One of the things many people embrace about their ADHD is the creativity that it allows them to access and express. But is this just a coincidence, or is ADHD really capable of making someone more imaginative, artistic, or inventive? Let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon to understand why ADHD and creativity have become closely linked.
The Gift of Divergent Thinking
Divergent thinking is considered to be a hallmark of creativity. This term describes the ability to come up with multiple ideas from a single starting point or open-ended suggestion. It’s almost like a combination of problem-solving and brainstorming, with a focus on original and inventive ideas. Someone who is a strong divergent thinker is capable of coming up with not only a greater number of ideas, but also ideas which are particularly creative and unique.
As it turns out, people with ADHD have been found to be better at divergent thinking that those without ADHD. In one study, for example, participants were tasked with coming up with as many uses as possible for a common object, like a brick. People with ADHD outperformed those without the disorder by coming up with a greater number of inventive uses for the object.
A Positive Spin on Impulsivity
Impulsivity is a common ADHD symptom. It’s also one that’s primarily viewed in a negative way. It might come out as a child interrupting someone over and over again or as an adult making rash purchases without thinking about their finances.
But when it comes to creativity, impulsivity can be a good thing. In fact, it may be the main contributing factor in why people with ADHD tend to be skilled at divergent thinking. Because they don’t have the same inhibitions as others, they’re more likely to let their creativity flow and come up with especially unique and imaginative ideas.
Impulsivity allows people with ADHD to explore concepts without an inner critic telling them to hold back or to be more realistic or practical. They have less fear in approaching new ideas and situations, and they’re willing to take risks. It’s easy to see how this can lead to exceptionally creative outcomes.
Thinking Outside the Box
Another key feature of creativity is the ability to overcome knowledge constraints. This is basically just another way of describing the ability to think outside the box. Knowledge constraints are things we already know and understand. To overcome them, you have to be able to think beyond what’s familiar and come up with something entirely original. It can be more difficult to achieve than it sounds, because when it comes down to it, we’re already wired to think within the framework we know as reality.
However, studies have found that people with ADHD are typically better at overcoming knowledge constraints compared to those without the disorder. A notable study tasked college students with coming up with an imaginary alien fruit that exists on another planet. The students with ADHD were able to come up with fruit ideas that were markedly more different from any real-life examples found on Earth. This is just one example of how people with ADHD can exhibit higher levels of creativity by being less constrained by knowledge.
People with ADHD often exhibit inattentive symptoms. They might have trouble staying on task or paying close attention to details. Their thoughts wander, which can make certain school or work activities more challenging.
But this same symptom can also provide bursts of creativity. When people with ADHD get lost in what seems like a daydream, their thoughts drift from the current activity or environment and unleash their imagination. This can be a fruitful period of creativity as the mind explores new ideas.
Famous Creatives with ADHD
If you have ADHD and find that moments of impulsivity or periods of daydreaming tend to be particularly fruitful for creative ideas, you’re not alone. There are many others who have found that a creative ADHD mind can lead to exciting outcomes. Some of the famous individuals who have attributed their success in part to their ADHD include:
- Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group of companies
- will.i.am, member of Black Eyed Peas and record producer
- Alejandro González Iñárritu, Oscar-winning director
- Scott Kelly, Hall of Fame NASA astronaut
- Michelle Carter, three-time Olympian shot putter
- Steve Madden, fashion designer and businessman
- Ty Pennington, television host and carpenter
- Terry Bradshaw, TV sports analyst and former NFL player
- Tim Armstrong, former CEO of America Online
- David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue and four other airlines
How to Foster Creativity with ADHD
Study after study has found a link between ADHD and creativity, with symptoms like impulsivity and inattention repurposed in a positive way. But simply having these symptoms doesn’t guarantee a life filled with inventive ideas and exciting artistic pursuits. You’ll have to learn how to harness your ADHD-related strengths and put them to use.
For example, you might want to use periods of hyperfocusing to brainstorm new ideas or work on an artistic project. But that requires some discipline and planning to make sure you’re not only making the best use of your time, but also ensuring that important responsibilities don’t fall through the cracks.
Distractibility can lead to new ideas, but you still need to pay enough attention to get those ideas down on paper if you want to use them. There may be impulsive symptoms that manifest in negative ways, like overindulging in food or alcohol. But if you can direct your impulsivity into creative pursuits, you’ll find that this symptom can potentially have a positive effect on your creative pursuits.
At Done, we believe that with the right treatment, ADHD doesn’t have to hold you back. In fact, it might even allow you to access your own superpowers, whether that’s creativity or something else. If you’d like to find out more about how Done can help you, get in touch with us today to learn more.