ADHD, Impulsivity and Entrepreneurship

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Author Information : Johan Wiklund (Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University)
Wei Yu (Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University)
Reginald Tucker (East Carolina University)
Lou Marino (University of Alabama)

Year of Publication : Journal of Business Venturing (2017)

Summary of Findings : ADHD is a common mental disorder with potentially far-reaching negative implications, but this research suggests that ADHD traits may actually be positive in the entrepreneurship context!

Research Questions : How are ADHD traits linked to entrepreneurial action?

What we know : Entrepreneurship entails uncertainty. It is impossible to know the outcomes of action. The rational approach is to wait and collect more information before acting. However, we know that many entrepreneurs don't follow this logic, but instead jump on opportunities as fast as they can. This research shows that the impulsivity and hyperfocus of people with ADHD can be an asset in entrepreneurship.

Novel Findings : Entrepreneurship is a unique context that may suit people who have problems in other walks of life. Otherwise negative personal characteristics may be positive in entrepreneurship.

Implications for Practice : Our research also speaks to the importance of considering the importance of harnessing “negative” traits in organizations. Specifically, the differential influence of dimensions of ADHD symptoms and impulsivity on entrepreneurship highlights the possibility of designing effective
intervention strategies to make best use of advantages and bypass disadvantages. For example, it would seem beneficial to provide a highly flexible and novel environment for individuals with ADHD symptoms while at the same time offering emotional counselling and support to relieve their negative emotions such as anxiety and stress.

Implications on Research: This study was designed to link ADHD symptoms to entrepreneurial preferences and behavior. A natural extension would be to focus instead of outcomes in terms of entrepreneurial performance. We were able to conduct some rudimentary analyses, but much more can be done. For example, our survey instruments for ADHD symptoms and impulsivity could be used to survey practicing entrepreneurs to assess several aspects of the performance of their businesses.

Full Citations : Wiklund, J., Yu, Wei, Tucker, R. & Marino, L. "ADHD, Impulsivity and Entrepreneurship," Journal of Business Venturing, forthcoming.

Abstract : Recently, entrepreneurship scholars have started to show interest in how “negative” traits associated with mental disorders such as ADHD may have positive implications in entrepreneurship. While this research has the potential of producing important and counterintuitive results, it is still in its infancy and the causal mechanisms that drive those individuals to be attracted to entrepreneurship have received limited attention. Consequently, we draw on the person-environment fit literature and propose that individuals are attracted to, and engage in, entrepreneurship because the task environment of entrepreneurship which favors speed of action is aligned with the traits of those individuals. We develop and test a model which suggests that ADHD influences entrepreneurship through the multifaceted trait of impulsivity. We find that Inattention is negatively but hyperactivity positively associated with entrepreneurship. We also find that sensation seeking and lack of premeditation generally positively influences entrepreneurship, whereas urgency has the opposite influence. Taken together, this suggests complex, multifaceted implications of ADHD and impulsivity in entrepreneurship. Theoretical implications of these findings are discussed.

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This research suggests that ADHD traits, normally thought to be negative, may actually be positive in the entrepreneurship context.

Johan Wiklund

Johan Wiklund

Johan Wiklund is the Al Berg Endowed Chair and Professor of Entrepreneurship at Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University, USA and professor at Lund University, Sweden, and Nordland University, Norway. His research interests include entrepreneurship and mental health as well as the performance, growth, exit, and failure of entrepreneurial firms. He is considered a leading authority in entrepreneurship research with over 50 articles appearing in leading entrepreneurship and management journals. He is editor for Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, and previously editor for Journal of Business Venturing and Small Business Economics.
Johan Wiklund

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