Psychopaths are somewhat fashionable these days. Think less flesh-eating Hannibal Lecter, and more ultra-suave Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. The new breed of psychopaths, the “corporate psychopath”, is less about anti-social flesh eating, and more about ambitiousness, and being a successful go-getter. As the traits of many people in high-power positions – namely ruthlessness, ambition and the ability to detach emotionally – are being deconstructed by the media and scientific research, the notion that there are definite advantages to having psychopathic tendencies is put forward by Kevin Dutton and Andy McNab, in The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success.
Professor Kevin Dutton, a research psychologist at the University of Oxford, has spent a considerable amount of time studying psychopaths. In The Wisdom of Psychopaths, Dutton’s first book on the subject, he tries to explain “what saints, spies and serial killers can teach us about success”. His collaboration with bestselling writer Andy McNab was born out of one of Dutton’s research projects on psychopaths, in which McNab participated as a subject and drew considerable attention to the fact that he was scoring high on all the psychological traits and responses consistent with being a psychopath. Andy McNab is an ex British soldier and member of the SAS who served in Northern Ireland and the Gulf War, and was “one of the British Army’s most highly decorated serving soldiers” when he left the service. Using his army experiences, McNab started writing non-fiction and also fictional thrillers, and is well known for his “Nick Stone” series.
The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success is not unlike Dutton’s The Wisdom of Psychopaths, in that it promises to use insights into the psychopath’s workings to help every non-psychopath to “get the most out of life.” Using the experiences of McNab as a real life example of the “good psychopath” – not to be confused here with the “bad psychopath,” i.e. the before mentioned Lecter – Dutton advocates for the “judicious application of GOOD psychopath principles.” The personality traits that every self-respecting psychopath must possess include lack of conscience, fearlessness, impulsivity, self-confidence, focus, mental toughness and coolness under pressure. What is stressed by Dutton is that it is the application or the force with which these traits are applied in life situations that make the difference between the good and the bad psychopath. Dutton makes some questionable statements about intelligence and formative background in his explanation of who will end up a good or bad psychopath, and goes on to include professions such as surgeons, lawyers, CEOs and stockbrokers as potentially featuring many a “good” psychopath.
Complete with a quiz that lets you measure your own potential psychopathic tendencies, The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success takes a particularly intriguing aspect of human psychology – i.e. the absence of vital human traits such as empathy and consideration – and presents it in a “how-to” formula for the general public. The premise that it is valuable for us to learn from the “good psychopath” how to not get emotionally entangled or procrastinate and to just “get the job done”, could be thought-provoking enough to capture the imagination of many readers.
Using a mixture of scientific research, philosophy, and McNab’s very colourful real-life experience, the book is written in a light and entertaining manner, which is all very interesting and amusing, but does beg the question “why?” Why do we need to aspire to act like a successful CEO, or an ex-SAS soldier making emotionally detached decisions about life and death?
While it sounds reasonable that some of the psychopath’s personality traits could indeed be helpful to the general population, the idea of being self-confident, focused and “in the moment” is not a new one, and has run the gamut from self-help books right to the teachings of the Dalai Lama. The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success brings familiar messages, but with a novelty twist of basing theses insights on the psychological profiles of your friendly neighbourhood psychopath.