Is Business Intellectually Stimulating? If Not, Does Overwhelming Focus Preclude Non-Business Exploration?

A friend recently told me, "If I were to invest in startups, I would pick CEOs who had emotional baggage that caused them to feel an internal need to succeed, like their dad didn’t love them enough or something. Those are the people who are the most driven and obsessed."

Another entrepreneur friend told me over lunch, "I haven’t read anything outside my industry the past six months. I’ve been totally focused."

Ah yes, focus and obsession, those critical components of successful entrepreneurship. Here’s my question: How do you square a natural urge for broad intellectual stimulation with the singular focus a start-up company (or any initiative) usually requires?

I sure as hell don’t want to spend three years in the dark when building a company by only living and breathing my niche within a niche within a niche of an industry. For me, business is kind of intellectually stimulating, but there’s other interesting stuff out there, too. Is it possible to do a start-up while still getting broad intellectual exposure?

Venture capitalists enjoy a more diversified intellectual portfolio in the sense that they have their hand in a variety of companies. But if that’s "diversity" then you could also argue a start-up CEO’s day is diverse since he’s dealing with people issues, tech issues, product dev issues, media issues, etc. Is an "RSS" investment intellectually different from a "security software" investment? Maybe not.

What do you think? Is start-up entrepreneurship intellectually interesting or is it, as one of my CEO friends put it, merely an exercise of applied psychology? If the latter, is it possible to pursue intellectual endeavors outside your business niche (like reading books on race or philosophy), or does the requisite overwhelming obsession preclude such exploration?

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