Entrepreneurs are boundary pushers. Sometimes, in the opinion of government officials, they are lawbreakers. But they are probably doing what they've always done--going back to their childhoods. 

"It turns out there are plenty of benefits to a little bit of naughtiness or disobedience," writes Lauren Knight in her "On Parenting" column in The Washington Post this week. "Research shows that disobedient children earn more as adults and are also more likely to be entrepreneurs."

One 2015 study cited by Knight tracked a group of 745 people spanning 40 years--from the age of 12 to the age of 52. The results suggested that if you were a rule breaker and defiant of your parents as a kid, you took those traits into adulthood--and they helped you succeed.

"Some rather intelligent children who defy authority or challenge the status quo tend to think more outside the box, lending them a certain creative upper hand when it comes to new ideas and starting businesses," summarizes Knight. "Entrepreneurs tend not to play by the rules."

No, they don't. One timely example: the entrepreneurs pushing the limits in the online fantasy sports betting arena. Just one day after Knight's column appeared, the New York State attorney general Eric T.  Schneiderman ordered DraftKings and FanDuel to stop accepting bets from New York residents. It's his belief that their fantasy football games amount to illegal gambling. "It is clear that DraftKings and FanDuel are the leaders of a massive, multibillion-dollar scheme intended to evade the law and fleece sports fans across the country," Schneiderman told The New York Times

Time will tell what happens to DraftKings and FanDuel in New York State and elsewhere. But the history of entrepreneurship makes it plain that they have plenty of esteemed company, as law breakers. Thomas Goetz, founder of venture-backed health care tech startup Iodine, makes this point in Inc.'s October issue. "Many successful companies have thrived by crossing into dangerous territory," he writes.

Facebook has time and again pushed the boundaries on privacy, in the interest of building more connections for its users (and more revenue opportunities for itself). And Uber, everybody's favorite example of a no-holds-barred company these days, has willfully flouted local laws and regulations in its haste to conquer new cities and countries.

Those are two prominent examples. There are more. In 2014, a report by Schneiderman indicated that Airbnb's New York rentals had violated zoning and other laws. Aereo raised $100 million in funding before the Supreme Court hammered nails into its coffin last year. 

The point is this: As frightening is it can be to feel as if your business model depends on the scales of justice, that very dependence is also a positive sign. It indicates that you've hit on something pervasive and vital enough to be the province of judges and lawmakers.

"Your new thing can't be merely better than the status quo; it needs to be so great that it is sought out over the old, familiar thing," writes Goetz, whose startup helps consumers make smarter, more personalized choices about their prescription drugs by offering both user testimonials and data (from the FDA's reports on adverse events and other sources). "To do that, your new thing must be more than provocative; it must be dangerous."

Which connects back to your ability to be defiant as a child. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University, tells Knight that strong-willed children--by which she means spirited, headstrong, rambunctious, and courageous--are usually self-motivated and inner-directed. That's why they become leaders as grownups. "They are more impervious to peer pressure and go after what they want with more gusto," Knight writes. 

Right now, the leaders of DraftKings and FanDuel are feeling the pressure. But if one of the wagers you could make on their sites were about whether these companies will succeed, now would be a good time to place that bet. Challenging the status quo got them this far. It would be out of character for them to stop, now that they've finally captured everyone's attention. 

Published on: Nov 11, 2015