Billionaire Troublemakers

Parents of a challenging child shouldn’t fret too much about the future: a new study of successful entrepreneurs shows that many have a trouble-making past.

After all, Bill Gates was arrested during the early years of Microsoft, and he’s far from the only successful businessman to see the inside of a jail cell.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business wanted to challenge the body of evidence that says being an entrepreneur doesn’t pay as much as holding a salaried job.

As they investigated entrepreneurs, however, they stumbled upon something interesting: people who push the boundaries of business typically start pushing other boundaries at a much younger age.

This trait, it turns out, is also a predictor of future entrepreneurial success, and their results show that entrepreneurs can earn up to 70 percent more than they would in salaried positions working for someone else.

“What we find is that a particular constellation of traits turns out to be a strong predictor of who is going to become an entrepreneur later in life and whether that person is going to be a high-earner when he or she launches a business,” lead researcher Prof. Ross Levine said in a press release.

Common Childhood Traits of the Successful Entrepreneur

Before entrepreneurs innovate and revolutionize, they have to start somewhere. Researchers say the common childhood traits of successful entrepreneurs include:

  • being raised in high-earning, two parent families
  • scoring high on learning aptitude tests
  • having high self-esteem
  • engaging in more aggressive, illicit, and risky behaviors

Future entrepreneurs benefit from a better-than-average upbringing with the resources to get their ideas off the ground, the smarts to know an opportunity when they see it, and the bravery to take the risk.

That bravery, however, comes at an age when boundaries—especially the law of the land—are typically tested. Researchers went so far as to say that the traits that benefit entrepreneurs are also associated with juvenile delinquency.

We’ve all known at least one person like that: the class clown who could ace tests without studying and gave his or her teachers a few gray hairs.

“Our data revealed that many successful entrepreneurs exhibited aggressive behavior and got in trouble as teenagers,” Levine said. “This is the person who wasn’t afraid to break the rules, take things by force, or even be involved in minor drugs.”

So is the "Class Clown" also the "Most Likely to Succeed"?

Turning a Troublemaker Into an Innovator

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson got into trouble as a teenager and kept making trouble his whole life. Now they call it "Gonzo journalism" and Thompson’s been written into the history books.

Though not every parent wants to raise the next Raoul Duke, the youthful, exploratory energy that exists within a troublemaker can be turned into innovation with the right guidance.

Support of positive behaviors—such as encouraging artistic talents—and the right response to negative behavior (i.e. punishing underage drinking) can go a long way toward guiding an impressionable young mind toward a successful future.

Even something as simple as giving a child a pet to take care of can teach responsibility and empathy—traits we all want in an executive.

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