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Certain ADHD Traits May Benefit Entrepreneurs, Study Says

The first in a series of studies about entrepreneurs with ADHD indicates that traits like impulsivity and hyperfocus may promote business success — but the study’s authors say that more research is needed.




January 23, 2017

A professor of entrepreneurship — who himself has ADHD — has launched a series of studies investigating how entrepreneurs with ADHD are helped or hindered by their symptoms. The results of the first study — though far from conclusive — indicate that ADHD traits like impulsivity and hyperfocus may positively impact an entrepreneur’s business success.

The study, led by Professor Johan Wiklund and published last August in the Journal of Business Venturing Insights, examined 14 entrepreneurs who had been previously diagnosed with ADHD. Researchers conducted extensive interviews with each entrepreneur regarding their work, their entrepreneurial journeys, their diagnoses, and their backgrounds. Interviews followed a general structure, but questions were intended to be open-ended, the researchers said.

After analyzing the entrepreneurs’ responses, the researchers found that impulsivity was closely linked to the subjects’ decisions to start their businesses — with mostly positive results. Many entrepreneurs also credited hyperfocus with helping them effectively shoulder the large workload that often comes with entrepreneurship. Inattention, on the other hand, was strongly associated with negative experiences with accounting work and other routine tasks — though most of the entrepreneurs reported that they were able to delegate those tasks to others effectively. Other ADHD symptoms, like hyperactivity, were similarly linked to positive entrepreneurial traits like high energy levels.

The small study’s analysis paper drew few quantitative conclusions and left much open to interpretation. But the authors stress that they don’t think of the study as definitive, characterizing it as merely “a first step towards understanding how ADHD impacts entrepreneurship.”

“Thousands — if not tens of thousands — of academic papers have documented the negative implications of having ADHD,” the authors write. “Very few papers have examined or found support for any positive effects of the disorder, but some anecdotal evidence suggests that ADHD could have positive implications in entrepreneurship.”

Forthcoming studies on the same subject (two are planned so far) will render the link between ADHD and entrepreneurial success much more concrete, said Wiklund.

“ADHD is a disorder diagnosed by medical doctors and research on ADHD has focused on the negatives,” Wiklund and his co-authors conclude. “Our model suggests that in an entrepreneurial context, these same symptoms may have positive implications.”

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  1. Fantastic. I’m a pastor and cross-cultural peacebuilding and development worker. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was young but my parents resisted medication. They instead helped me to focus on sports and fostered other personal passions.

    I’ve learned to manage my distractability with strict scheduling and daily exercise. And very so thankful for the capacity to hyperfocus and creative finish projects in short spurts.

    I hope the body of research on the positive side of the ADHD brain and person steadily grows.

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