Designing for the psychopath

A while ago I went to hear Jon Ronson talk about his new book on The Pyschopath Test. As you’d expect if you know Ronson, the talk was both droll and fascinating. But there was that thing, again, about how many leaders may be psychopathic.

Then, in this last week or so, with more outrageous behaviour at banks here in the UK and the attitude of some of their leaders it led to a discussion – probably with Jenni – about what to do with psychopaths. And, in this pop science pub conversation, we were considering non-murdering psychopaths – those that get on and progress especially in business due to their personalities and traits, (though I admit I have no idea what I’m talking about) but don’t kill people (directly).

The question is, as society evolves is there a role for psychopathic people in life and business? What can they offer to the common good? How can they contribute? It would be easy to assume that we want a world only populated with compassionate, empathic, considerate people – that does sound quite nice, actually. But is it true?

Or to put it in the words of software developers, are psychopaths a feature or a bug in society? They seem only to be discussed as a bug, an issue that needs to be fixed.

In this pub conversation we agreed that it is easy to bemoan people who appear to have no regard for others, and the kind of audacious, utterly cold and ruthless decisions that these kind of CEOs and political leaders make. But is it possible that we need them more than we realise? I’m willing to entertain that idea.

And in the future, from the perspective of inclusion and also from using the resources we have to get the best outcomes for as many people as possible, why would we segregate people with these traits and condition any more than anyone else?

If we were designing a better world, wouldn’t an enlightened future world actually place these people in roles that suited their unique talents and abilities, and provide counterbalances and stopping mechanisms to optimise their positive contributions, whilst limiting the awful consequences of unhindered decision-making?

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