You Have ADD/ADHD and You Will STILL Not Be Rich and Famous

T he August 2009 blog post – You Have A.D.D./A.D.H.D. and You Will NOT Be Rich and Famous – has been one of the more contentious posts on this blog. As measured by the number of comments to that post, it seems it hit a raw nerve. [note 1] I believe that the firestorm was based, not only on my provocative title for the blog post (Linda had written, “…if I took the [...] post at face value I wouldn’t just want to “give up,” I’d feel like cutting my throat!”) but also from this quote from Barkley’s, et al., ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says. Quoting the book, I wrote:

[...] there are those who “claim that adults with ADHD are more intelligent, more creative, more ‘lateral’ in their thinking, more optimistic, more entrepreneurial, and better able to handle crises than those without the disorder. Similar advocates of adult ADHD have gone so far as to assert that the disorder conveys some positive benefit. [...] none of these claims have any scientific support at this time.” They go on to note that research looking at adults with ADHD and at longitudinal studies that follow children into adulthood “provid[e] no support for the view that ADHD produces positive benefits in adults with the disorder.” (pg. 2)

The very first comment to the post, written by Tara McGillicuddy,  encapsulates the general feeling amongst a number of ADHDers out in the blogosphere. [note 2] She wrote:

I disagree on the NO positive benefits of having ADD/ADHD. I also think that many people with ADHD are more creative than those with out ADHD. No, I don’t think it’s gift from up above…It’s because many of us with ADHD have been forced to be creative to cure boredom, find a different way to do things, fix our messes, etc.

On February 17, 2010 there was a lengthy comment to that post that has prompted this lengthy response. The particular comment, from Paradigm of Thought, appears on the fourth page of comments. In my response below, I’ve selected a number of points from Paradigm’s comment and provided my counterpoints.


My Response

I want to establish two facts that serve as the basis of my response.

Fact Number One: The effects of gravity were with us long before Newton and then Einstein defined and redefined our understanding of gravity. We did not live in a gravity-less world with everything floating around prior to our understanding of gravity. Gravity exerted its effect whether we had an explanation for it or not.

Fact Number Two: Those of us who are reading this blog (and other blogs, of course), writing responses and posts, and so forth, are NOT your typical ADDer. Assuming a normal distribution of intelligence with no significant skewing (I know, big assumption), those of us who are reading and writing these posts are probably two or more standard deviations above the midpoint. The evidence for fact number two is, admittedly, based on anecdotal data but I would say it is safe to assume that anyone who is an ADDer and is successful in life (for now we can dispense with defining “success” ) would be in the upper range of the bell curve. [note 3]

So…where am I going with these “facts”?

Fact Number One Revisited: Gravity exerts its effects whether we are aware of it or not. The same should apply to ADHD. The “advantages” conferred by ADHD should be discernible and measurable prior to any individual’s awareness of the ADHD. Let me reemphasize this point because it shreds the “ADHD as an Advantage” argument. IF like gravity, ADHD performed its magic regardless of our awareness of its existence, then we should see a nearly one-to-one correspondence between those who are wildly successful and those who have ADHD. [note 4] Instead, what we see is NOT a near one-to-one correspondence but, instead, a handful of anecdotes about those who are wildly successful and who happen to have ADHD. [note 5]

If ADHD were truly the causal factor we like to think it is then the number of successful people who do NOT have ADHD should be quite small. Instead, we see the exact opposite. We see no statistical evidence to show that ADHD confers any life benefits. [note 6] In fact, it shows that everyone with ADHD, to varying degrees, has been negatively impacted by it. [note 7] HOWEVER, once we are aware of our ADHD, there is the potential for us to mitigate its effects.

Fact Number Two Revisited: ADHDers who are reading, writing and responding to blog posts are not your typical ADHDer. Admittedly this “fact” is based on a bit of deduction and assumption on my part. But again, if we assume a normal distribution of intelligence among ADHDers (much like the general population), it is likely that those of us who are participating in these discussions, those of us with ADHD who have been successful, are atypical ADHDers.

The Points Raised by Paradigm of Thought

I’ve taken the liberty of editing the points raised by Paradigm of Thought. I believe that, even in edited form, I have kept true to the spirit of the point that was raised.

Point Number 1:

“…National Commission on Entrepreneurship seems to be under the impression that there is high percentage of successful Entrepreneurs who have ADD and ADHD. …historically successful figures who are believed to have had ADHD (Like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford). …the distinct advantages of ADHD (such as Hyperfocusing, the ability to switch tasks, and higher IQ ratings).”

Counterpoint Number 1:

1. I was not able to find any studies by the commission that shows the high percentage of entrepreneurs with ADHD. I am sure they exist so please provide references. [note 8]

2. We cannot read history backwards and assume that Franklin, Edison and Ford were ADHDers. The characteristics of high intelligence and ADHD have a number of similarities that can cause someone to confuse one for the other. [note 9]

3. Hyperfocusing can be an advantage IF you can turn it on or off at will. If you cannot do that – and for many ADHDers that’s a difficult thing to do – then there is no advantage to it. It is like being a marathon runner but not being able to use your running skills when you need it most. It’s a wonderful skill – hyperfocus and running – but useless if you cannot turn it on when needed.

4. There is no data showing a causal relationship between ADHD and IQ. It is nice to believe there is because we, the readers of this blog, may be more intelligent than other ADHDers. However, ADHD does not confer intelligence.

Point Number 2:

“The reason people with ADD and ADHD may not succeed is because, simply, our attitudes have been adjusted for us. Society says we have a learning disorder, so we never try because “We Can’t.” We go through this self destructive cycle, and instead of taking responsibility, we blame the disorder. People with ADD and ADHD don’t succeed for the same reason that people WITHOUT it don’t. Because in the end they don’t want to.”

Counterpoint Number 2: I’m going to address this in reverse order.

1. You end this paragraph with the point that people don’t succeed “[B]ecause in the end they don’t want to.” This is the power of positive thinking argument. If we think it…it will be so. Unfortunately, while this type of thinking may make us feel better (and I admit I employ it myself in a number of circumstances), there are many more Willy Lomans out there than we like to admit. However, because they ARE Willy Loman, we never hear their stories. We only hear the success stories. [note 10]

2. You note that society inculcates us with the idea that we have a learning disorder. My argument against this is based, in part, on an anecdote. Though it does not constitute scientific data I think it illustrates a possible shortcoming in the “magical properties” theory of ADHD.

In 1998 I had gone into the technology business with a good friend who also had the entrepreneurial wanderlust. At that time we were on the bleeding edge of new technologies. Voice Over IP (VOIP) was a brand new technology and 3Com was one of the first to provide VOIP equipment. We jumped on that bandwagon. Website hosting was growing at an enormous rate and there was still room for more players. We jumped on that bandwagon. We purchased Palm Pilots at the then outrageous price of $500 each! And yes, we jumped on that bandwagon. After a few years the business collapsed. We were at each others throats having some nasty arguments. Years later when I was self-diagnosed as ADD and discussed this with my former business partner, we realized that he was also ADD. Our only regret is that we wish we knew THEN that we had ADD because we would have been able to work around it (with it? through it?) and build a successful business. INSTEAD, the business collapsed in part BECAUSE of the ADD. There were NO particular benefits as a result of the ADD. The supposed Latent Entrepreneurial characteristics of ADD seemed to be absent. (See: on ADD as Latent Entrepreneurial Personality Type (LEPT) ) In fact, the ADD was detrimental to both our business and personal/social well-being. Shouldn’t the effects of LEPT have made its presence known? We were both entrepreneurial. We were both risk-takers to varying degrees. Shouldn’t it have worked its magic the same way gravity works its magic whether we are aware of its existence or not?

You may be thinking that the counter argument to the above is that we did not think positively (or not positively enough). However, shouldn’t the magical properties of ADHD be evident, not only in the case described above, but in the majority of Adult ADHDers? Instead, what we find is that lives with UNdiagnosed ADHD are often in ruins and improvement comes with knowledge, specifically, the knowledge of their ADHD. It as at that point that they know what the multi-headed hydra looks like and how to handle it.

Let’s shift our focus to something that we quite often refer to as a gift, namely IQ. Imagine you have a daughter that is extraordinarily bright. Does this high IQ child need to know that she has a high IQ in order to be intelligent? Or is she intelligent even if she is unaware of her IQ? The answer would seem to be the latter. Others may “discover” that she has a gift of a high IQ but she does not need to know that in order to exhibit the characteristics of someone who has a high IQ. Shouldn’t the positive qualities of ADHD be evident in the very same way? If ADHD conferred positive qualities wouldn’t those qualities be evident even BEFORE a diagnosis of ADHD?

Point Number Three: “Taking away all hope because of a disorder is far too convenient for me. So instead, I’ve learned to set workable tasks and realistic goals. I’ve learned the power of discipline and work. For that, I am a successful member of society, I am the next in line to take over my company, I am working diligently and training for the business aspects of said company. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a diagnosis ruin me for life. I have ADHD, and I’m determined to succeed.”

Counterpoint Number Three:

1. My only response is, quite sincerely, BRAVO!! You know what your challenges are and you’ve set “workable tasks and realistic goals” and you have succeeded in life. However, statistically you are the outlier. Longitudinal data shows an abundance of horror stories and NOT success stories.

Point Number Four: “The fact is ADD or ADHD is no more disenfranchising than being “normal.” And if the world stopped using it as a crutch maybe people would realize that. Most of the problem is that we’re told we can’t succeed, so we don’t try. In the end, the only way we are damned to not succeed, is to never attempt to.”

Counterpoint Number Four:

1. You wrote:  ‘The fact is ADD or ADHD is no more disenfranchising than being “normal.”‘ If only this were true then this would be borne out by the numerous studies that have been done. Sorry to say, there is no data to support this assertion. There is too much data showing how undiagnosed ADHDers have believed whole heartedly that they could succeed and yet, despite all their efforts, they have still failed. The magic just didn’t work. Further, since they were undiagnosed they didn’t yet know that they should use ADHD as a crutch.


Too often we assume that our “positive” life circumstances are the result of some magical ingredient that we possess. Sometimes we call that magical ingredient “entrepreneurship” or “positive thinking” or ADHD. If they are magical ingredients with magical properties they should make their presence known even if we do not know we have it. (Again, think about someone with a high IQ. That gift makes its presence known to others even if the person with the gift does not know that she has it. ) Further, we have a tendency to explain our success by using post hoc reasoning even though there is no logical causal mechanism tying X to Y. If success occurs after positive thinking, we assume that success occurs BECAUSE of positive thinking. Substitute the terms ADHD or any other suitable term. The reasoning seems logical but if one cannot explain how X causes Y then there is no basis for the assertion.

In the specific case of ADHD we find, based on all of the current evidence (again, see Barkley, et al.), that there are NO magical properties associated with it. Success in life for an ADHDer, if such success is found, occurs often IN SPITE OF and NOT BECAUSE OF ADHD.

Bottom line: I am much happier thinking that ADHD confers some special gift [note 11] but I never, ever, let myself think that my successes in life were a result of some ADHD pixie dust. I ALWAYS know that EVERY success was a struggle, that EVERY success was IN SPITE OF ADHD. The amount of effort required for success has been diminishing over time because I have come to know how my enemy thinks. But I know that my enemy will never be vanquished. It will be haunting me till my very last breath. No amount of positive thinking will change that reality. It may make that reality easier to deal with but it is not a true picture of the ADHD world that we inhabit.

The point which I should first wish to understand is whether
the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or
holy because it is beloved of the gods.

  1. Admittedly, a small number of the comments examined the issues surrounding different styles of pulled pork. However, even that discussion became a tiny bit contentious.
  2. See, for example, the very successful blog ADDER World and in the associated social networking community.
  3. Yes…this argument is a bit circular but…bear with me.
  4. I’m defining “wildly successful” as that part of society that is in the upper 5% of the socioeconomic range and which should map very precisely with the Adult ADHD population since that population also comprises approximately 5% of the adult population.
  5. Dr. Handelman, not my favorite character in the ADHD world, trots out Jay Mandarino as “proof” that ADHD is some sort of gift and is the source of Mandarino’s wildly successful entrepreneurship. That’s a sample size of one. Could you imagine ANY scientist making ANY claim based on a sample size of one?
  6. I must emphasize that we are looking at aggregated data and not the life trajectories of this or that individual. You, or a Dr. Hallowell, for example, would be a statistical blip in comparison to the majority of ADHDers in terms of life success.
  7. This is examined in greater detail in Barkley, et al., ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says. I will shortly be completing my review of this book and will go into greater detail concerning this subject.
  8. In one of my  snarkier moments I wrote, “Look little Johnny. Look at what’s in the box from Aunt Pandora. It’s A.D.D. You’re gonna be an entrepreneur!” From: Unwrapping the Sales Manure
  9. Dr. Handelman noted that “Sometimes children who are very intelligent (referred to as gifted) can be diagnosed incorrectly with ADD or ADHD.”
  10. There has been some writing on the subject of business failures though these books never become big sellers even though they can teach us much more than the “success” stories. See: Examining the Costly Lessons from Business Failures. I would also recommend taking a look at this brief interview with Barbara Ehrenreich who sees positive thinking as a type of delusion. Our inability to hear the Willy Lomans is because it is extraordinarily rare that we hear “negative evidence.” (That’s Nassim Taleb’s term.) We shouldn’t forget that it is always the victor, not the vanquished, who writes history.
  11. See this post where I attribute this type of thinking to the flat earth concept
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  • 18channels

    There's also the issue that people who are already bright who have ADHD are likely to be noticed because of the eccentricity of their orbit through life and the fact that many of us are very vocal. So…we may actually be noticed because we have ADHD…but are bright and creative just because we are…not because of the ADHD…though they then get linked. Uh…I hope that wasn't already in your post somewhere and I missed it and I'm being repetitive…but I'm at work…ADHD multi-tasking at its finest!

    • Jeff

      I didn't phrase it in quite those words but, yes, you are correct. The two definitely get linked/confused.

      • Gina Pera

        Dude — awesome dissection.

        Wish you, 18, Scott et al could meet at Happy Hour for some real "attitude adjustment."

        Have a good weekend all!

        • Jeff

          Thanks! I'm still waiting for the "counter-dissection" from my adversary.

    • gina pera

      Good point, 18. It can never be repeated enough, IMHO. :-=)

  • Scott Hutson

    Ok then, but I will just reiterate in my own way Gina…..ADD ain't made me smart. Looks like I got smartyed up fer nuthin. All jokes aside…Jeff, you have addressed the points that I for one, believe are important to the subject that the original post has evolved into. I am also anxious to participate in the debate, from my own sometimes hard to translate train of thought. In the meantime, I will throw this opinion in the ring…..I don't use ADD as a crutch, no it's the other way around, I use a Jeffs,Ginas, 18's,etc… blogs and my own as a crutch to help me walk on my journey…..with hopes that I may learn to run,,,not away, but to others that may need to use the crutch that helped me.

  • Scott Hutson

    Ok, lets assume, I could just hyper-focus on something(because I wanted to) and then un-hyper-focus(because I wanted to) to redirect my attention to something else (because I wanted to) then re-hyper-focus(because I wanted to). But I wouldn’t have this “cool gift” of hyper-focusing if I didn’t have ADD. So I am so in control of my ADD now, and I can use one of ADD’s “coolest gifts” to succeed.

    And another bonus! My high IQ is caused by ADD. Now I am smart enough to define the word “Crutch”. Hmmm HOLY MOLY! I’m using ADD as a “Crutch” to help me Succeed! And I need to tell the world to use ADD as a Crutch!!

    But the truth is for me, I have ADD and I can’t use it as a crutch, because I just don’t want to succeed. Who does? Why in the world would I want to succeed? I’m so lucky to be able to control my life because I have ADD!

    • Jeff


      You summed it up nicely. [Sarcasm starts here] ADD is the cause of success and failure. And whether it is the cause of one or the other depends on whether you can control the ADD but, of course, the ADD is also a crutch so you can't control the ADD but that's because you have the wrong attitude. Think positively. Learn how to win friends and influence people and you will find that the crutch is not a crutch at all but a "plus" in life. Of course, you may not be able to think very long about the "positive" since your ADD mind will switch to another thought but once you get it back to the original positive thought you will be able to overcome….HEY! LOOK! A SQUIRREL!!! ;)
      [Sarcasm ends here]

  • Paradigm Of Thought

    Oh, it's not my fault that I have not succeed, I've got a disease. I understand now. Not that I haven't tried success, I certainly Kvetch about why I don't have it all the time. And when I fail in every endeavor I just through my hands in the air and say "I give up!" because that's not counterproductive to success. I've been so blind for so long, It's so much easier just to give up than having to convince my friends of the benefits, or even succeed. You, know I just might as well give up! It seems it's on the bandwagon, and everyone knows giving up is not counterproductive to success. But I can continue bitching at my own leisure.

    You see I can do that too. This is what we refer to as the appeal to ridicule logical fallacy. "I find your idea ridiculous, therefor it's not true." It should be carefully noted that neither of you made any new points, you simply decided to ridicule my argument in order to make your argument sound better.

    Why I usually refrain from using this argument? Well, first it makes me look like a douchebag, and second I prefer logical arguments that can be argued against. Not a post of thinly veiled insults.

    In the next post on this blog (at least I hope) will be my rebuttal to this, it is a lengthy rebuttal that covers success, failure, and a small tip on how to train your hyper-focus. Hopefully it will be enlightening.

    Lastly, I would like to make a point on your comment:

    "But the truth is for me, I have ADD and I can't use it as a crutch, because I just don't want to succeed. Who does? Why in the world would I want to succeed? I'm so lucky to be able to control my life because I have ADD! "

    The fact is we are far too often afraid of success because of the failures that may come from taking the risks necessary to succeed. The only reason I have ever found that people fail to succeed is that they don't want to put in the effort or risks. It's so much easier to say I can't, than figure out reasons why you can.

    Thank you for your ill placed response, and lack of notice that it is here, it certainly allowed me to reply in a timely fashion. Now that we are finished poking fun at each other, like a bunch of high schoolers, let's get back to the debate.

    - Paradigm of Thought

    • Jeff

      As we both know…we have both spent many hours writing up our points/counter-points/counter-counter-points so…heck…we have to a little fun…no?

      I assumed that you were…well…like me…and followed the well-known dictum of a famous 17th century philosopher who said "Conquero Ergo Sum" which roughly translates to "I complain (kvetch) therefore I am."

    • Scott Hutson

      Paradigm, first of all, I can honestly say that I am not attempting to personally attack you in any way. We have never met, shook hands and so on. If we did, there is good possibility that we would be able to find many things that we both like about each other. That’s just something I have learned from the experience of living. We can agree to disagree with other, or I can. I won’t assume you will agree with that. My sarcastic way of writing you may not approve of. But to judge me on what you don’t approve of, is not the point. It’s the name calling(bunch of high schoolers,assinine,,,theres more, it’s not my responsibility anymore to point you to words). I have succeeded to accumulate enough money to support my family way beyond the day I die. I own everthing I have. That is not the point of this blog. I enjoy taunting you,so sue me. Being able to find the little boy in myself that can a little fun, That’s success My freind. I debate with a touch a humor, if you think you are ready for it.

      • Scott Hutson

        Just a quick note: Out of respect for Jeff and Paradigm, I promise to not reply with a debate unless I am asked to point out the what I see as a point to debate. I don’t want to interrupt or hurt this very interesting debate. I am always learning and edified by listening too.

        • Paradigm Of Thought

          I appologize, I possibly over reacted, and I refuse to give an excuse for that. Both have you have been very valuable as posters, as well as debaters. I'm just trained to react strongly from appeal to ridicule arguments, I guess given my years of experience arguing atheism and agnosticism. This is no excuse.

          Both of you have contributed valuably to the argument, and I by no means wish to discourage anyone from arguing with me. Scott, I want to say you have an open invitation to argue. I just have one request. As long as the debate is open, please let's keep our arguments within the most basic courtesies, and logical boundaries. I will of course vow to do the same (because my last post was obviously an Ad Homonym attack.

          I look forward to the continuing of the debate.

          • Paradigm Of Thought

            Side note, I agree with you Scott, I believe that all of us will be able to find admirable traits. First thing I can note is both you and Jeff are adamant and tenacious on your side. Passion in things you believe in is an important trait, that I find admirable. And it is well noted that both of you can describe your ideas well in writing.

            Our differences in opinion have nothing to do with my respect for either of you. And I hope we can remain friendly adversaries, because after this debate is over, I predict we will have to agree to disagree, that is not the point. The point of the debating process is who gives the best arguments.

            - Paradigm of Thought

          • Jeff

            Paradigm, just one point. Sometimes the ad hominem arguments and, yeah, some of the high school level humor…is a way to blow off steam. You build up quite a head of steam when you are passionate about something and, well, you need to let it out. Think of it as the virtual equivalent of a pat on the back and sometimes even a manly hug of your adversary.

            • Paradigm of Thought

              I guess I can understand that certain qualities, including logical fallacies and high school humor can be a way to blow off the steam. I guess my opinion was convoluted because debate IS my way of blowing off steam (I usually don't gain any anger or apprehension from debates, but that is purely personal experience). But that is my way, and to each his own.

              - Paradigm of Thought.

  • Scott Hutson

    Exactly! You do see where this could help us all. We can shake hands and return to corners, the fun starts when the bell rings! I think it may be a time to point this out>These corners don't need to be 90 degree's. I know, and would bet a dime to dollar, that at least 4 ppl are watching this. More likely though it is in double digits. I think the Donkey's and the Elephants could learn a lesson from this.

  • Pingback: You Have A.D.D. And You Can Succeed: A Rebuttal By “Paradigm Of Thought” – Part I | Jeff's A.D.D. Mind

  • Scott Hutson

    A note: I wasn't suggesting this is or should be a political debate. But only the good things that can be achieved(I think) when a debate is not restricted to only a few .

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