I’ve spent a long time working for maniacs, idiots and psychopaths, and now I know why: that’s what it takes to get to the top in banking technology circles.
It’s been scientifically proven too – to get to the top of a company, you need to stay there a long time, have psychopathic traits and suffer from Asperger’s syndrome.
According to the Economist, it may be because I work in technology in finance that it seems this way:
Recruiters have noticed that the mental qualities that make a good computer programmer resemble those that might get you diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome: an obsessive interest in narrow subjects; a passion for numbers, patterns and machines; an addiction to repetitive tasks; and a lack of sensitivity to social cues. Some joke that the internet was invented by and for people who are “on the spectrum”, as they put it in the Valley. Online, you can communicate without the ordeal of meeting people.
Wired magazine once called it “the Geek Syndrome”. Speaking of internet firms founded in the past decade, Peter Thiel, an early Facebook investor, told the New Yorker that: “The people who run them are sort of autistic.” Yishan Wong, an ex-Facebooker, wrote that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder, has “a touch of Asperger’s”, in that “he does not provide much active feedback or confirmation that he is listening to you.” Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, says he finds the symptoms of Asperger’s “uncomfortably familiar” when he hears them listed.
Similar traits are common in the upper reaches of finance. The quants have taken over from the preppies. The hero of Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short”, Michael Burry, a hedge-fund manager, is a loner who wrote a stockmarket blog as a hobby while he was studying to be a doctor. He attracted so much attention from money managers that he quit medicine to start his own hedge fund, Scion Capital. After noticing that there was something awry with the mortgage market, he made a killing betting that it would crash. “The one guy that I could trust in the middle of this crisis,” Mr Lewis told National Public Radio, “was this fellow with Asperger’s and a glass eye.”
According to an article in the British Computer Society, one percent of the population are now recognised as having Asperger’s syndrome or autism, and most of them seem to work in IT.
The trouble is that we work not just with Asperger geeks, but ones that have psychotic qualities as well.
That is what defines a good trader.
If you haven’t read the brilliant book American Pyscho or seen the film starring Christian Bale as the homicidal maniac trader, then you just need to read a few other articles about the similarities between sociopathic behaviour and senior management to realise how closely aligned these factors are.
Four percent of the global population is made up of sociopaths, Dr. Martha Stout, psychologist and clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, tells us in her book The Sociopath Next Door. That means one out of every 25 human beings has no conscience, no sense of right or wrong, no empathy, no ability to understand emotion–no soul. Worse, while they can mimic emotion, they see other humans as mere pawns or saps, to be used for their benefit or amusement, or both.
And scientists have proven that, of these sociopaths, four percent of them are pyschopaths who become CEOs.
The incidence of psychopathy among CEOs is about 4 percent, four times what it is in the population at large.
Therefore, the next time you look at a Bob Diamond, Stuart Gulliver, Larry Ellison or Steve Ballmer, ask yourself if they’re really good business men or totally demented maniacs?