I’ve never personally been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, since when I was in Elementary school, they weren’t doing that yet. And by the time they did, I’d developed coping mechanisms that helped me to blend into the general population. But I’m certain that if I’d been born just ten years later, my teachers would’ve been pressuring my mother to put me on drugs. The three defining characteristics of ADD are Inattention, Hyperactivity and Impulsiveness. And boy, do I have all three. But, I’ve come to realize that I don’t “suffer” from these symptoms. I’ve been blessed with them. And in today’s post, I’d like to explain why I feel that way.
What is ADD?
ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder, is a way to describe kids (and adults) who lack the ability or willingness to focus on something they don’t care about. Period. When speaking with those, or the parents of those who have been diagnosed this way, I always ask the question: “If you really care about something, do you have any trouble focusing on it?” So far, the answer has always been a resounding “No! Not at all!” So, it’s not actually an issue with focusing. It’s not that kids with ADD can’t pay attention, they simply don’t necessarily pay attention when and to what WE want them to.
Is ADD a “new” condition?
Yes and no. There have always been children who spoke up in class when they weren’t supposed to, had trouble sitting still and had trouble memorizing information that didn’t interest them. Before we invented a medication and then a diagnosis that allowed us to prescribe it, we classified these children as “bad” or “daydreamers” and we punished them for their willful behavior. And, like me, many did learn to conform enough to stop making so many waves.
So no, ADD is not “new”. There has, however, been a huge increase in the individuals who have chosen to be born this way. And there will be many, many more to come. Why?
Because people with ADD are not broken and in need of being fixed. They are the future.
The corporate training ground
In order to understand this fully, let’s look at our school system, the training ground for our society. The model on which our current school system is built, was developed largely in order to prepare the population to work in factories in the Industrial Era. In other words, our current school system is designed to churn out good little workers who do as they’re told, perform repetitive tasks over and over again without complaining, and don’t think for themselves. Individualism is squashed and conformity is not only encouraged, but demanded. Learn what we tell you to, whether you want to or not (and whether it’s actually useful or not). Speak when we let you, be silent when you’re told to be, sit still, play at designated times only, don’t complain and perform to a predetermined and largely arbitrary standard.
Anyone who has ever worked for a large corporation will see the parallels. You are told when to come in and when to leave. You are told when you can eat. You work on projects that are given to you, whether you want them or not and whether they are actually useful or not. You are told how to dress, whether or not you can put a plant on your desk, how to speak and even when to speak. If you complain, you’re a troublemaker. Individualism is squashed and conformity demanded. Your job performance is judged according to predetermined and largely arbitrary standards.
Our school system does a great job of training our kids to be future corporate drones. There’s only one problem: This model no longer works. Conformity breeds mediocrity. If you want innovation, if you want people to truly care about their jobs, about making the workplace, the company, and the world a better place, you have to foster individualism.
We are in the midst of a great evolutionary change
We are constantly evolving and always have been. Right now, at this very moment, we are evolving at a faster pace than ever before. Time is speeding up and the gap between generations is getting wider and wider. You are not the same as your parents were, and your kids are not the same as you. Only, the difference between you and your parents is much smaller in comparison. We are evolving faster.
Each generation comes into the physical a little more awake, a little less willing to be trained out of their connection, a little more demanding that they be allowed to be who they really are. The kids we see today are less willing than any generation before them to conform. And the generation after them will be even “worse”.
But before we diagnose and medicate these kids into conformity, let’s take a look at the “symptoms” and how the current system (both school and work) copes with them:
Again, people with ADD usually don’t have any trouble focusing on something they truly care about. They simply have trouble focusing on anything that doesn’t really concern them. Our current system, however, does not allow students or workers to pick projects based on what they’re actually interested in and what they’d enjoy doing. But why not? Studies have shown that people learn and perform best when they have a high level of interest in the subject. They are much more innovative, creative and make much fewer mistakes. What’s the point in forcing kids to memorize facts which they will never use again and which they’ll forget 24 hours after taking the test? What’s the point of creating useless reports that no one will ever actually look at? Why is it considered “abnormal” to refuse to play that game?
Kids with ADD have a hard time sitting still. They want to jump in class and run and sing and yell when their little bodies tell them to. They have a tremendous amount of energy but refuse to funnel it into activities they don’t care about or on someone else’s schedule. So what? Who determined that people do their best work between 9 and 5? A lot of people don’t, actually. And being more interested in how many hours an employee’s butt is in the seat than in the quality of work he actually produces will lead to employees whose main goal of the day is to get through it. Why do we have to wait until 12 to eat Lunch? Why can’t we eat whenever we are hungry? The office isn’t going to shut down the way the factory line would’ve if you pull out a sandwich. We have become so obsessed with arbitrary rules (how many hours worked, when someone clocked in, if they were 5 minutes late coming back from lunch, if they stayed late or not, if they look good in a suit) that the real goal – running a successful company, designing better products that people actually want, creating an environment that allows and encourages employees to give their very best, has gone right out the window.
So what if someone can’t sit still? Will the meeting really be ruined if someone prefers to stand? Is it good for the company to force people to sit through useless, boring and productivity destroying meetings in the first place? And why is it considered “abnormal” to refuse to play that game?
Kids with ADD get a thought and run with it. They are easily distracted from something they don’t care much about by something they care even just slightly more about. They can’t control their impulses in the way that we’d like them to. They speak up when they want to be heard instead of waiting for permission. They have trouble listening to people go on and on and on about subjects they couldn’t care less about. So what?
Great ideas don’t come on schedule, and when they do pop up, it’s best to run with them before they vanish. Anyone who’s ever had an inspired moment knows that when you get that awesome idea, you can’t wait until later to write it down, talk about it or flesh it out. You have to do it NOW. People with ADD do this naturally. When something interesting occurs to them, they grab a hold of it. Again, if we want innovation, this type of behavior should be fostered, not squashed. I’m certain that if Einstein had been born in this century, he would’ve been diagnosed with ADD. Who decided that we couldn’t think creatively and innovatively at any time of the day? Why do we think that only certain people can have million dollar ideas? Why not allow the entire general populace to use their noggins to come up with the best solutions they can think of? Why is it considered disrespectful for anyone but certain members of the workforce to blurt out questions and solutions? How is society served even the slightest bit by prioritizing those activities and ideas that we are most passionate in absolute last place? And why is it considered “abnormal” to refuse to play that game?
While inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness are the three main criteria for diagnosing ADD, I’d like to add a fourth that can exacerbate the other three. Kids with ADD are often highly intelligent and are generally greatly understimulated by our current school system. In other words, they’re bored out of their little minds. When you add boredom to the above characteristics, you can easily get an individual who not only refuses to pay attention, sit down or shut up, but may act out quite aggressively. And why wouldn’t they? Most people who have been locked up in prison do…
The upshot of ADD
So far, in this article, I’ve described how individuals with the characteristics that are used to label them with having ADD have trouble fitting into our current society. I’ve tried to make it clear that trying to hammer these kids into a mold that no longer works is becoming increasing untenable. The system has to change (and I believe that it is). But there’s one major upshot to having this so-called ADD that I haven’t really seen talked about: the ability to hyper-focus.
While kids with ADD lack the ability and willingness to focus on something they don’t care about, they react very differently to something that really grabs their interest. When they DO care about something, they lock onto it with a laser like intensity. They learn everything they can about it, often at incredible speeds and with perfect recollection. They think about it, talk about it, read about it, write about it, dream about it, imagine ways to make it better, sing about it, evangelize about it, and generally behave like a dog with a bone. A tasty, tasty bone. This ability to hyper-focus can lead to incredible breakthroughs, ideas and innovation.
And yes, I know that some have described this behavior as “obsessive”, to which I have just one thing to say:*gets on soap box* Are you freaking kidding me?! If we’re going to declare any behavior that differs even slightly from the norm a disorder, we’ll have to start medicating the majority of the populace. Oh wait…*gets off soap box* (Sometimes I just have to let the sarcasm out.) 😛
ADD kids are the future
ADD is a sign of evolutionary change. It’s a GOOD thing, even if our society is having trouble keeping up.
- We NEED people who run with their brilliant ideas when they have them. And we have to allow them to practice that, even when their ideas aren’t brilliant yet.
- We NEED people who will joyfully obsess over a problem until they come up with creative and awesome solutions. And we can’t dictate what someone will obsess over.
- We NEED individuals who refuse to tolerate bullshit, cut through useless red tape and find better ways to do things. Today already.
- We NEED people who speak their minds when something doesn’t make sense, ask questions when they don’t understand something, and aren’t afraid to point out when something’s not working. And we have to foster this behavior right from the start.
- We NEED a workforce that’s more interested in doing great work and fostering amazing ideas than clocking 40 hours or showing up at 9 a.m.
- We NEED those who demand to work on something that they are passionate about. Passionate people have better ideas, happily work long hours when needed, dig in until they find solutions, and are much more innovative. And when you put them together with other passionate people, they are much more likely to share. When people know that they’re allowed to have as many ideas as they want, they don’t tend to hoard them.
Things are changing
Having said all of this, I do believe that our society is changing to reflect the type of humans we are becoming. In the technology field, where globalization has made outsourcing to independent contractors around the world standard practice, many workers are no longer paid by the hour, but by the project. If an engineer can complete a design in 30 hours, no one is going to demand that he sit in a chair and “look busy” for another 10. These types of workers often work whenever they want to, and many choose a different schedule than 9-5.
New types of schools, such as the Sudbury Schools, have no curriculum and allow students to learn whatever they want. Contrary to what many feared, students of these schools don’t just sit around playing video games all day. In fact, many learn advanced math and physics well before they would’ve been exposed to these subjects in traditional schools and with much greater success. Put a kid in a physics class and he’ll most likely fall asleep. But if the same kid wants to learn how to build a skateboard ramp, he’ll learn whatever physics he needs in order to complete that task in no time.
More and more companies are introducing flex time, contemplation areas (designed to give employees a bit more freedom with their time and to encourage creative thinking and problem solving), remote working and ways to structure tasks around areas of interest. And while the technology field is leading the way, other companies are following suit. The world is changing, there’s no doubt about it.
I don’t ever actually say that I have ADD, and not because I’ve never been officially diagnosed with it. I don’t consider it a disorder. I don’t consider it something bad. To me, the unwillingness to conform to a broken system or focus on something uninteresting and useless, coupled with the ability to hyper-focus on subjects that I’m passionate about, is a blessing. It’s made me successful in every field I’ve ever entered (because I entered them by choice and was interested in the subject). I learn at lightning speed when I want to, get so deeply immersed in projects that I’ll easily lose several hours, and will tinker with the tiniest of details in order to achieve perfection. As long as give a crap, that is.
So you know what? I think it’s time to change the stigma. If you’re going to declare that you have ADD, don’t hang your head or use it as an excuse to feel inadequate. Say it proudly! You are the future! Shout it from the rooftops! Say it like you know that it’s THESE qualities that are going to help you change the world! Say it with me now: “Thank God I have ADD!”