The next Steve Jobs might be in school detention right now

Live fast and die a CEO.
Live fast and die a CEO.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter
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If you want your kid to grow up to be the next Bill Gates, you should make sure he sneaks out after curfew every once in awhile. A new study shows that rebellious adolescent behavior is a positive indicator for success as an entrepreneur—as long as you’re a man, and you don’t get caught.

The study (paywall) used data from a longterm survey of 1,000 children in Sweden, starting in the 1960’s and following youths through to middle age. At age 15, participants self-reported on their history of devious behaviors like shop-lifting, doing drugs, and disobeying their parents. Researchers took this data, along with police records, and tried to find a trend that connected those children who grew up to run their own businesses.

They found a strong correlation between self-reported bad behavior and entrepreneurship, but that same correlation didn’t exist for a self-reported tolerance for such behavior. In other words, kids who merely said that stealing and smoking were ok weren’t any more likely to set the business world on fire, but their peers who actually indulged in such vices were. The trend didn’t extend to actual jail time; Youth with a criminal history on record weren’t any more likely to do well in business, either.

What’s interesting, though perhaps not surprising, is that the correlation between rebelliousness and entrepreneurial success was much weaker in women. That’s probably because society favors different qualities in female business moguls: A 2012 study (paywall) found that male entrepreneurs sought independence and were willing to take more risks, while women reported a higher need for achievement. Risk taking, rebellious teenage boys may want to blaze their own trail, but the women who join them at the top of businesses are likely to be more traditionally successful in adolescent years.

It makes sense that some teenage risk-taking would be an indicator for future success, given the importance of creativity in today’s business world. Everyone wants to be disruptive, and that’s not a quality honed by following all of mom and dad’s rules.