According to one professor of entrepreneurship, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) traits could positively impact an entrepreneur’s success. Johan Wiklund, who was diagnosed with the disorder in 2012, has launched a series of studies to see how it helps or hinders business founders.
“Four years ago I got diagnosed myself, and then of course, as an academic, I started reading about it. When you talk about the characteristics of people with ADHD, I could see how that seemed to lend itself to entrepreneurship. So I spoke to a medical doctor and a clinical psychologist who specializes in ADHD,” he tells Entrepreneur.
“Then I interviewed people with ADHD, all who were operating their own businesses. It was very, very fascinating, because everybody said, ‘I would rather be the way I am and have the diagnosis than not have the diagnosis.’ And everybody also said, ‘Running my own business is the best thing for me. I could not imagine working for somebody else.’ I asked them a lot of questions and I was able to develop a model for how ADHD was manifested in their businesses.”
Many prominent entrepreneurs have also been diagnosed with ADHD – including Paul Orfalea, serial entrepreneur and founder of copy chain Kinko’s. “My learning disability gave me certain advantages, because I was able to live in the moment and capitalize on the opportunities I spotted,” he told ADDitude Magazine, a specialist publication for people with the disorder. “With ADD, you're curious. Your eyes believe what they see. Your ears believe what others say. I learned to trust my eyes.”
This is a similar sentiment to JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman, who told the same magazine: “If someone told me you could be normal or you could continue to have your ADD, I would take ADD.”
Neeleman even says that he prefers to forgo medication – “I’m afraid of taking drugs once, blowing a circuit and then being like the rest of you!”
But what difference does ADHD make?
According to psychiatrist Dr Ned Hallowell, “people with ADHD are natural entrepreneurs”. However, he thinks that the label is misleading.
“As I see it, ADHD is neither a disorder, nor is there a deficit of attention. I see ADHD as a trait, not a disability,” he says. “I’ve realised that a high number of entrepreneurs share many of the same traits as the ADHD patients I’ve treated, including a lust for stimulation and a willingness to take risks.”
Hallowell says that he thinks entrepreneurs have a distinct advantage – they “are blessed with an extraordinarily powerful mind”, “the equivalent of a Ferrari engine for a brain”. But, he says, the key is to slow down.
“When entrepreneurs learn how to slow down, they can better control the power of their brains. To slow down, ask for help, take that advice, get organised and make a plan,” Hallowell explains. “When they slow down to think the project through, then their creativity, intuition, enthusiasm and turbocharged brain will generate victory upon victory.”