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“Impulsive, impatient and hyperactive. I’m sorry to tell you Mrs Jones, but your son may prove to be a highly successful entrepreneur!” Businessmen with a (hypothesised) form of ADHD have given the world Ikea, Virgin and JetBlue, amongst many other household names. What is it about this condition that can help start-ups thrive?
Wiklund et al. (2016) set out to discover. They interviewed 14 different entrepreneurs diagnosed with ADHD, ranging from newpreneurs to seasoned serial business creators with 30+ years of experience. They find that this mental condition can aid business establishment, risk taking and product excellence.
Most of us have the occasional sparks of entrepreneurial ideas. These thought bubbles are often quickly pricked– perhaps lingering on in stream of consciousness tales kept within the confines of the local pub. The inherent uncertainty of a start-up tends to scare and paralyse us. ADHD however tends to be associated with high levels of impulsivity, being more action-oriented and hence more likely to pursue a new venture. Take Johnny, one of the interviewees in the study. While having lunch with a friend, he hears his mate is planning on selling his business. By the time the two of them get their bill, Johnny had decided to buy the business and agreed on the purchase terms. Voilà!
This also filters into risk taking while running a business. Entrepreneurs with ADHD are more easily bored and seek out novelty – placing greater weight on upside potential than downside risk. The intuitive nature of decision making trumps rational deliberation. A word of warning though. This quest for the next Big Exciting Thing can mean they lose track if they do not have the right stabilising business partner. Just ask Mary, one of the other participants in the research. She regularly is faced with unexpected people arriving in her office – later realising that she had planned an appointment with them and subsequently forgotten about it.
Yet paradoxically ADHD also facilitates hyperfocus - if an area of extreme interest is found. The entrepreneurs in the study quite often turn workaholic, giving 200% to a critical R&D or pitch project. They also report having higher levels of energy, with one suggesting that “normal” people would actually be envious of his condition. This combination makes them more likely to morph into recognised leaders in their particular niche.
What does that mean for the rest of us? Well, if we cannot beat them then perhaps – sometimes – we should join them. Consider the appeal of Mark Twain to “Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Wiklund, J; Patzelt, H., Dimov, D. “Entrepreneurship and psychological discorders: How ADHD can be productively harnessed” Journal of Business Venturing Insights 6: 14-20
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