Are entrepreneurs all suffering from ADHD?

This is a topic that many of my colleagues and I talk about when we meet face to face, as we also check our email, talk with someone back in our offices, fiddle with a PDA, or skim a magazine: are there characteristics of the clinical diagnosis of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder that are actually positive attributes of entrepreneurship?
Fellow entrepreneur and blogger Pete Quily chewed on this topic at length on his blog too, in a recent article entitled Top Ten Advantages of ADD In A High Tech Career and generously allowed me to republish them here…
1. The Ability to Hyperfocus.
Hours of full engagement and concentration in a task, if you find it interesting. You can get into the zone and be totally immersed in what youre doing while the outside world disappears. When I went on the net for the first time in 1993 at an Internet cafe I got on the machine at 8 pm and around 4 am decided it was time to go home.


2. Rapid Fire Mind.
Your brain processes information at hyperspeed. You can do things in 30 minutes on a computer that might take other people hours. Downside if youre stuck with an old machine and not enough RAM youll be frustrated cause it cant keep up with the speed of your brain.
3. Multitasking at Will.
Able to run 14 apps at a time and effortlessly switch between each without breaking a sweat. Able to do several projects at a time with ease.
4. High Energy Level.
Youre able to keep going on a project (if its interesting, ADDers are more into creative and entrepreneurial activities than clerical and repetitive ones). 14-hour days? No problem. Adrenaline is my fuel source:)
5. Highly Creative.
Able to think beyond the idea of a box. This comes naturally for ADDers, while others pay thousands of dollars to try and learn this. Since you take in more information than the average person, and youre easily distractible, youre more likely to view a problem from many different angles than vanilla people (non ADDers), and therefore come up with more possible solutions to a problem. Need an idea generator? Find an ADDer.
6. Quick Learner.
IF its something youre interested in. ADD is mainly a condition of boredom; you have no trouble paying attention to something if its interesting. Most people find it difficult to do boring or repetitive things but these can often totally shut an ADDer down. Your rapid fire brain + highly creative mind + the ability to hyperfocus equals fast absorption of new information quickly. Dr Ed Hallowell, who has ADD and has written several Delivered from Distraction : Getting the Most out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder, said he stopped teaching Psychiatry at Harvard University because the non-ADDers brains were just to slow and they took so long to get it. He got tired of being continually frustrated waiting for them to catch up to the ADD students.
7. Stimulus Seeking Brain.
A perfect match for the wired world, an under stimulated brain and an over stimulated virtual environment. Being an info junkie can be a good thing. Well, not always:)
8. Constantly Scanning your Environment.
Allows you to notice more and find information and resource that others miss. Also allows you to see possible problems before they arise, and opportunities that others may not see because they have tunnel vision vs. multiplex vision. An ADDer invented the electronic ticket.
9. Great in a Crisis.
High energy intense situation? Lots of chaos and change? Sign me up; I thrive on stimulation, change and chaos. We can create order from chaos effortlessly. We can also create such an environment as well if needed.
10. Risk Taker.
Impulsivity means youre more willing to take risks and have a bias for action, act now while the opportunity is hot instead of getting into analysis paralysis. Many entrepreneurs have ADD i.e. Paul Orfalea who founded Kinkos, JetBlue Founder and CEO David Neeleman who attributes his creativity to ADD. Both are Billionaires. Imagine how successful a high tech CEO would be if they didnt take many risks.
Pete has made a career out of working with ADD adults, and in addition to this article (which is a lot more detailed than the excerpt I include here), has lots of other information worth checking out if you, or someone you know, seems to fit this profile. Check his work out at: Adult ADD Strengths . Me? I don’t think I’m ADD, but there are definitely some characteristics that I embody…

22 comments on “Are entrepreneurs all suffering from ADHD?

  1. Dave! This is so excellent and almost obvious – but I never noticed it before. I wonder if it’s applicable to designers/artists as well. Recently I was evangelizing about blogs (on non-free blog platforms) being essential for artists and someone said she’d hate to be around me if I got religion. Apparently I’m like a dog with a bone about blogs, artistamps and flat-Stanleyesque art dolls. Thanks to you I now see all this as one constellation of “symptoms/attributes.” Thanks – I think.

  2. Dave,
    Great info. I have ADHD and am a business owner. In fact I left a 28 yr carrer with a large corporation (with structure) and bought a business in a field that had nothing to do with waht I did for the last 28 yrs. I have owned that business for 6 yrs now and going strong. I did not learn I had ADHD until I owned the business. I believe a lot of entrepreneurs are ADD or ADHD. I am currently working on getting an organiztion going to get entrepreneurs together to learn about this and how to help others (possibly employess) become successfull.

  3. Fascinating. I feel deja vu all over again when I read this. I am in the beginning stages of understanding much of these relationships. I left a “secure” corporate job (climbed to VP, never got the free parking space though, was always the different one, a necessary but awkward foil to the stiffs, rarely fully engaged, mostly acting like a player in a play, waiting for life to start) after 18 years; people thought, still think, I am nuts; which I am fairly sure I am. A really long story and 18 months later I started my own photography business, shooting action and life. I had always been a picture taker just bought nicer stuff and paid the dues, after a year I am doing wonderfully, except for the money part…. Like we used to teach in those nachocheezy training and development classes, “you can’t win the game by watching the scoreboard!” Critical mass is being achieved, the learning curve is being ascended, lessons like wounds are being sustained, endured, internalized, rationalized, hyperattendedto and burned forever in the part of the mind that hates not being right, the money will come. That is, if, if, if I have the right plan, strategy, luck, clients, vendors, weather, attitude, equipment, accountant, attorney, timing, balls, eye and maybe a little business acumen. So the money will come, or it won’t. It won’t feel like it is my fault though if the money doesn’t come and take and put me in Maui with my Lear, because I feel in tune with whatever, the big whatever, whatever it is, when I am capturing or sharing frozen moments of our “world.” I will still live a while then die. Let’s not get into how long a while is or what is is or what happens to my flesh much less my non-flesh, if there is such a thing and it’s not just chemicals and elemental chemical reactions, after I am “dead” by the webster definition. So while I’d appreciate wads of cash flowing toward me in the moments not yet here now, mostly as a sense of being surely able to provide for my more immediate circles of friends, enemies and family “down the road” as they say because I have a fairly low need for material items and prefer cheap clothes, it is far from my focus. I do struggle daily with low self esteem, putoffedness, a fear of either succeeding or failing, a lack of a reliable roundtuit – you know, when I get around to it…, sorry. My processes are loose, my systems and measurements are questionable, my wife is ready to throw me out and my DSL drops every 18-27 minutes!! But many people seem to be lifted if even just momentarily when being shot or looking at images with which they have a connection that I participated in creating. That, will keep me at it. My ADD has mostly emerged, displayed, manifested, freaked out lots of folks, as inattentive/impulsive/impatient/impredictable but not really hyper. Most of what I’ve seen published about “us” is negative. I am happy to have found your site and Pete’s stuff, a small convergence of coincidence for me, not much of a surfer. The weird thing Dave, for me anyway, is my photography business is called intuition; it’s hard to put into words why.

  4. I think this is another key insight. In Halowells work on ADD he referenced the rabbit hunters and the farmers as having two very different sets of wiring. The hunters are the entrepreneurs who often… hey, look up in the sky – what a cool plane!

  5. Very interesting topic. I’ll have to show the guys at work tomorrow. I like to think of myself as an entrepreneur, and I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was a youngster… Great topic of discussion with the guys tomorrow on our daily run to Caribou.

  6. Dave, many times ADHD is presented as a negative, however as you point out, it can have distinct advantages in many different environments. I have seen this in my own life on multiple occasions. The ability to tap into that energy and broad array of interests has been instrumental to my limited success. I’d love to hear more on this subject as it is something that can really mitigate the stigmatization that sometimes accompanies diagnosis.

  7. Hi Dave,
    I wanted to let you about an upcoming teleclass series that I thought might be of interest to the many bloggers out there. The teleclass series is:
    Coaching the Entrepreneur with ADHD; Finding the Fire Within
    You can find out more info and read testimonials from students who have taken the series in the past at http://www.addca.com/entrepreneur.html

  8. hi Dave, I came across your article looking for information on business and ADD. I am in a career currently that is killing me. I am sitting at a desk 10 hours a day spending most of that trying to stay organized. I have given up on trying to innovate the business as I am often 20 steps a head of my co-executives. They often get angry at am and accuse me of changing gears constanly. The constant ideas I have for improving the business frustrates them. When they finally get up to speed using new technilogy etc. it has become old news and something new is out there. I am currently looking for another avenue of cash flow but haven’t found the approriate vehicle yet. It’s hard to do being tied to a desk all day. Like I said this business is killing me slowly.

  9. I have diagnosed ADHD and know categorically that I am entrepreneurial. I have wanted to work for myself for years and will hopefully be making this step very soon as I am now in the right position to do so. I firmly believe that ADHD/dyslexia has much to do with being a successful entrepreneur. But unforunately, when you work for non-entrepreneurs they think like ‘drones’ and being the Queen Bee don’t see things the way you do. Consequently, you end up getting slated and criticised for being who you are. It’s very difficult but I have said to those ‘drones’ for years and years that I would have the last laugh !!

  10. This is an interesting article that I find to be so true. As a child I was hyperactive. As an adult I have a plethora of interest. I parlayed that into sales profession, and then into business. I found that I could run multiple business as long as I could leverage myself by hiring the “farmers”/drones. As long as I hired managers to handle the day to day activities – I was left to scan back and forth – the pertinent details of each business unit – the numbers, the sales revenue, the net income, the results, and continual innovation using – hyper creativity – out of the box, inside the box, and boxless kind of thinking. After I made my first million, I learned how to delegate more and not get distracted with the specifics, although the details (the devil) is in the details. Anyhow, great comment, I’ve just got another text message, gotta go!

  11. I have ADHD!!! This article describes me to an absolute T. OMG help!!! Ha ha ha. If you think the name Intuition is scary try my business name for size. All Day Home Delivery!!!!! Opens Sept 2008. OMG should I go to a doctors or a priest? This is quite possibly a turning point for me as I had long suspected that I have some form of ADHD and seeing this page has confirmed those suspicions. An entrepenuer since I was able to talk I have long awaited a time in my life when I would gain enough respect from my peers to achieve my one ever burning desire, to own my own business!!! Having had such a chaotic childhood I would never have thought this possible but have slowly but surely turned the points about my personality that I thought were negative into positives!!!!
    Does anyone else notice that the people who have posted to this forum all have an excellent grasp of the English language but really crap spelling. Another trait of the condition?
    Good luck to all who read this. There is light at the end of the tunnel after all.

  12. i am a 27 year old native of Arizona; and i often wondered why i am the way i am. I have this drive that sometimes makes me feel like dissecting the world then reinventing it. Life sometimes get me down but only when i don’t have a new project in the work. All other time i feel like i’m missing something. This information really helps me to understand my self a little more.
    Thank you

  13. I love articles like this because I do not feel so alone and detached from non “adders”. People call me scatter brained, but I like to call myself “multi talented”. I am 29 years old and long to be my own boss, but have not had the guts to leave my corporate, boring, mundane job yet. Any advice from the successful entrepreneurs out there? Check out “The Renaissance Soul” by Margaret Lobenstine. Great book for people who can’t decide on one career because they have too many ideas.

  14. Ho, I suspect I am ADHD – I only need to look at my school reports. I have had my own business for 20 years now. My tip – find a complementary person. I have an assistance who looks after the routine stuff. We still drive each other mad but it sure beats doing it alone. I found using Myers-Briggs profiles useful for this.

  15. Hi
    This is an interesting post. I am not diagnosed with ADHD and I am an entrepreneur that shows a few of the characteristics you mentioned. Food for thought:)
    What is a diagnosis anyway? Aren’t we all just normal for ourselves, with a valuable contribution to make?
    With love
    Shona x

  16. Yes many of us have challenges with time management, organization, and impulsivity. The line that’s drawn regarding diagnosis has to do with the impact the disorder has on the individual. Diagnosis applies when the symptoms of the disorder cause significant disability in one or more areas of life.
    Most of the entrepreneurs I work with have a lot in common with individuals diagnosed with ADHD. Many like myself are diagnosed with ADHD, hyperactive and/or impulsive type.
    It’s important to focus on strengths. And, if your challenges hold you back ADHD or not, it can’t hurt to get help. It’s a courageous individual that asks for help.

  17. Hi All
    Can anyone recommend a list of successful business leaders who have ADD? I am a student majoring in business and I am looking to write a paper about the correlation between ADD and good business leaders…
    Thanks!
    Mike

  18. Trying to start a business that I know will dominate the fitness industry. Stuck in a rut, try to write the business plan and raise funds. Any advise?

  19. It’s so good to read what other entrepreneurs with ADD are writing. I’ve had it all my life, have always had a “full plate” of activities…and often wondered with other people did with their evenings. How boring to sit in front of the TV and actually pay attention to it…without reading, working on the computer, knitting, sewing, painting, etc. at the same time. I had my own business (both alone and with my husband — also ADD to the max) and now work in an entrepreneural portion of a large company surrounded by ADD types, who have had the good sense to hire non-ADD types to implement and carry out the myriad plans we hatch. It’s a good match. I wouldn’t change who I am (the ADD) for anything. Oh, our son is also ADD and so are most of the relatives. MANY entpreneurs in our small branches of the family tree.

  20. So should I start putting ADHD on my resume? What about tossing that out there to someone that I am trying to get start-up money from? ADHD is my driving force that’s for sure, and I have learned to focus that energy into many different things in my life, including attempting to start up my own product line.

  21. I have always had an intuitive sense of business and natural attraction towards it; I thought I was “special”. lol, but now I see that is common among people with ADHD. Interesting Fact; Charles Schwab has adhd too.
    And it is probably not the best idea to mention you have adhd it is often misunderstood and view with skepticism and the employer would be hesitant to hire someone with ADA protections.
    I think it would just be better to describe the positive elements of adhd as your own; I have lots of energy, motivated to get the job down, et cetra.

  22. This is a very interesting characterization of many entrepreneurs. I can identify with almost all of these traits. The one thing I that think people get wrong about ADHD: its not that they are easily distracted. It may appear that way. In fact, as my girlfriend and I were discussing, my mind gets ahead of my actions and world around me. For instance if I feel like a cup of tea, I’ll make it and not necessarily drink it. The reason for this is that half way through the process of making tea, my mind gets onto the next idea. I am never distracted by the external environment. I think ADHD’ers have a mind that operates in fast forward, ahead of reality. This is both a weakness and a strength.

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