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The list of red flags was long for serial entrepreneur Ryan McRae—doesn’t pay attention in class, bored easily, works on too many projects at once. But it wasn’t until he was on the brink of adulthood when he first learned he had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Calling himself The ADHD Nerd, McRae has never viewed his diagnosis as a limitation. In fact, he’s used the disorder to his advantage. His transformation from distracted student to seasoned entrepreneur was fueled in part by the high activity and impulsivity stemming from his ADHD.
“I’ve launched a ton of businesses. Too many to count. Consulting. Writing. Public speaking. Coaching. Many, many hats,” he said about his entrepreneurial journey.
Peter Shankman, author and founder of organizations such as ShankMinds and Help a Reporter Out (HARO), was also diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood, even though he knew he was “different” as a child. Like McRae, he too has leveraged the disorder in advantageous ways, calling ADHD a gift, not a curse.
“I don’t wait. When I have an idea, I run with it immediately. That’s served me well,” he said.
ADHD hasn’t held back self-employed creative Pauline Campos, either. An artist with an Etsy storefront and freelance writer from Michigan, Campos often proclaims that ADHD is her superpower. Being easily distracted is her running punchline, she explained, but she reaps a list of benefits: boundless energy, quick delegation skills, and clever multitasking abilities, even in the face of hyperactivity. “I can take on multiple projects at once, because jumping in between essays and reported work actually makes me more focused on each piece as I write,” she said.
Now, a new study suggests their stories are not all that uncommon. Researchers at the Entrepreneurship Research Institute at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in Germany, who worked in cooperation with the University of Bath in the United Kingdom and Syracuse University in New York, have discovered that ADHD can promote entrepreneurial traits. The team examined 14 self-employed individuals diagnosed with ADHD, and found that the hallmark symptoms of the disorder—poor concentration, hyperactivity, and a lack of self-regulation—are often conducive to business development and innovation.
The downside is what we usually hear about: ADHD often interferes with functioning or development, for example, causing people to overlook or miss important details, become restless, and have trouble following orders or instructions. Dr. Johan Wiklund, a professor of entrepreneurship at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management and co-author of the study, said he read hundreds of academic articles describing all the problems people with disorders such as ADHD are likely to face. But after digging deeper, he finally discovered some…