blind to the implications their actions hold for those around them.  Like the senior manager who I accused recently of “pimping ex-pats to further his own position”. However, if you are a business owner in need of success surely this is just the kind of individual you need running things for you? Well, perhaps not, because in my experience, which is confirmed within this collection of articles and comments, people who achieve at the expense of others, however charming they may be, tend to run out of road. I know of one such business leader who failed dramatically in his own ambitions when his entire senior management team resigned in the space of a few weeks.  So, unless your objective involves a very short deadline, you’d do well to avoid having a sociopath in your CEO seat.

Of course, the characteristic charm of a sociopath highlighted in the article means that as annoying as it can be to observers, provided the resignations don’t all arrive at once, he or she can usually lure a replacement victim into their plan and roll on with business as normal. However, there are all kinds of other negatives associated with having a sociopath at the helm. Sociopaths despite their tendency to fixate on their personal objective are surprisingly short-sighted. Their management style tends to be tactical, which is self-defeating in itself, of course, and their lack of that sixth-sense for the mid-to-long-term implications of their short-term actions can damage brands and destroy businesses.

I think, when I am building my teams in future it might be handy to have a sociopath close at hand, just to add an edge. Why not? Everyone has something to offer! However, I think the trick is, like owning a guard dog, while valuing their single-mindedness its best to keep them on a short leash.  The really scary thing about sociopaths though is that like secret drinkers, they are hard to spot. Even though one in twenty-five Americans are thought to fit the bill, their charm makes them attractive and popular with some, at least for a while.  What’s more if you had no sense of guilt and absolute conviction in your own beliefs and actions would you want to be cured?  Even if you get a whiff of suspicion about someone you encounter there’s always that nagging doubt. How many sociopaths do you think you know?

Phil Darby
January 5, 2014

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