Creativity in Individuals and On Your Team

Dr. Deborah G. Estes

A recent study on creativity in adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) suggested that, on average, adults with ADHD have higher performance on some measures of creativity. The researchers, Holly A. White, University of Memphis, and Priti Shah, University of Michigan, work was published in with the following abstract:

Previous research has suggested that adults with ADHD perform better on some measures of creativity than non-ADHD adults (White & Shah, 2006). The present study replicated previous findings using a standardized measure of creativity (the Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults, Goff & Torrance, 2002) and extended previous research by investigating real-world creative achievement among adults with ADHD. Results indicated that adults with ADHD showed higher levels of original creative thinking on the verbal task of the ATTA and higher levels of real-world creative achievement, compared to adults without ADHD. In addition, comparison of creative styles using the FourSight Thinking Profile (Puccio, 2002) found that preference for idea generation was higher among ADHD participants, whereas preference for problem clarification and idea development was greater among non-ADHD participants. These findings have implications for real-world application of the creative styles of adults with and without ADHD.

These findings may not surprise many educators and team leaders, because we have anecdotal evidence of our students and team members that can’t sit still for certain types meetings having great participation in brainstorming or in finding new business solutions in their individual work. In thinking about the suggestion that their may be advantages to ADD/ADHD is more simple, it is time we recognized that individual differences, or even recognized handicaps can be and advantage when we leverage those differences recognizing their strengths as well as their weaknesses.

Rick Green’s article on the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) site entitled, ADHD and Creativity: A Double-Edged Study?, asks the question whether this is a benefit or yet another way to fail for ADHD adults.

But this new study is a double-edged sword. For ADHDers struggling with finances, relationships and work, it’s a relief to hear about the positive side to a mind that flutters out of control. For ADHDers with some mastery over their symptoms, it confirms that a mind that doesn’t filter incoming signals as well as most people’s can be an asset in certain situations. However, for ADHDers who are not creative, this could be taken as yet another failure, as in, “Wow, I can’t even do ADHD right!”

The other reason for caution is that studies and statistics are tricky. When a study indicates that people with ADHD score higher on average on creativity tests, a news reporter, who majored in English instead of Stats, might blithely report, “Well folks, it appears that if you have ADHD, you’re more creative than the rest of us.” Woah! Not so fast.

The study simply suggests ADHDers are, on average, more creative. That doesn’t mean non-ADHDers are not creative, or that all ADHDers are! To use a simple example, on average, women live longer than men. Yet George Burns lived to be 101, while his wife, Gracie Allen, died at 69. George and Gracie weren’t even ‘exceptions to the rule.’ There is no ‘rule’ that men have to die younger. George and Gracie just weren’t average.

Who wants to be average anyway? Recognizing our talents and abilities, and leading our teams and managers to leverage those talents and abilities generates better results and enables teams to achieve more.

Dr. Estes can help your educators, trainers, team leaders, project managers and even your Board and Management Team ‘bring their brains to work’ and achieve more through her keynote speeches, training events and workshops.


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