Do Entrepreneurs have ADD?

Finely honed instincts, the ability to make split second decisions, and the agility to change directions in an instant - these characteristics are all the hallmarks of a great entrepreneur. But these are also the attributes of the classic “hunter” profile of a person with ADD.

egyptian hunterThe Hunter Vs. Farmer hypothesis was proposed by Thom Hartmann in an attempt to explaining possible origins of the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The classic “hunter” profile describes a nomad, who is always on the lookout for the next big kill. For the hunter, the excitement lies in planning the hunt, and executing the strategy. After the thrill of success, it is time to move on to the next hunt. A nomad at heart, the hunter is rarely satisfied with resting on his or her laurels for very long.

egyptian farmerIn contrast, the “farmer” profile portrays a person whose life is centered around a predictable life of sowing and gathering. Risk is mitigated through meticulous long term planning.

Over the centuries, farming populations have generally enjoyed more prosperity and stability over nomadic tribes. On average, farmers have more wealth, whereas the distribution of wealth among hunters is highly variable. While hunters move between feast and famine, there are, indeed, the small numbers of super-hunters who will make the big kill, and reach the pinnacle of success.

It is indeed the lure of the big prize, that motivates and drives most entrepreneurs, and makes them strive towards reaching greater heights. At the basis of the hunter-farmer theory is the feature of “hyperfocus” that successful entrepreneurs seem to universally posses. Hyperfocus is a form of mental concentration that is a benefit of ADD, and enables a person to accomplish very specific goals.

While hyperfocus is actually a gift, it can give a person a bad reputation as being absentminded because of ignoring events around them that do not pertain to reaching the goal, or for kids with ADD to be considered as “disrespectful of authority”.

egyptian farmerThe hunter-gatherer hypothesis seems to find parallels in the field of entrepreneurism. There is the prevalent feeling that an entrepreneur who starts a company might not indeed be the right person to continue to lead it once the organization has grown to a certain level. While a VC attempting to remove a founder from a company, and bringing in the “right kind of CEO” to lead it, is looked down in general by entrepreneurs, there might, in some cases, be a good reason for doing this. The “hunter” personality - the visionary - who initially leads the company, might one day need to hand the reigns over to the “farmer” - someone who excels at building teams, rules by consensus, and believes in meticulously planning where the company will be in a few years.

The lifecycle of many companies might indeed demand that it be driven by a hunter in the early part of its cycle and transition on to being led by a farmer as it matures - such as Ebay chairman Pierre Omidyar handing over the reigns to Meg Whitman, when the company got to a certain size. However, there have been as many examples of entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates, who lead Microsoft from a garage (dorm room) startup to a monolithic company. Yet again, there are examples of visionaries such as Steve Jobs and Michael Dell who left their companies (Apple, Dell) and then returned to re-innovate and re-invigorate their respective enterprises.

So while starting a company might indeed require the hunter mentality, the growth and future success of the company might call for the initial pioneer to either transition into a more “farming” mind set as the company grows, or find someone with the right skill set to take the company to the next level.

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  2. Sep 24, 2007: Benjamin Kuo’s Blog » Blog Archive » Entrepreneurs and ADD

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