Do Attention Deficit Disorder and Asperger’s Foster Creativity?

Are We Erring in Treating ADD So Massively?

By Shlomo Maital     


David Neeleman, Jet Blue founder (with ADD)

    In The Economist’s (June 2) Schumpeter column, “In praise of misfits”, the columnist cites some remarkable research by Julie Login of Cass Business School.

   She surveyed a group of entrepreneurs and found that “35% of them said that they suffered from dyslexia [10% in the population, 1% of professional managers]. Prominent dyslexics include the founders of Ford, GE, IBM and Ikea, not to mention Charles Schwab, Richard Branson, John Chambers and Steve Jobs.  …ADD Attention Deficit Disorder is another entrepreneur-friendly addiction. People who cannot focus on one thing for a long time can be disastrous employees but founts of new ideas.  …Studies suggest people with ADD are six times more likely to found their own business. David Neeleman (founder of JetBlue) says: “My ADD brain naturally searches for better ways of doing things. With the disorganization, procrastination, inability to focus and all the other bad things that come with ADD, there also come creativity and the ability to take risks”. 

    The columnist “Schumpeter” concludes:

    The replacement of organization man with disorganization man is changing the balance of power.  Those square pegs may not have an easy time in school.  They may be mocked by jocks and ignored at parties. But these days no serous organization can prosper without them.   

 Four years ago, I wrote a blog about Bram  Cohen, who has Asperger’s Disease.     Asperger’s is  a condition that keeps him rooted in the world of objects and patterns, puzzles and computers, but leaves him floating, disoriented, in the everyday swirl of human interactions.   After miserable experiences working with startup companies, Bram headed for Silicon Valley.   There he started BitTorrent.    BitTorrent has run into difficulties.  Bram is no longer CEO.  But the mere fact it exists and survives, and the fact a person with Asperger’s launched it successfully,  are inspirational.   

    I wonder whether parents and psychologists, by having their children’s ADD treated (among other things, with Ritalin), are in fact impairing their creativity – and their lives. Probably not – but it’s worth reflecting on.