Many highly successful entrepreneurs such as Sir Richard Branson, Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, and JetBlue founder David Neeleman, have been diagnosed with ADHD or other conditions that result in executive function challenges. Some will even tell you that they are successful largely because of the “diagnosis,” not in spite of it. The results of some new research appears to agree with them.
A study recently conducted by an international team of economists concluded that the symptoms of ADHD foster important traits associated with entrepreneurship. The researchers found that entrepreneurs with ADHD embrace new experiences and demonstrate passion and persistence. Their intuitive decision making in situations involving uncertainty was seen by the researchers as a reason for reassessing existing economic models.
The study cited several characteristics that made those with ADHD potentially successful entrepreneurs.
Impulsiveness – People with ADHD are quick to lose their patience. Several of the participants in the study cited boredom in their previous jobs as a reason for setting up their own company, where they could follow up on their own ideas whenever they wanted. In situations that would be highly stressful for others, such as difficult meetings with important customers, many of those surveyed felt at ease and stimulated. Their impulsiveness, resulting from ADHD, gives them the advantage of being able to act under unforeseen circumstances without falling into anxiety and paralysis.
Hyperfocus – When people with ADHD have a strong interest in a task, they demonstrate an unusual level of concentration known as hyperfocus. Leveraging their passion and persistence, and the expertise they acquire as a result, entrepreneurs can gain a substantial competitive advantage.
High activity level – Many of the entrepreneurs in the study work day and night without taking time off. That is due to the their hyperfocus, but also to the physical restlessness associated with ADHD. The entrepreneurs use this to fuel their workload. As their energy levels are not constant throughout the day, an advantage in running their own businesses is that they can set their own hours.
Study leads directors – Johan Wiklund, Holger Patzelt, Dimo Dimov – summarized their findings by saying, “The way we evaluate entrepreneurial decisions is largely based on rationality and good outcomes. In view of the multitude of uncertainties, however, can such decisions always be rational? People with ADHD show us a different logic that is perhaps better suited to entrepreneurship.”