I read a LinkedIn post recently which said many founders of companies have ADHD. This was both shocking and intriguing to me based on a long held hunch that I may have it. So I went looking for more information and discovered there is indeed some anecdotal and some research-based evidence suggesting a potential link between ADHD and entrepreneurship.
Some researchers have even guesstimated that about 29% of entrepreneurs have it!
Many successful entrepreneurs and founders have openly discussed their experiences with ADHD, emphasising both the challenges and strengths associated with this neurodivergent condition.
But first what is ADHD?
Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a relatively common, often unrecognised condition. In a comprehensive study by Deloitte, researchers found that the disorder’s worldwide prevalence ranges from 2% to 5%, encompassing both children and adults3.
In Australia, ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopment disorders, affecting 6-7% of the population. Further, ADHD scripts and diagnoses have more than doubled in the past five years. Why is this? Associate Professor John Kramer, the ADHD and neurodiversity chair of the Royal Australian College of GPs says many people’s ADHD had never been identified and prescription rates were starting to reflect that, and also, there has been a surge of people on social media platforms such as TikTok sharing typical ADHD traits and building awareness in the general community.
Why are so many people coming forward with ADHD now?
Countless adults who suffer from untreated ADHD have historically avoided diagnosis or treatment due to lack of awareness and the negative stigma associated with ADHD. Many people dismiss ADHD as little more than laziness or an excuse for inefficiency, and touted as a marketing opportunity by pharmaceutical companies.
However, many years of scientific research confirm adult ADHD does indeed exist, and that ADHD diminishes adults’ quality of life. Regardless of the stigma surrounding ADHD, knowing about your adult ADHD is preferable to struggling unaware.
So do I have ADHD as an entrepreneur?
I’ve never been formally diagnosed with ADHD, but my son has and I’ve spent many hours with medical practitioners on diagnoses and strategies for him. Given it is often genetic (and I think my mum is also a highly likely candidate!) I’ve been told by several medical practitioners I have dealt with on behalf of my son that there is a high chance that I am too. But so far I’ve chosen to ignore it bar completing a short online quiz (see end of this article) which also indicates there is a strong possibility that I am ADHD. But being diagnosed is something I plan to see through in 2024.
But for now, and on the topic we are exploring today, does my possible ADHD explain my style as a company founder/entrepreneur and are other entrepreneurs with ADHD successful?
My searches revealed that there are indeed some well-known very high-achieving ADHD innovators and entrepreneurs including Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Walt Disney who, whilst they struggled academically, have been able to harness their neurodivergent talents and imaginations in a way which has seen them pioneer, hyperfocus and build phenomenal business empires.
Lesser known CEOs of large companies with diagnosed ADHD also include Indra Nooyi from PepsiCo, Howard Schultz from Starbucks, and Alan Mulally from Ford.
So Why Are There So Many Successful Founders with ADHD?
It is known that people with ADHD have specific strengths, as a result of their brain functioning difference. They are more spontaneous, creative, energetic, intuitive, imaginative, and inventive willingness to take risk, try new things, and act proactively based on personal interests.
High functioning ADHD in adults frequently exhibits symptoms consistent with clinical ADHD, including missing appointments or deadlines. time management difficulties, consistent procrastination on tasks they don’t feel well equipped for or struggle to focus on, interrupting conversations, hyperfocusing for long periods on set tasks, and more.
I’ve always been very honest with my team about how I work (and whenever I mention this, it comes with the caveat that no, my working style isn’t for everyone) but I also often speak on the value of diversity, including neurodiversity, emphasing the numerous benefits that diverse perspectives, experiences, and abilities bring to an organisation. We may all be very different, but together we are amazing!
Strategies That Have Worked for Me As An Entrepreneur
Speaking of playing to your strengths and working around, or minimising the weaknesses, some things I’ve found which have worked for me around being a company founder with possible ADHD are:
- Embracing the Power of Delegation: Early on I learnt the power of delegating repetitive and monotonous tasks that I was finding myself procrastinating on, but recognising that tasks such as filing, admin, book keeping and more were still important and needed to be done, and getting help with them allowed me to focus on what I do best and growing the business.
- Implementing Structure and Routine: Even as a new Mum I cringed at the suggestion of the need for structure and routine when it came to the raising of my children, but did implement some things that worked for me. Similarly in business, though at first I disliked the idea of working with a highly structured and scheduled diary, I quickly realised I only had so many hours in the day to get things done and a lot of things to do, so quickly resorted to setting up ‘blocks’ in my diary to make sure all my personal items were included – from fitness, time with friends and date nights with my partner, through to recurring work tasks to ensure everything that I needed to get done did get done.I also lean heavily on Google Tasks and love the fact I can add tasks from within my Gmail inbox, or from any Google Doc (we use Meeting Notes a lot) to my Google Tasks, or add them directly from my phone. If I don’t set up a task with a reminder, it won’t get done! It’s not uncommon for me to have well over 100 tasks on my list at any one time as an entrepreneur, but so long as there is a list, I don’t feel stressed and just chip away at that list.
- Getting the right work environment and tools: I’ve worked out over time that having some aromatherapy going in the room I work or a spray bottle of something stabilising is key for those moments when I can’t focus. Also I have many little fidget items dotted around my home desk – from brushes to stress balls to other things I can fidget with while I speak to people online (yes I do this!) I also love putting on some noise cancelling head phones (love my Bose) and playing background music to focus. Having an adjustable standup desk is also a game changer so I can switch my stance and height at different times of the day to keep things fresh.
- Build a Supportive Network: Surrounding oneself with a team and friends who love and appreciate you for the person you are, and not the person you’re not is also crucial for overcoming challenges and staying motivated. There have been rare times when my working style wasn’t for others, and I’ve needed my team to give me some reassurance that I am a good kind person, who people may have taken the wrong way, not appreciating neurodiversity in all its glory.
Conclusion on ADHD & Entrepreneurship
The relationship between ADHD and entrepreneurship is interesting and complex, and individual experiences will naturally vary. It’s essential to approach this topic with nuance and recognise that success in entrepreneurship depends on a combination of factors, including personal qualities, skills, and external circumstances.
But ADHD and entrepreneurship can be a powerful combination when harnessed effectively. By understanding the unique strengths and challenges associated with ADHD, founders can navigate their entrepreneurial journey with resilience, creativity, and a determination to turn their neurodivergent traits into assets. The entrepreneurial landscape benefits from diverse perspectives, and ADHD founders contribute a dynamic and innovative dimension to the world of business.
With an accurate diagnosis, many treatment options and coping strategies become available. ADHD is not a “one size fits all” disorder, and many factors must be considered before a definitive diagnosis is made and appropriate treatment is found. This ADHD test for adults is a great first step if you’re trying to understand your symptoms.
The World Health Organization* has prepared a self-screening test you can use to determine if you might have adult ADHD. The Adult Self-Report Scale (ASRS) Screener will help you recognize the signs and symptoms of adult ADHD. The test will take approximately 3-10 minutes to complete. To start the test go to: https://add.org/adhd-test/.