MEPs are utterly fearless, not simply unintimidatable, but farcically unintimidatable. They seem to be always spoiling for a fight, Travis Kalanick-like. Suppose you woke up one ugly morning to find that you’d been sued by the SEC for insider trading. If you’re like almost everybody, you hire a lawyer and quickly settle the lawsuit, “neither admitting nor denying” your guilt but paying a fine and accepting other punishments.
Who wants to go up against the mighty SEC, backed by the US Justice Department and all the power of the Government of the United States of America? Mark Cuban, that’s who. Cuban, who went to high school not ten miles from where these words are being written, simply girded for battle and beat the SEC hands down. And after Cuban was found innocent by a Federal jury he still wasn’t through. He held a press conference outside the courthouse and blasted the lead SEC attorney just for the hell of it. If MEPs can’t be intimidated by the US Government, it’s hard to imagine what might daunt them. But keep in mind that this fearlessness often masks a deep sense of insecurity.
There is always — always — a Plan B. Everybody has a Plan B and MEPs are no different — they’re not stupid, after all. But MEPs seem to be different because they come on so strong with Plan A that it seems inconceivable there could be any fallback position. Plan A is going to happen or there is going to be a pile of dead bodies in the room.
Consider Ted Turner. Before he launched CNN, he grew his family’s modest outdoor advertising agency into an international company. He then bought a bunch of radio stations and traded those for a television station (which he renamed WTBS — Turner Broadcasting System). He then converted WTBS into the world’s first “superstation,” bouncing its signal off a satellite so that the station reached not just the local Atlanta market but TV stations all over the US.
Along the way, Turner continually found himself across the table from vastly larger and more powerful adversaries: corporate ad departments, companies that owned chains of TV stations, the TV networks, the Federal Communication Commission. Turner blew into these negotiations so powerfully that he became known as “Hurricane Ted” (or “The Mouth of the South”). He would leave the folks on the other side of the table battered, bloody and bruised, and just when it seemed that matters were going to end in an exhausted stalemate, Turner would suddenly whip out Plan B. His adversaries would be so disconcerted they would grasp at it like a drowning man grasps at a straw. Of course, it was Plan B that Turner wanted all along.
MEPs don’t view the world through the same kinds of eyes that the rest of us view it. Sometimes this can be extremely annoying, as when Steve Jobs refused to bathe, believing, erroneously, that his all-fruit diet created no body odor. Or when he regularly parked in handicapped slots because, well, they were closer to the door. Or, worst of all, when he abandoned his daughter, Lisa, and even refused to acknowledge her because “I didn’t want to be a father.” Jobs had, as most MEPs have, a “reality distortion field” through which anything, however obviously impossible, is not only possible, but urgently necessary. This kind of behavior can seem arrogant and brutal — “Rules,” as Leona Helmsley might have said, “are for ‘little people.’” But that exact same refusal to see the world through ordinary eyes, to play by the same rules as everybody else, can also be seen as brilliance. Only someone suffering from a “reality distortion field” could imagine that a couple of screwballs working out of a garage in Cupertino, California, would eventually create the world’s most valuable corporation.
Note that an important concomitant of viewing life through a reality distortion field is the need for total control of almost everything. After all, if everyone else is seeing the world differently than you and you take advice from any of those people, your vision has been corrupted. Microsoft might design its software so that programmers could use it in any machine, but that was anathema to Jobs. He was, as Dan Farber once remarked, “an elitis … who doesn’t want his creations mutated… by unworthy programmers. It would be as if someone off the street added some brush strokes to a Picasso painting.” MEPs are, always and everywhere, control freaks.
I could go on and on but I’m sure you get the picture: Mega Entrepreneurial Personalities are different from you and me both in scale and in kind. That doesn’t necessarily make them lovable or admirable. It does make them formidable, whether we like it or not.
When MEPs are focused and productive, the results are extraordinary. But when they’re not, the results are completely chaotic. And it’s not that there are MEPs who are focused and MEPs who aren’t — they are all sometimes focused and sometimes not. And since everything about them is hugely magnified, the good and the bad amplify into the terrific and the terrible. When they’re hot they’re hot, and when they’re not they’re ice cold.
Next week I’ll turn to the only other trait we need to consider in order to explain Donald Trump.
Next up: Explaining Donald Trump, Part II