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Have ADHD? This may be the career path for you

Johan Wiklund, Professor of entrepreneurship at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, joins ‘A Time for Change’ to discuss why so many people with ADHD thrive as entrepreneurs. He also discusses his own ADHD diagnosis, and his plans to adapt a business school course for students to better serve students with ADHD.

Video Transcript

MARQUISE FRANCIS: Welcome back to "A Time for Change." In recognition of ADHD Awareness Month, all October long we're shining a light on a condition 11 million Americans deal with on a daily basis. It's one that's often misunderstood and, frankly, undervalued. But as our next guest is discovering in his own research, ADHD can be an enormous asset, especially to entrepreneurs. I spoke with Johan Wiklund, Professor at the Whitman Business School at Syracuse University about the strong link between ADHD and entrepreneurship. Take a listen.

JOHAN WIKLUND: Quite often, we only think about ADHD as having all these potentially negative consequences for people in the labor market. The great thing about entrepreneurship is that you can shape it to be whatever you want it to be, right? And people with ADHD, they can have a hard time to fit in the regular job market. So they are just spontaneously, intuitively attracted to entrepreneurship.

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So we asked among students, we asked among other kinds of adult people as well, and people with ADHD, they often say that they are attracted to going into entrepreneurship, but they also see that they act on this. So we can see that people with ADHD are more likely to actually go into entrepreneurship. And then they can use some of their characteristics to their advantage in that profession.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: And speaking of those characteristics, research would tell you that folks with ADHD are underemployed because they lack different emotions, processing speeds, or even lacking organization. And those are a slew of the possible negative characteristics. But there's also a lot of positive characteristics, particularly if you go into entrepreneurship. So what are these characteristics people are possibly missing out on?

JOHAN WIKLUND: Yeah. So that's a good one. So I mean, so people with ADHD are typically impatient. And they prefer acting rather than deliberating. And they have this high activation level. And that's really a good thing in entrepreneurship, because, you know, you have to deal with new situations.

You have to think on your feet. You have to do things that are risky. You know, when you start and run your own business, you never quite know how it's going to turn out. And people have these characteristics, they can do really, really well because they're focused on acting rather than sitting back and deliberating. And entrepreneurship is all about acting and doing new things. And that's something that suits these people really well.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: I know you were diagnosed yourself with adult ADHD in 2012. So I'm curious, how has it both benefited you or been a challenge in your professional career?

JOHAN WIKLUND: Yeah, I think that one of the things that I find very interesting is that I make decisions really, really fast. I make them on the fly. And I never understand why people have to think so long about stuff. So that's one thing. I think it's mainly been to my advantage.

And I also think that, you know, because that's the way I've been wired-- I think I'm really good at absorbing information really quickly and use my intuition. You know, so I think a lot of people might be better if you need to, let's say, make a smart investment, you need to analyze different scenarios-- that's not really my strongest suit, but I do believe that using my intuition, making fast decisions in important situations, that's where I really benefited from it. And then I also think that just being a spontaneous person-- I think that people that have ADHD can be pretty much fun to hang with, because they come up with new ideas and do stuff that might be a little bit out of the ordinary.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: One of the things I'm picking up on is when it comes to ADHD, I think a lot of jobs or opportunities are kind of cookie-cutter. They're a set way. And the reality is if you are able to make sure that ADHD-- when you have someone who has ADHD, you're able to mold whatever that position is around them, it can be more beneficial than just trying to throw them into whatever you already have laid out. And so how can people be better-- companies, corporations, and just spaces, maybe even a university, be better equipped and adapt to folks with ADHD?

JOHAN WIKLUND: Yeah, I think it's a really important issue. And I think that there's now a lot of companies that say they're devoted to diversity. I mean, I think that let's see if they actually walk the walk. Because if you really are devoted to diversity, you must understand that there would be much more people with different viewpoints, different ways of thinking, different ways of approaching things. And there will likely to be more conflict as well, right?

And I think that we have to accept that level of maybe discomfort sometimes, that not everybody's going to look and act like, you know, the boss does. And they're going to have different opinions, they're going to have different viewpoints. So I think we just have to be accepting of that. I also think that, I mean, specifically to ADHD, people with ADHD are more vulnerable to stress, for example. So I think it's important to be open and aware of the downside of having a high pressure job, you know, that you might make resources available for, let's say, meditation, yoga, stuff like that-- so a little bit more focus on, you know, people being able to engage in self care during and around work.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: Yeah. And I hope that if the past 18 months haven't shown anyone anything, we're able to adapt, because I think that's what life is going to be like moving forward-- just being able to adapt and roll with the punches. And so I know you're doing a lot of innovative things up at the school, so how would you correlate-- make sure that ADHD students have everything they need? Would you do anything special?

JOHAN WIKLUND: Yeah, that's absolutely right. So for the past year, I've been doing a research project where we're looking at students who have ADHD and what kind of educational style and classroom activities that fit them. We have interviewed psychiatrists, psychologists, entrepreneurs, students with ADHD. And right now, I'm designing a course that's specifically adapted to students with ADHD, because like I said, we know that these people are attracted to entrepreneurship.

I think it's really important. And also, we know that they often struggle in school, because school is so poorly adapted to how a person with ADHD learns. So I'm figuring if these people are going to go into entrepreneurship, it's way better if they have a good education, but that education has to be targeted to the way they learn. So essentially, I'm designing this entrepreneurship class now that will be available to any student at our university and is very much focused on, you know, not having textbooks, not having readings, you know, not having quizzes, and exams, and paper writing-- all those things that people with ADHD typically hate.

But it's much more focused on that they actually do things, and then they present what it is they've done-- recording videos and stuff. And they reflect upon what went right, what went wrong, what am I going to do differently the next time. So that's largely how this has been designed. And I'm really excited about this, because, you know, the research is one thing, but it's really nice if you can take your research and actually do something for people.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: Professor Wiklund from the Syracuse University, my alma mater-- big shout out to the Orange, had to sneak that in there.