I have often said that entrepreneurism is a socially acceptable form of mania. By that I meant that entrepreneurs, by definition, see themselves as standing apart from the crowd. They take on risks that cause other to quail, drive themselves and their teams to peak levels of performance, and sometimes over believe in themselves and their companies to a dangerous—even disastrous—degree.
But, little did I ever imagine that entrepreneurism might, indeed, be a form of biological hallucination. Nor could I ever have conceived of the cause: cat scat.
I kid you not!
A study just released from the University of Colorado in Boulder in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy B found that a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, found in cat feces, can lead to outbreaks of….entrepreneurism. Specifically, the bug produces the reduction in fear and increase in confidence so common among the bold who build new companies.
Here is what Dr. Stephanie K, Johnson, the scientist behind the study, said to CNN: “The most common place it likes to go is in your brain. There's a lot of us walking around with this in our brain."
About 2 billion of us have this parasite in our systems. Most show no symptoms at all. The most common symptom is a brief flu-like episode.
In mice, however, the parasite increases boldness and decreases fear. And there have been cases where Toxoplasmosis gondii has been identified as contributing to similar behaviors in people: road rage, extreme risk taking and the like.
Dr. Johnson intends to study companies created by those with this parasite. Do they succeed? Do they last longer than companies from the non-infected? Are there perhaps hundreds of other parasites that could affect our thinking and behavior in other ways?
Now, before any hyper-ambitious young person runs off and shoves head into their cat pan seeking this advantageous syndrome: Chill. Remember that correlation isn’t causation. This could be entirely specious. Just a cosmic coincidence. Or, those bold entrepreneurs may have gotten this bug when playing with Fluffy as a child and their boldness comes from an entirely different set of experiences.
Still, it is intriguing. Are our thoughts our own or do we, at least sometimes, do the bidding of our parasitic masters?
By Managing Partner Mike Edelhart