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« So, what were you worried about? | Main | Getting Lucky »

Do entrepreneurs have psychological disorders?

The positive side of negative traits.

Plenty of famous entrepreneurs display weird characteristics. Many have ugly personalities. Some appear neurotic. Others are simply rude, arrogant or difficult to work with.

It can come with the territory. Starting a business is often frustrating. You could forgive the odd mental or emotional explosion.

Less forgivable are greed or dishonesty, like Steve Jobs famously short-changing Steve Wozniak, or Mark Zuckerberg dumping best friend Eduardo Saverin. These unflattering examples are the stuff of popular movies.

More often, though, ‘weirdness’ manifests in less aggressive traits. Things that regularly turn up in the entrepreneurial back-story include learning difficulties, hyperactivity, and the ever-popular Attention Deficit Disorder.

Why is that?

Being labelled a ‘disorder’ immediately focuses us on the negatives. We don’t see how they can be associated with success. Yet if we examine the flip side of the symptoms, in certain circumstances they can be very useful.

Take ‘easily distracted’. On the one hand, that’s the negative description of one symptom of ADD.

On the other hand, such people are constantly monitoring their environment. They have good anticipation, excellent peripheral vision and, because they are always scanning, they often spot opportunities others miss. Fairly entrepreneurial I would have thought.

What about other symptoms of disorder?

Impulsive? Not always a good look. Yet impulsive people can change direction quickly, easily identifying the better option and acting accordingly.

Impatient people can be seriously annoying, but, in the hour of need, their action orientation can generate a very useful sense of urgency.

Even the depressive and the gloomy can contribute their sense of impending doom. It makes them aware of the downside. They are first to see potential problems and issues.

One theory of ADD sufferers is that their brains struggle to stay at idle. They stall. They don’t generate enough adrenalin to keep it ticking over. Their response is to seek stimulus, which in turn means they are prepared to take risks. Maybe that’s not always the best option but taking risks is what entrepreneurs do.

You need one on your team.

Such people can be surprisingly good employees. Their tendency to take on too many projects can reflect an ability to happily juggle multiple tasks, or to be excited by taking on new responsibilities that others shun.

They may take some managing. A mix of ‘disorders’ often presents as a dislike of established processes. That can cause chaos but also opens the door to new ways of doing things.

There are good reasons to quibble with the idea of ‘disorder’. Most of us display such traits at one time or another. Attention deficit is a spectrum. It’s a bell curve with Distracted Dan at one end, Focussed Fred at the other, and most of us somewhere in the middle most of the time.

When we, or others, display such behaviour, it may contain the seeds of creativity or innovation. It doesn’t give anyone license to be rude, arrogant or difficult, but nor should we immediately hold it back. Rather than let the negative view stifle us, there are times when we should give the positive side of disorders an opportunity to shine. 

It’s the weird sort of thing some entrepreneurs do quite well.


Reader Comments (8)

The problem with ADD is that it is over diagnosed. Someone is just a bit distracted and suddenly they're told they've got a disorder.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRobbie Garamond

Where did the surge in disorder diagnosis come from? It seems that if you have any quirks you are abnormal. That means we all are. Which in turn means we are all normal.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuresh M

Good post. We need a different word for disorder. As you say, it just focuses on the negatives. Albert Einstein was a bit weird too. I'm often surprised by people who do something really well out of left field.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoland Messarian

Now I know what I am. An entrepreneur.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVanillaCafe

The problem is a lot of people DO think their quirkiness gives them the right to be difficult. We need to remember that out of every hundred startups, very few survive. Sometimes it's because the founders are just too difficult to work with.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Macleod

So VanillaCafe, that's what you are. How's business?

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSusie Q

I will survive.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVanillaCafe

A lot of great perspectives on a very perceptive article - my take on it is that you need to be a bit of what is curently labelled ADD to hav ethe energy to become a successful entrepreneur, but for the business to survive, the entrepreneur had better have a 'Focused Fred' to clean up the mess and a strong and future-focused financial manager so that the business has the ongoing cash flow (or credit access) to thrive!

April 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGrant Hyman

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