Many of the wealthiest and most successful people I know in entrepreneurship have some kind of diagnosis: ADHD, autism, dyslexia, or something else.
The conventional thinking is that neurodivergent neurotypes are disabilities, but a better way to think of them may be like classes and races in Dungeons and Dragons.
If you’re not familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, I encourage you to rectify that, but you’ll probably be able to follow along.
In D&D (that’s what we call Dungeons and Dragons for short), each player chooses a race and a class for their character. Human, elf, dwarf, etc are races. Fighter, wizard, rogue, cleric, etc are classes. Each race and class has particular advantages and abilities. They also have various disadvantages. Fighters can’t cast magic. Wizards can’t use heavy weapons and armor.
You almost never see a game of all humans or all elves or all rogues unless it is some kind of novelty game. It just doesn’t work well to have a non-diverse party. You need the special abilities that various classes and races bring.
In many games like D&D, humans are middle of the road. No great strengths. No great weaknesses. That’s why most players don’t choose to play them. They would rather be really really good at one thing and decent at everything.
Shouldn’t it be the same in real life?
I personally have ADHD (Attention Deficient Hyperactive-squirrel-gets-distracted-by-stuff-what-was-I-saying-oh-right Disorder). In simple terms, it means I have difficulty paying attention to boring things, and I have difficulty remembering certain things.
That sounds like a disability.
It also means that I am more creative and come up with more new ideas than a neurotypical person. It means that during a project or conversation, my memory will serve up a stream of somewhat related pieces of data.
This popcorning of memories can be problematic if I’m trying to study a textbook or write a report. However, when I’m in a meeting with someone and it’s popping up a dozen different people that I could introduce this person to, it’s a freaking superpower.
Superman doesn’t hang out in Kryptonite warehouses. Green Lantern avoids yellow raincoat factories. I avoid studying textbooks and writing reports.
As an entrepreneur, I can built my life and my business around my strengths and to avoid my weaknesses.
There are two core focuses of my business. One is that of a networking concierge, in which I make introductions between my clients and people it would profit them to know. The other is event services like hosting, MCing, speaker recruitment, and operations troubleshooting.
Both of these areas work to my superpowers and avoid my weaknesses. The places my ADHD gives me blind spots, I partner with or hire others to handle those things. Often times, they have weak spots that I can fill with my strengths.
One friend of mind is diagnosed with autism. It meant that people were able to take advantage of him before he learned what his blind spots were and studied the skills needed to cover them. On the flip side, he can look at a business proposal that most people would need two days to analyze, and he can tell you in five minutes if its a good deal and how it can be improved. That’s why he’s a multimillionaire today.
Why do we see superpowers as disabilities?
Our education system is built around standardization. We still suffer with an education system created for the industrial age. Programs like
No Child Gets Ahead No Child Left Behind forced more systems to teach to the test and further standardize education.
The concept that everything you do goes on your record is one of the worst and most damaging aspects of our system of education.
In the world of business, most successful entrepreneurs have at least one, and often more than one, failure on their resume. A common phrase is “made and lost millions multiple times” and biographies.
There are some investors who will not invest in an entrepreneur who has not crashed and burned a business yet. Failure is a vital part of success.
If everyone has to be taught the same way, then everyone has to learn the same things and be good at all of them. In real life, if you’re good at math but bad at English, you hire or work with someone who is good at English. In school, your GPA suffers.
Many of the unique abilities that so called learning disabilities create aren’t even measured in the standard curriculum.
Creative business ideas. Making powerful introductions. Analyzing business plans. Database and systems management. Where do those appear on the high school transcript?
Bottom Line Being Neurodivergent is an Superpower
When I was young, I was considered gifted, and it didn’t feel like a gift at all. It just felt like an obligation. This was doubly true because I was undiagnosed ADHD, so I was considered to be “underperforming” and even “lazy.” I would have gladly returned that gift to the store.
Many super heroes would rather not have their superpowers. In the Hulk TV series, it was the story of Bruce Banner traveling the country trying to turn back into an ordinary guy. Spiderman is all about the angst that his powers cause him.
I’m not saying it’s necessarily easy or fun, but it can be powerful.
Too often, I hear people who have neurodivergent diagnoses talk about it as something fully negative. If you think of it that way, it will be. But if you can recognize the powerful, unique talents it creates, then you can become the superhero you are meant to be.
If you are have such a diagnosis, or perhaps you are the parent of a child who does, I encourage you to take stock of the unique advantages it brings.
With unique power comes unique opportunity.
What is your unique power? What can you do that others can’t? Who needs to be in your party so you can go defeat the dragon and get the treasure?
Michael Whitehouse, The Guy Who Knows a Guy, is a connector, speaker, podcaster, and very easily distractible. He prefers to learn by talking to people over reading, and that’s why he interviews the smartest people he can find on his podcast. Sometimes he records great interviews and forgets to post them for six months, but he likes that they are recorded so he can remember the awesome things he learned. He also has a high energy daily Morning Motivation podcast.