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Are Obsessions the Secret to Our Success ... and Failure?

On his Harvard Business blog, Peter Bregman - a very intuitive guy - thinks the secret to our success may be inextricably intertwined with our obsessions or what we might otherwise think of as "issues."

In his words:

We all have quirks and obsessions ... Maybe we don't admit them, even to ourselves. Or we worry they detract from our success and work hard to train ourselves out of them.

But that's a mistake. Our quirks very well may be the secret to our power.

I've observed the same phenomenon with most successful people I know. But there's a flipside, at least to some of these folks. The same compulsions or issues can just as easily result in their downfall.
Here are two anecdotes, one from Bregman's post and one from my own experience. They certainly present an insightful juxtaposition that highlights the duality of successful people, some of whom later self-destruct. First, Bregman's:
I was talking to a famous guy I know -- someone whose name you would instantly recognize -- when he started name-dropping. Hold on, I thought, I name-drop you. You don't have to name-drop to me. I'm already impressed.

Why was my famous friend name-dropping? Because after everything he's achieved, he's still insecure. Which is, at least in part, why he's achieved so much. He never would have worked so hard, spent so much time and effort on his projects, continued to apply himself after he had "made it," if he wasn't insecure. His dysfunction has turned out to be tremendously functional.

Now, my story:

I worked for a CEO who built a $300 million microprocessor company based primarily on a relentless and single-minded compulsion to beat Intel. The corporate headquarters lobby had a tombstone imprinted with the Intel Inside swirl and "RIP."

But that same single-minded, black-and-white perspective wasn't sustainable against an 800 pound gorilla like Intel. We ultimately needed to reposition and make some subtle business decisions, but not with that CEO at the helm. He just couldn't do it.

Look, I'm no psychiatrist, but I've known and observed hundreds of senior executives. And I do know that a significant percentage, including the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Larry Ellison, have or had a dark side that contributed to their success. For some, and for some reason, the dark side wins.

Would love to hear your own anecdotes on this fascinating phenomenon.