Neurodiversity and Entrepreneurship

Mental disorders were previously studied as problems in need of remedies like medication, interventions, or counseling. A common misconception that exists today is that those with mental health disorders are incapable of the same things that neurotypical individuals are. Neurodivergent individuals often perceive and process information differently than what neurotypical individuals consider “normal”. However, that does not make them any less capable. In fact, in many instances, particularly in entrepreneurship, neurological disorders have been linked to success.

In 2015, Freeman et al., (2015) conducted a study on 335 individuals including 242 entrepreneurs. The study revealed that 49% of the entrepreneurs reported having one or more lifetime mental health conditions. They were also significantly more likely to report a lifetime history of depression (30%), ADHD (29%), substance use conditions (12%) and bipolar diagnosis (11%) than were comparison participants. These results suggest that while individuals with mental health conditions may face challenges due to their disability, it does not make them incapable of attaining a successful career. Wiklund et al. (2016) argues that it is these challenges that lead them to develop coping mechanisms and resilience that can be transferred into entrepreneurship.

There is research that suggests that entrepreneurs are positively influenced by their neurological conditions (Lerner et al., 2019; Wiklund et al., 2016; Verheul et al., 2016). Verhuel et al., (2015) conducted a study on 10,104 students enrolled in higher education and found that students who exhibited a high level of behaviours typical of individuals with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) were more likely to have entrepreneurial intentions. An explanation for this finding is that individuals with ADHD have a higher risk taking propensity and great creativity leading to this positive association. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been shown to have great information processing skills with a great attention to detail, analytical thinking, and creativity.

Many examples of hugely successful individuals who have mental health disorders exist. Multiple professionals suggest that Bill Gates, the founder of one of the largest tech companies in the world, is likely on the spectrum (Romoser, 2000; Lalitha et al., 2020). Michael Burry, a hedge fund manager famous for making over 700 million in 2008 by predicting the subprime mortgage crisis between 2007 and 2010, believes that not only is he on the spectrum, but that it was his disorder that led to his attention to detail and success. Michael Phelps, the professional swimmer and most decorated olympian ever has been diagnosed with ADHD since the age of nine.

While some mental health conditions can provide benefits in an individual's entrepreneurial goals, the entrepreneurial path itself and the activities of being an entrepreneur can also cause mental health issues that may present challenges. The entrepreneurial journey can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and depression. All of which can not only present challenges to an individual’s career but also their health.
Research on mental health disorders and neurodiversity continues to grow as it becomes a topic that is discussed more openly. However, neurodivergent individuals continue to face struggles due to misinformation and stigmatization. A recent study by the Public Health Agency of Canada revealed that only 33 percent of neurodivergent Canadians aged 20-64 are employed compared to 79% of those without a disability. It is important for individuals, both neurodivergent and neurotypical, to educate themselves on the issues around mental health so that we can create a world that is more inclusive and accessible to all.

Other biological theories of entrepreneurship that might interest you:

Sources:

Freeman, M. A., Johnson, S. L., Staudenmaier, P. J., & Zisser, M. R. (2015). Are entrepreneurs “touched with fire”. Unpublished manuscript. San Francisco, CA: University of California San Francisco. Retrieved from https://michaelafreemanmd.com/Research_files/Are%20Entrepreneurs%20Touched%20with%20Fire%20(pre-pub%20n)%204-17-15.pdf

Lalitha, V., Deepa, A., Nithya, M., & Samundeswari, S. (2020, December). Astute Remedy for Autism “Developing an Interactive Real Time Application Along With a Hardware Product to Help Youngters With Autism”. In Journal of Physics: Conference Series (Vol. 1712, No. 1, p. 012038). IOP Publishing.

Romoser, M. (2000). Malemployment in Autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 15(4), 246–247. https://doi.org/10.1177/108835760001500416

Verheul, I., Block, J., Burmeister-Lamp, K. et al. ADHD-like behavior and entrepreneurial intentions. Small Bus Econ 45, 85–101 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11187-015-9642-4

Wiklund, J., Patzelt, H., and Dimov, D. (2016). Entrepreneurship and psychological disorders: How ADHD can be productively harnessed. Journal of Business Venturing Insights, 6, 14-20.

 


 

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