ADHD, impulsivity and entrepreneurship

Johan Wiklund, Wei Yu, Reginald Tucker, Louis D. Marino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


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 counter-intuitive 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 is 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. Research on entrepreneur personality has been mostly associated with positive traits, such as self-efficacy and achievement motivation. However, most traits are not universally positive or negative and what is functional or dysfunctional depends on context (Judge et al., 2009). Entrepreneurship is characterized by uncertainty, which indices anxiety, worry, procrastination and inaction among most people (McMullen and Shepherd, 2006; Paulus, 2007). However, it is also a vocation that grants more autonomy in terms of job design and task allocation, which may be attractive to individuals who need more leeway in designing their own tasks. Acknowledging the high uncertainty and autonomy in entrepreneurship, we argue that ADHD symptoms, which are associated with negative consequences in many areas of life, may have positive implications in the context of entrepreneurship because ADHD is characterized by traits such as sensation seeking, a focus on action with little premeditation, and a desire for autonomy. We employ person-environment fit theory (e.g., Holland, 1997) to argue that ADHD symptoms influence entrepreneurial preferences and behavior through the multi-dimensional traits of impulsivity. Specifically, ADHD symptoms are related to higher levels of sensation seeking, lack of premeditation, lack of perseverance and urgency. These traits in turn influence the perceived attractiveness of entrepreneurship and the probability of starting a business. We conducted surveys on a sample of MBA alumni from a school that is consistently ranked as one of the top fifty public MBA programs, who by virtue of their degree tend to have viable job opportunities and were thus less likely to be pushed into entrepreneurship. We find that ADHD symptoms have a complicated relationship with entrepreneurial preferences and action, with the pathway through sensation seeking and lack of premeditation being mostly positive while the pathway through urgency being negative. Further, hyperactive symptoms seem to mainly result in positive outcomes while inattention symptoms lead to negative ones. Our findings demonstrate that entrepreneurship is indeed a unique area where negative traits, such as ADHD, may represent valuable assets. Previous research has mostly associated ADHD with negative job-related outcomes (Barkley et al., 2006). Our research indicates that certain aspects of ADHD symptoms, such as sensation seeking and lack of premeditation, could lead individuals to be attracted to entrepreneurship and to start their own businesses. This suggests a contextualized view of personality traits, as well as boundary conditions to existing theories. Second, we develop and empirically test a model that links ADHD symptoms to entrepreneurship through the multi-dimensional traits of impulsivity, which provides a more nuanced and theoretically interesting understanding of the ADHD—entrepreneurship relationship. The same can be said about our findings of the differential influences of inattention and hyperactivity symptoms. Thus, this paper contributes to previous research on ADHD and entrepreneurship that has mostly examined the bivariate relationship between the two (e.g., Veryheul et al., 2015; Thurik et al., 2016). Finally, our post-hoc analyses showed that the effects of ADHD symptoms on entrepreneurship are more pronounced under highly uncertain environments. This is consistent with our theorizing, suggesting that individuals with ADHD symptoms are more likely to harness advantages associated with ADHD rather than suffer from associated disadvantages in highly uncertain and dynamic environments such as entrepreneurship. There are at least two important practice implications of our results. First, our results imply that individuals with ADHD symptoms may be empowered to craft their own jobs to fit their special needs. Second, our findings suggest that people with ADHD symptoms and impulsivity will tend to prefer action speed over action accuracy and that this may be functional in the context of entrepreneurship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)627-656
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Business Venturing
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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