Richard was an erratic kid, a maverick, a misfit. He wanted to do anything and everything except school.
In part because of his dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Richard confessed that he had “no understanding of schoolwork whatsoever.” His IQ? Abominable. His only success in school? Sports.
Before he turned 16, Richard dropped out. He was done with school, interested in some things, all things, no things and random things. He pursued them with reckless abandon. What does a 16-year-old do when he’s not in school? For that matter, what does an adult with ADHD do when he or she takes the lid off life and lives on his or her own terms?
Everything: Live in a commune, create a magazine, buy a nightclub, breed budgerigars, build a recording studio, start a business, crash that business, build a train company, launch a space-tourism company, start a racing team, create a cosmetics line, travel around the world in a hot air balloon and live on a private island.
Who does this kind of thing? Sir Richard Branson, one of the most admired entrepreneurs of our day. Though Branson still struggles with ADHD, he has built an empire of businesses and changed the world for good.
Branson’s successes are unique, but his condition is not. More than 4 percent of the adult population has the disorder.* What is the link between entrepreneurship and ADHD, and how can someone with entrepreneurial ADHD succeed?
The life-changing potential of ADHD for entrepreneurship
In spite of the lifelong malady that is ADHD, adults affected by it can thrive. Success magazine made the bold claim that “[s]ome of the most successful entrepreneurs credit their attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder for their accomplishments.” And for such individuals, ADHD is both a blessing and a curse.
Psychiatrist Ned Hallowell has written that people with ADHD are natural entrepreneurs. He has said he sees the condition not as a disorder, but as an advantage. The reason: Individuals with ADHD possess innate energy, grit, creativity, originality, insight and interpersonal skills. And these are the ingredients of entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurial ADHD -- a non-medical condition
Most people experience some symptoms of ADHD at some point in their life. If you’ve ever admitted any of these things, you're describing the symptoms of ADHD:
- I'm not very organized.
- I have gotten a few tickets for speeding.
- I'm so easily distracted!
- I have a hard time paying attention when talking to people.
- I find it hard to relax.
- I have drive.
- I'm often late for meetings.
- I tend to get angry easily.
Entrepreneurial ADHD shows up in similar ways:
- I have tons of business ideas!
- The hardest thing for me about launching a business is just starting.
- I’ve tried launching a handful of businesses, but I just couldn’t focus on one for long enough.
- I am always on the move, looking for new opportunities.
- I love taking risks -- the bigger, the better.
- I can do anything I put my mind to.
- I certainly do not live a normal life.
Entrepreneurial ADHD is normal. If you’ve felt it, wondered about it or know you have it, how do you deal with it?
Living with entrepreneurial ADHD
How do you deal with your condition? Embrace it. Entrepreneurial ADHD can be a good thing. Correctly managed, it's mental power that you can funnel t into an array of businesses that have the potential to change the world.
Psychiatrist Dale Archer has labelled ADHD as “the entrepreneur’s superpower.” He suggests that entrepreneurs should not alleviate their symptoms with medication. Rather, they should “leverage [their condition] to an advantage.” What is Archer’s advice for people with ADHD?
Entrepreneurship fits perfectly with the ADHDer’s need for stimulation and a willingness to take risks.
So, embracing it is key. Beyond that, here are some suggestions for how to channel your jittery entrepreneurial spirit in a fruitful way:
- Get a mentor -- You’re capable and aggressive, but you’ll be well served by working with a mentor. People with differing strengths can complement each other. Your ADHD tendencies could be balanced by the advice of a wise mentor.
- Focus on one business at a time -- This can be difficult, but it is essential. It’s hard to build an enduring business if you are continuously flitting from interest to interest. Launching a business takes sustained and concentrated effort for a period of time. Set a deadline, grit your teeth and maintain your focus.
- Build each business to a point of sustainability -- Eventually, the business you grow will reach a point at which you can sell out, hire leaders and limit your involvement. Make sure the business can support itself before you let go of the reins.
- Automate the business with systems and processes -- Your business can thrive if you’ve set it up for success. Systems and processes are crucial.
- Outsource the business operations and management -- Hire reliable and capable personnel to run the business for you.
- Start businesses non-stop -- You’re free to engage in a wide variety of other businesses. This is where you can let your ADHD tendencies run their course. My own experience of building businesses and coaching others to do the same has shown me that it’s possible.
- Manage an empire of businesses -- When you’ve launched a dozen or so businesses, you can alleviate your ADHD by indulging in whatever strikes your fancy. Do you have a sudden inspiration to improve your SaaS business? Go and work on it. Prefer to try a tactic on your Amazon product sales? Knock yourself out.
ADHD is a real condition, and it can have negative repercussions in one’s life. Don’t minimize its significance and impact.
At the same time, ADHD may allow you to thrive as an entrepreneur. Embrace it, and leverage your condition to achieve success.
What is your experience with entrepreneurial ADHD?
* Note: ADHD is a legitimate condition and should be taken seriously. If you are experiencing symptoms of ADD or ADHD, please see a professional physician. This article should not be construed to be medical advice; it is intended as motivation and advice for entrepreneurs.