Friday, 13 November 2015

Adult ADHD, creativity and organization

The question was recently asked on the website Quora "Do people who have ADHD/ADD tend to be more chaotic?"

My answer was

"No. As an adult with ADHD and four ADHD children, and good knowledge of the background and research into ADHD I’ve learned to spot the signs in other people too.
External controls and structure don’t just help to manage symptoms, they can turn a serious invisible disability into a superpower.

Successful adult ADHD sufferers (rather than those who continue to suffer and have a negative impact throughout their lives) are often super disciplined and have extremely structured parts of their lives. By creating external support structures they can benefit from the strengths of ADHD (rapid thinking, free flow and merging of ideas, creativity). In another answer to the question on Quora, Quoran Travis Brown described what I would call a creative tree function which ADHD sufferers have and can easily be trained to create some very impressive mental benefits in terms of creativity and ability to make good decisions.

However, all this leaves a certain misunderstanding by people looking for limited stereotypes (and they will already be saying - none of this sounds like ADHD - and how can it be a superpower?).

  1. Time management. ADHD sufferers natural timing and time management just does not work in the industrialized world when trying to coordinate with other people. Time drifts by and we’ve either shifted into ADHD Hyperfocus or are exploring some aspect seemingly far from the original task. ADHD sufferers Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, IKEA founder and chairman Ingvar Kamprad, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Edison were all brutal time managers because of this. By doing that we can capitalize on our speed and efficiency of thinking. We are often under a lot of pressure to break this disciple as being inflexible, uptight or even weird. However, without it things go rapidly go badly wrong.
  2. Keeping in the Flow. Us ADHDers don’t have much bandwidth for distractions or diversions. I’m very aware that if I’m working on something, if my attention is broken, even if I have to wait, my mental buffers will very quickly get filled and I will lose the thread. Badly. This is considered by people unaware of ADHD management to be immaturity or impoliteness. I have to work out extra strategies to manage this but, it’s actually a fundamental part of my mental processing. In normal conversation, as a part of everyday politeness as an ADHDer I’ll listen to what you have to say, focus on you and your thoughts and feelings. But if we are trying to get something done in a professional context we hit the problem that I may have already recursed the decision tree to about five steps ahead and need to tell you where I’ve got to because while I think fast, I can only buffer the same amount of information as my peers - and it sounds odd - but if I break my flow then I lose a cognitive advantage that is basically why you’ve probably employed me to be there. It sounds arrogant but the answer is that I may have a reputation for being able to solve almost impossible problems, but I’ve also got ADHD and they are part and parcel of the same thing.
  3. Focus. Once they have decided on a target and a strategy successful ADHDers are often inhumanly focused ( Certainly in comparison normal capable people seem to have butterfly thoughts and flop over and give up very early in a complex task. When an ADHDer has disciplined themselves to NOT head off at a tangent every few seconds, it can be frustrating to be taken off task by diversions that you have already thought off assessed and discarded along with hundreds like them. I notice MBA do a lot of this, probably through training. So part way through solving one problem they spot one of maybe fifty or a hundred solvable problems and lock onto that losing site of the goal. The ADHDer already knows how complex problems are, has floated dozens of objections but has disciplined themselves to focus on the goal. I can come up with new ideas as fast as I can speak (much faster actually). And because I read a lot (and very, very fast) they tend to be good ones. The fact that when an objection is raised in a piece of teamwork I can see it as just one of scores of problems that are obvious and that we just need to address to overcome the problem.

So once you learn to manage the big challenge of ADHD I’ve found that you tend to look super calm and in control to people (and in fact, other people seem sort of ADHD-like).
I’ve spent most of my life quietly learning to manage ADHD. If you learn to manage it, it becomes an invisible disability. But, if you undermine my support structures (and people really like to do that - maybe because they think it reveals the truth), that’s very much like taking a paraplegic's wheelchair away because you find it offensive. People find it very funny or go around saying “there - he’s not so smart” - but the analogy with the visibly disabled is closer than you might imagine.