Obsess For Success

Joshua Kendell views obsessive-compulsive behavior as a productive trait held by many of America’s iconic innovators:

Many people will say, “Oh, I have to clean up my kitchen now because I have a little OCD.” But by “obsessive,” I don’t mean people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD can be incapacitating, and those who suffer from this disorder are unlikely to start Apple or fly across the Atlantic on a piece of wood like Charles Lindbergh. These people are haunted by thoughts that just won’t go away; someone with OCD might be constantly worried that the house will burn down; as a result, he or she might be afraid to go out even after checking a thousand times that the burner on the stove is off.

The icons covered in my book are saddled (or blessed) with a related condition called obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). While the obsessions and compulsions in both disorders can revolve around the same things—such as cleanliness or order—OCD is an anxiety disorder and OCPD is a character disorder. Rather being impaired by their intrusive thoughts, those with OCPD celebrate them. Like Steve Jobs, Henry Heinz prided himself on his company’s clean factory; for decades, his plant in Pittsburgh was a must-see destination for tourists. My icons were productive obsessives; they found a way to channel that which they couldn’t stop thinking about into some spectacular achievement. As a boy, Ted Williams thought of nothing else but hitting. As he once said, “When I wasn’t eating or sleeping, I was practicing my swing.”