The next time you find yourself alone with a psychopath, Kevin Dutton says that rather than running for cover, maybe you should take notes. Dutton is the author of “The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success."
Dutton says he wanted to write this book to debunk the myth that psychopathy is all bad for society. He compares exposure to this personality trait with exposure to the sun: if you get too much, you will surely get burned, but it isn't all bad. Indeed, it is necessary for our survival.
"With regulated exposure, I think psychopathy can have intrinsic benefits," Dutton says. "High levels of psychopathy amounts to personality cancer, but at low levels, as I say in the book, it's personality with a tan."
Another myth that Dutton wanted to disprove was that psychopathy was "an all or nothing affair." As he says, many of the traits that make a psychopath — ruthlessness, fearlessness, coolness under pressure, charm, and charisma — are the very same characteristics that can make for a successful banker or surgeon.
"If you turn some of those dials up high and some of them down low," Dutton says, "then, you are, as Reuters once ran a very famous headline, you're more likely to make a killing in the market than anywhere else."
Neurosurgeons, for instance, must be cool under pressure. They must also be fairly ruthless — able to do dangerous and risky things to their patients, without hesitation.
"My dad actually was a psychopath," Dutton admits. "It seems a crazy thing to say, looking back on it, but there's absolutely no doubt. He wasn't violent — he was a market trader — but of course, one of the things which I outline in the book is that you don't necessarily need to be violent to be a psychopath. He was charming, he was charismatic, he was ruthless, he was fearless." The more Dutton studied, and the more he learned about psychopathy, the more clear it became that his father had a number of those characteristics.
The takeaway? A lot of psychopathy can land you in prison, but a bit of psychopathy could be key to success.