top of page

The ADHD Advantage – An Entrepreneurial ‘Superpower’

Written by: Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Gillian Jones-Williams

In a world that often celebrates focus and attention to detail, individuals with ADHD are rewriting the narrative. Far from being a hindrance, ADHD has been increasingly recognised as a unique advantage, especially in the entrepreneurial realm. This article explores why people with ADHD make exceptional business owners and entrepreneurs, turning their perceived challenges into valuable assets.


Two teleworkers wasting time bored at home.

In writing this article I want to recognise that every single person who has ADHD experiences it differently – so therefore I am only commenting on my observations of my own behaviour. I am also not a medical professional. However, I have spent a long time deeply researching both ADHD and Bi-Polar and come with a family history fraught with its mental health ups and downs.


For many decades, ADHD, has often been viewed as a challenge in traditional settings, and it is something that people, including myself, would not have spoken about publicly. My whole life has been steeped in mental health issues, my mother was chronically bi-polar and, as is often the way with this illness, I inherited a lower grade of bi-polar called Cyclothymia – something that I have spent the majority of my life masking. For the record, Cyclothymia causes emotional ups and downs, but they're not as extreme as those in bipolar I or II disorder, and often no medication is required (certainly it wasn’t in my case). With cyclothymia, you experience periods when your mood noticeably shifts up and down from your baseline. Pared with this was a condition that I did not understand until a year ago; Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) is a problem that affects your ability to regulate your emotional responses when experiencing failure and rejection. Nobody likes rejection, however RSD meant I experienced overwhelming levels of emotional pain when I perceived I was being rejected, but I had no idea that this was an illness. I just thought I was extremely sensitive to feedback; due to the abuse I experienced as a child from my mother when she was in the extreme grip of bipolar.


Until 5 years ago I certainly would never have mentioned this to a client, but when the world recognised that it was important to discuss mental health issues, finally I could be honest. It was a massive relief as, all my life, Bi-polar had been such a ‘taboo’ subject – if I mentioned my mother’s illness to people, I experienced the “tumbleweed” effect or, and it may have been my own perception, judgement. So, I stopped talking about it. Even reading the above statements I wonder if people who did not know me, and were now reading this about me would want to work with me?


But why? In the 30 years that I have been running my own business I have not once had a day off due to this; I have never had an episode that has impacted on my work, and I have been lucky enough to help inspire thousands of women on my Women’s Development Programme around the world to overcome their own limiting beliefs and to maximise their potential. 


And just when I thought I had really come to terms with this realisation I discovered I had ADHD and, surprisingly, I was delighted to find this out. Everything suddenly fell into place, and it was the most wonderful revelation to me as it all made sense. My intense focus on work, my inability to ever watch a film without doing something at the same time, constantly losing things (including track of time), my struggle to finish tasks once the fascination has worn off and many other everyday issues that I thought were my weaknesses. I now realise are not faults, are just the way I process information and how my brain works.


I realise now that I have been living in a world that often celebrates focus and attention to detail but that it is possible to rewrite the narrative far from being a hindrance it has been a unique advantage to me, especially in the entrepreneurial realm. In fact, it has been the superpower that has driven me to create, innovate, pivot, and ultimately succeed in running my own business for 30 years.


So how does that work – what is the ‘superpower’? For me and my brain, the biggest area is Hyperfocus. 


It is such a paradox that ADHD gives me the ability to hyperfocus on tasks that captivate my interest. So, a massive benefit to entrepreneurs is the ability to dive deeply into a project, sometimes making breakthroughs that others might miss and channel intense focus into creative problem solving and innovation. ADHD also means that I can exhibit intense passion and enthusiasm for things that I am fascinated in. which means that when delivering training (which is my passion) I can find boundless energy for hours.


It doesn’t always happen at the right time though – in fact, It happened today – I sat down to prepare a work presentation, suddenly decided I wanted to write this article and then, 2 hours later, I found myself still immersed in the writing, with my work presentation untouched!


One of the key aspects of ADHD is that the brain is wired to think and work differently due to a dopamine deficiency. So, gaining small dopamine hits from things like problem solving it can lead to creative and out of the box solutions. For entrepreneurs this is absolutely key. So, entrepreneurs with ADHD often bring a completely different and often fresh approach to challenges – on many occasions being able to see opportunities where others are seeing obstacles.


To be truly successful as an entrepreneur, another important trait is risk taking and the ability to be fearless. People with ADHD can be naturally inclined towards risk-taking behaviour once again seeking dopamine which becomes part of my addictive personality and my impulsive nature. It means I can take big and bold decisions regardless of the risk, without getting bogged down by over-analysis. Sometimes I bomb, but my impulsiveness can be an asset in the fast-changing world I work in. Despite the risks, for entrepreneurs, fearlessness is a valuable trait when navigating the uncertainties of the business world. 


On the other hand, impulsive decision making can lead to risks and oversights. And, for people around me it is not always so easy to work with, and I know that I can be totally frustrating to my amazing team. I remember once one of them giving me some feedback which has really stuck with me and which I have tried to work on, as he pleaded ‘do you think we could just have one idea and follow it through!’ 


One of the things I have realised in hindsight (and particularly since I have learnt more about ADHD) is that those of us living with it need to constantly adapt to changing circumstances. This translates seamlessly into being an entrepreneur particularly where the ability to pivot is critical to survival. The biggest example of that for me, was March 2020. As a client facing training business, when Lockdown was announced we lost everything. We sat there watching our order book disappear and the next six months was an emotional rollercoaster. But in some ways, it was an atmosphere that I thrived in, needing to pull on every ounce of resilience and flexibility, which I am sure are part of my ‘neurospicy’ approach to life. And, of course, I wrote a book about it – I wrote every single day, creating a diary of Lockdown, what was going on in the world and my fight to save the business. At the time, I had no idea why I was so focused and dedicated on writing every single day (after three months I had written 180,000 words!) but it gave me a place to immerse myself and to raise some money for the bereaved families of the NHS.


Another aspect is multi-tasking, and, whether you believe multitasking is a good way to work, this is a strength (but also my nemesis). In the fast-paced world of running your own business, where juggling various responsibilities is the norm, it comes in really handy. But it also does mean that I often have days where nothing gets completed as I keep starting on new tasks and switching from one to the other getting increasingly more frustrated. And particularly where I have episodes of “time blindness” where I underestimate how long things will take. To say nothing of the procrastination! One of my biggest frustrations. Often following a period of hyperfocus I will have a day of not being able to settle to anything and getting more and more frustrated with myself. Thankfully, being an entrepreneur means that I have no boss to answer to, but I often must remind myself that I might have done 3 days’ work in my 4-hour focused session the day before, so it is OK not to be super-productive the next day!


And my final superpower is my ability to work long hours for extended periods, but at the same time it is an area that I truly must work on, as it is so easy to hit burn out without seeing it coming. In the last few years, breathing, mindfulness, clean eating, and good sleep patterns have been absolutely key to help me stay focused, grounded and with enough energy to continue to grow the business. Whilst none of these things are a cure, they are a way to balance and create dopamine sources in a regulated and fairly safe and risk-free manner. 


Conclusion


Within the entrepreneurial landscape embracing neurodiversity has become a key to success. ADHD comes with a unique set of skills and perspectives and when utilised effectively these can really turn challenges into advantages. I sincerely hope that this article will be read by investors and bankers who may previously have considered it a warning flag. Entrepreneurs with ADHD possess a powerful toolkit that enables them to effectively work and thrive in the unpredictable world of business. Recognising and harnessing the strengths of individuals with ADHD will undoubtedly contribute to a more innovative and dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem.


Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and visit her website.


Gillian Jones-Williams Brainz Magazine
 

Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Gillian Managing Director of Emerge Development Consultancy which she founded 28 years ago. She is a Master Executive Coach working with many CEOs and managing Directors globally. She is also an international speaker and in 2020 was named by f: Entrepreneur as one of the leading UK Female Entrepreneurs in the I also campaign. I won!! So could you please change to This year she was voted Leader of the Year by the Women’s Business Club.


Gillian founded the RISE Women’s Development Programme which is delivered both in the UK and the Middle East, and Saudi and is her absolute passion.

She is also the co-author of How to Create a Coaching Culture, 50 Top Tools for Coaching, and the author of Locked Down but Not Out which is a diary of the first 3 months of the pandemic to raise money for the bereaved families of the NHS workers who died during COVID-19.

If you want to know more about our training and development solutions or our EDI or Neurodiversity programmes,, please do contact us. For more information contact us on 01329 820580 or via info@emergeuk.com.


Comments


CURRENT ISSUE

  • linkedin-brainz
  • facebook-brainz
  • instagram-04

CHANNELS

bottom of page