Category Archives: Calling

ADHD at Work: Hunter or Farmer…What are You?

Adventure. Risk. Creativity. Novelty. Intensity.

I am a hunter – at least, I am according to Thom Hartmann. In his 1994 book, How to Succeed as a Hunter in a Farmer’s World, Hartmann created the perfect metaphor for those with ADHD. Those of us with ADHD come from the tribe of hunters; the rest of the world is dominated by farmers.

Farmers are in full control of their executive faculties. They are comfortable with systems, routines and organization. They make sure schedules are maintained; they’re experts in logistics; they crave surety and security – they don’t like unnecessary deviation. When they take a risk, it is calculated, with every pro and con weighed, analyzed and thoroughly vetted. Farmers run the world – the world doesn’t run without them. Roughly 90% of the people roaming the earth are Farmers.

The hunter is driven to explore, with highly evolved instincts – especially as he or she moves stealthily through a jungle filled with traps, snares and challenge. That’s an environment  in which the hunter thrives and feels most alive.

Those with ADHD possess these traits. With a need to experience frequent hits of dopamine, hunters have a constant need to experience novelty. They do this by taking risks that are fueled by intense curiosity, the desire to create, the need to tread into the unknown. Uncertainty isn’t something to be feared, but to be savored.

Unfortunately, as mankind evolves in this technology and data driven world, there is less and less need of the hunter. This is a farmer’s world.

Think about it – there are very few professions in which the hunter’s skills are needed. Take a look at any job board – business values stability, predictability, management. A guy sitting at a desk fidgeting with algorithms will pull down six-figures while a woman out cold calling prospects will be phased out in favor of automated sales funnels. The job fields are awash in the need for data shepherds, spreadsheet wranglers, system architects.  Farmers.

However…

Hartmann’s book, along with research that has been done since its publishing in 1994, has identified an area of business life that tends to be dominated by hunters: the world of entrepreneurship. A preponderance of entrepreneurs possess ADHD. In fact, one such entrepreneur – Jeff Neeleman, CEO for JetBlue – says that ADHD is an indispensible factor in his success.

This backs up what Syracuse University researcher, Johan Wiklund, has discovered as he delves into the connection between ADHD and entrepreneurship.

“Those with ADHD tend to spur themselves into action regardless of uncertainty,” Wiklund told Jonah Sachs in a story he wrote for Fast Company (June 29, 2017). “An impulsive inability to wait comes with a willingness to take risk. The ADHD entrepreneurs I studied struggle. But if they had a chance to be like everyone else, none of them would take it.”

He makes the point that quite often the attributes that make people comfortable with being an entrepreneur, are the exact reasons why they are edged out of traditional positions or roles within an existing organization. These attributes make them far more competent in striking out on their own.

I can relate.  In the last job I had my supervisor often labeled me a “cowboy”. I liked to go against the mold, break out of the routine. She wanted a more systematic, predictable mode of operating. I don’t blame her. That’s what managers want most – predictability.

So, wanting very much to keep my job, I reigned in experimentation and risk-taking. What happened is we traded big wins for smaller, more consistent wins. I would argue that those smaller, more consistent wins were opened up because we had some big wins first. Either way, while the smaller, more consistent wins were more palatable, the systems bored me. Systems are for farmers.

I am a hunter.

Perhaps the saddest thing I see in business today are the number of people who have a proclivity for traipsing through the forest with a spear in their hand, trying to fit in by trading the sword for a plowshare, the spear for a hoe. Hunters have the blood of thoroughbreds, built to race, to feel the wind in their faces. Now, because they live in a farmer’s world, they’ve hitched themselves to plows, tilling a field methodically.

As a manager – someone charged with producing results, utilizing all your assets to meet or exceed goals and expectations – why would you ever strap a harness and plow to a thoroughbred?

The problem is that most managers today are farmers who either don’t know what do with, or how to value what a hunter brings to the team. How will you use a hunter’s innate need to roam free when you expect a certain amount of discipline from your other team members?

First, understand what your people bring to the table. Is there an entrepreneurial role within your universe? Do you need someone who is willing to take risks, possibly fail? Will you give them the freedom to risk and fail?

Second, one way to get the most out of a team member with ADHD is to pair them with a farmer who is tolerant of the hunter’s idiosyncratic ways.  To a certain extent your farmer will manage the hunter’s results, track progress, complete the paperwork and make stuff is filed properly.  This can work.

So, is there a need for hunters in a farmers’ world?

Absolutely. In fact, while our culture honors and rewards farming activity on a day-to-day basis, it is the hunter who moves the culture forward. There are effective hunters in every industry, every walk of life, who contribute mightily. The key is to allow hunters to be hunters. Invest in them. Tolerate a degree of uncertainty, value novelty and exploration. You don’t have to give up your systems. To the contrary, simply because of demographics, if you have a workforce of 100 people, only 4-6 will be true hunters.

Some researchers have called ADHD the “entrepreneurial gene”, a sort of missing link. So, what happens when you have someone with ADHD as a manager? The key is support. That manager must have people around her who can manage the details. This allows her to employ her best skills – maybe as a dreamer, an inventor, a visionary, someone who inspires others to greatness. Just make sure someone is there to keep her calendar and remind her of appointments.

If you have ADHD and you have battled fitting into a farmers world without much success…break free and claim your place among the hunters!

That’s easier said than done, I know. But, it’s worth exploring. You’ll be happier. You’ll contribute more in every way. And, you’ll be more in alignment with your true path.

You are a hunter. Pick up your spear!

Chasing Disasters – An ADHD Symptom

My friend Tom is a disaster chaser.

You’ve probably seen these guys on the Weather Channel – storm chasers. They sit in Midwestern cornfields watching  Doppler radar on their laptops like therapists observing an embattled couple practice relational Aikido in a closed room.

They are in absolute rapture when they see purple blobs suddenly emerge  on a screen of deep green.

Tom is kind of like that.

Tom is a pastor. More to the point, a replacement pastor for a major denomination. When a regular pastor leaves his or her position in a church, Tom is assigned to fill-in until a new, permanent pastor is placed. This suits him fine.

He’s okay with this arrangement because he is also a spiritual team leader for an elite group of professionals who are first responders when an a cataclysmic disaster occurs somewhere in the world.

He was part of a team that was first-in when Hurricane Katrina had hit. He also stood amid the rubble in Haiti after that horrible earthquake destroyed Port Au Prince and took the lives of thousands.

The way Tom tells it, he absolutely lives for these disasters. Admitting that it’s a somewhat odd position for a pastor to take, he also says he feels most alive when he’s suddenly thrust into these devastating circumstances. It’s a rush.

Tom has ADHD. He takes his adderall faithfully. When he walks into the theater of pain, suffering and destruction, he takes charge and makes a difference.

He also can’t balance his checkbook to save his life. He won’t become a permanent pastor because either he’ll get horribly bored by the routine, or he’ll screw up the administrative duties (or both).

He is living proof that we with ADHD are disaster chasers. All too often we create our own disasters (to our ultimate detriment) in order to feel alive. The adrenaline begins to rush when we say something unedited to our spouse or boss. We manufacture chaos when we can’t get the report right or we forget to pick-up a child from school. We drive significant others to madness when we suddenly begin dialing up Google to look up movie times while in the middle of an intense conversation. We’re really good at creating disaster.

And we can take a lesson from Tom.

He learned early on that his lack of focus and attention would be a detriment in serving the routine needs of congregants. He tried it, and it felt like a slow and torturous death.  However, while he may have lacked the ability to sustain focus, he didn’t lack the deep, compassionate heart a pastor must possess.

So, he applied his innate skills, love of God, sense of purpose and mission to taking on some of the most devastating natural disasters mankind could face. Tom’s skills are at their best in the midst of mass suffering. He feels most alive when rubble and rabble surround him. He is stimulated and challenged while serving a greater cause. It is admirable how he positioned his life to be of service.

He doesn’t beat himself up for his inability to keep track of expenses or appointments. He laughs about it. Of course, it took his wife a while longer to appreciate the humor, but she did catch on, and now happily provides the support he needs to be successful.

Yes, we are disaster chasers – and we can all take a lesson from Tom in how to be successful in chasing down our storms.

The Insidious Art of Self-Betrayal

When I was in college I had a friend who had a friend (call him Joe) who was going to UCLA. He was pre-Med. His grandfather, father, and older brothers all preceded him – they went to UCLA, graduated from medical school, became doctors. Plus, during their school years none received less than an “A” in any class. With brilliance and perfection, they successfully navigated the life path that was set before them.

Joe was following in those mighty footsteps. That is, until his Senior year when he received a “B” in one of his classes. Distraught and unable to face his father and brothers with the blemish on the family record, Joe bought a gun and put a bullet between his ears.

While this is tragic enough, the story is even sadder – Joe didn’t even want to be a doctor.

A gifted illustrator, Joe wanted to be an artist.

While this is an extreme example, how many of us betray our true path in life? How often do we co-opt a dream to satisfy some external pressure or expectation? How often do we lay down our life for the sake of pleasing someone else?

I’m not talking about the courage of a soldier sacrificing his life so others might live – that’s heroic and different.

There is nothing heroic about forfeiting natural gifts, or the plan associated with those gifts, so that others might be pleased.

Obviously there are practical concerns. We all need to take care of our families, meet obligations, earn a living. That’s good. But, depending on the survey, 50-75% of the workforce either hate their job or are looking for something new.

If we’re working for a paycheck, then we also should be seeking our true calling – especially if we hate the job we’re in! The problem is that we often do not know the true nature of our calling.

In the first section of my book (shameless plug) I have an exercise that’s helpful in seeking out and identifying our calling. It focuses on the stuff we enjoy doing, we’re interested in doing, and that we’d do for free. Quite often you can take on your calling while you still work to pay the mortgage. All you have to do is give yourself permission to move forward.

Moving forward – isn’t that a big part of an authentic life?

I wish my buddy’s friend at UCLA would have given himself permission to not be a doctor, to pursue his art. And, I’ve met so many people who carry something dead inside because they aren’t living their calling. Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath and quit betraying themselves.