Part 1: Review of ADHD Entrepreneurial Research

David Giwerc, MCAC, MCC ADD Coach Academy

David Giwerc, MCAC, MCC
ADD Coach Academy

This is the first in a series of two blog posts discussing and reviewing

Entrepreneurship and psychological disorders: How ADHD can be productively harnessed

Wiklund et al. (2016). Entrepreneurship and psychological disorders: How ADHD can be productively harnessed. Journal of Business Venturing Insights, 6, 14-20.  doi.org/10.1016/j.jbvi.2016.07.001

 Entrepreneurship is often associated with ADHD symptoms such as impulsivity, hyper focus and highly passionate interests. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental psychological disorder also associated with several negative consequences such as poor academic performance, substance abuse, antisocial activities and arrests, and social exclusion and isolation.

Despite the negative public perception of ADHD, adults with ADHD may possess attributes and capacities which make them excellent candidates for entrepreneurship. There have been very few studies which have investigated the possibility that ADHD could have positive implications on Entrepreneurship.

In a recent (Wiklund et al., 2016) multiple case qualitative study of fourteen entrepreneurs previously diagnosed with ADHD, Researchers at Syracuse University, the University of Bath in the UK and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in Germany used an inductive model highlighting impulsivity as key motivator for entrepreneurial action and hyper focus as a main impetus for its results, positive or negative.

This study also took into account factors that other research seemed to overlook or consider irrelevant, such as the success of several prominent entrepreneurs like business mogul, Richard Branson; Jet Blue founder, David Needleman; Ingvar Kamprad, who founded Ikea; and Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s.  All of these entrepreneurs revealed they have ADHD.

While there has been documentation of the problems associated with ADHD, the examples of successful entrepreneurship among the aforementioned individuals with ADHD raise the question of possible interconnections between ADHD and entrepreneurship.

One of the most intriguing outcomes of this research is the role impulsivity is thought to play in entrepreneurship.

Impulsivity increases the inclination for entrepreneurial action in situations of uncertainty. A key feature of this characteristic is that it bypasses any sort of risk-benefit analysis, but is rather driven by an internal sense of what “feels right” at the time. For entrepreneurs with ADHD, what is relevant is to not to wait or think. It is to act – NOW.

In the corporate and small business world, most executives detest impulsive decisions because they do not seem “rational.” Their rationale being: “How can you make a decision in the midst of uncertainty without a thorough and sober evaluation?”

Intuition appears to be the answer, at least based on interviews conducted in the study. One entrepreneur claimed that his decision-making style boosts productivity in his fast-paced business. By integrating more analysis into his decisions, he is fearful his productivity would suffer. From an entrepreneurial context, rationality does not drive an intuitive decision. Acting without thinking in uncertain situations is associated with greater intuitive decision making. Especially, if the entrepreneur has an expertise where they feel comfortable intuitively making an impulsive decision and trust their instincts, perhaps having trust in their ability to decide based on a thin-slice of information.
Many of the entrepreneurs interviewed for the study cited restlessness or impatience as a key trait in entrepreneurship. This restlessness can also be viewed as a manifestation of boredom, which spurs the entrepreneur to chase after new and stimulating projects in which to use their energy and passion. This kind of novelty seeking and restlessness is the sort of intuitive push that many of the entrepreneurs in the study attributed to their ADHD and which they credited as launching their entrepreneurial careers.

References:

McMullen, J.S., & Shepherd, D.A. (2006). Entrepreneurial action and the role of uncertainty in the theory of the entrepreneur. Acad Manag Rev, 31, 132–152.

Hayward, M.L., Forster, W.R., Sarasvathy, S.D., & Fredrickson, B.L. (2010). Beyond hubris: how highly confident entrepreneurs rebound to venture again. J Bus Ventur, 25, 569–578.

Wiklund et al. (2016). Entrepreneurship and psychological disorders: How ADHD can be productively harnessed. Journal of Business Venturing Insights, 6, 14-20.  doi.org/10.1016/j.jbvi.2016.07.001

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