ADHD gives entrepreneurs an edge

February 11, 2024

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ADHD gives entrepreneurs an edge

The brains of people with ADHD function in ways that can benefit them as entrepreneurs, according to some fascinating new research.

The new paper is based on a study demonstrating an entrepreneur with ADHD is able to use routines, patterns and habits like a big net that captures and stores stimuli from the environment for later use.

What the researchers say: “My co-authors and I are advancing the idea that ADHD is not a cognitive deficit or disability when considering entrepreneurship,” the lead author told us. “Someone with ADHD and high entrepreneurial intent might go to a big event and meet person after person with knowledge, advice, contact information, venture capital or other resources to offer. Because their mind tends to hop all over the place, they’re making lots of connections and filing them in a way that allows them to use those resources in the future. Their net becomes thicker and thicker with resources that could be used to start or support their company.”

The author is the former owner of an advertising agency and has ADHD herself. She said that “in one-on-one conversations and larger meetings, the ADHD created a constant rattle in my brain: ‘Boy, it’s cold in here. Are those new glasses he’s wearing? Would our client like red on that brochure more than blue? Are the kids having fun at day care?’”

Like her, many people with ADHD find it especially difficult not to immediately attend to new information. They’re predisposed to speedy cognitive processing and quick decisions, bouncing from stimulus to stimulus, continually scanning their environments and swiftly shifting their attention from old data to new.

To deal with the constant influx of information, people with ADHD often develop habits, routines, processes or shortcuts that help them assimilate all that data without becoming exhausted by it. Those routines are examples of what the researchers call “resource-induced coping heuristics.”

The lead author has developed her own set of heuristics to help her cope with the massive quantity of information streaming into her mind.

“In the morning, my executive assistant provided me with a schedule. At the end of each day, she provided me with a summary and action items. She was always at my side taking notes, or if she wasn’t available, she had a recorder on the table so I could review the tape later. Those routines helped me use my resources to focus on the important information.”

The researchers explained a cognitive heuristic takes the load off your brain. A “walking” heuristic, for example, allows a person to walk without thinking about every step as they take it. A “driving” heuristic allows someone to start the car, fasten their seatbelt, step on the brake and shift into gear automatically.

Everyone uses heuristic routines to perform common tasks efficiently, without thinking through or about each part of the process.  But the new research reveals that for entrepreneurs with ADHD, heuristics can be critical to three key qualities for their success: alertness, adaptability and entrepreneurial intent.

Alert entrepreneurs were good at recognizing the business opportunities around them, reading voraciously, and interacting with others in order to have an ear to the ground. Those who were adaptable could change course when appropriate, challenging their own assumptions and double checking their comprehension about a problem or task. And those with high entrepreneurial intent were committed to establishing their own business, searching actively for start-up opportunities. ADHD helped drive each of these positive outcomes, the researchers found.

“We need to get rid of the word ‘disability’ and learn to value differences and adapt to them as a society,” the lead author said. “Even in the world of traditional employment, many companies — Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, IBM, JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft — are starting to look for job candidates with cognitive differences because those differences make them very skilled at certain tasks. Those with ADHD are known to be more curious, creative, imaginative and innovative.

“For people with ADHD who do want to pursue entrepreneurial careers, this research shows the more they can do to strengthen their net of routines for gathering and organizing information, the better.”

So, what? Many of the states we class as “psychiatric disorders” in modern society have their origins in our evolutionary journey to becoming modern human hunter-gatherers on the African savannah. In the context of the band in that environment they were not “disorders” at all but simply useful characteristics.

From this latest research it’s easy to see why individuals with ADHD were beneficial to the survival of the H-G band. Most humans resist change so those who were able to see the environment in a more creative or adaptable way—to see the benefits of moving to a new hunting ground for example—would be of high value.

Most H-G shamans and healers were schizophrenics, something I’ve found from my own research (their cure rate is about the same as that of modern physicians).

Those with the various “splitting” personality types were valuable because they often were responsible for the H-G band dividing when it got too big (generally when the band became too numerous for its foraging area). Psychopathy is one of these. A psychopath, for example, is often able to generate great loyalty to themselves and have followers (like bullies usually have followers) and their self-assurance makes people feel safe (DT is a case in point). When they left the band, a goodly number would follow them.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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