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Ideation: Why Project Teams should include someone with ADHD

The lack of inhibition that makes ADHD vulnerable to inattention may be particularly helpful during creative problem-solving session.

Lateral Thinking, also referred to as Divergent thinking, is the ability to envision multiple points of view, or multiple aspects, of a given situation.  If you want a wide range of out-of-the-box ideas and creative solutions go to someone who thinks laterally, who can look at things with a mental wide-angle lens to see the whole horizon.   People with ADHD are natural lateral thinking.  The same lack of inhibition that makes them vulnerable to inattention may make them particularly helpful during creative problem-solving.

While at the University of Memphis, Dr. Holly While and her colleague Priti Shah of the University of Michigan conducted a study of creativity with ADHD and non-ADHD subjects in grad school using the FourSight Thinking Profile developed by Gerard Puccio in 2002. Subjects who did not have ADHD tended to be Vertical, or Convergent thinkers.  They gravitated toward Clarifying, the first of four problem-solving phases posited in the FourSight Thinking Profile.   Going into action is the Implementation phase.  The Implementation phase was found to be distributed equally among both ADHD and non-ADHD subject groups in Dr. While’s study.  It is not surprising that subjects with ADHD showed a heavy preference for the other two phases, Ideation and Development.  Ideation is a key component of Brainstorming.

Creativity is the playful exploration of thoughts by a person who is open, curious and imaginative, and lateral thinking expands the possibility horizon to allow more of it.   When lateral thinkers feel less confined by time, pressure, and judgement they can open up to multiple possibilities at once.  Brainstorming is an intense immersion in creative play and a preferred state of ADHDers. This may be true for a number of reasons, including that brainstorming

  • is a process of expansion, synthesis and intense interest stimulation that excite the ADHD brain. 
  • tends to be judgement-free.  A well-designed Brainstorming Session encourages playful exploration without judgement and precludes confrontation.  Judgement and confrontation are the biggest excitement killers for ADHDers during this phase and should be avoided.   
  • is supported by less inhibition, an ADHD characteristic.  People with ADHD often report feeling especially gratified and appreciated for their creativity by their peers in this phase.

Beware of analysis paralysis, a common problem in many projects.  When the more creative aspects of problem-solving are complete then it’s time to make decisions, and lateral thinkers may need the support of vertical thinkers to get the job done.  More options on the table adds to the complexity of distilling the optimal path to success, with the details and minutiae of profane realities to consider.  Clarifiers are more likely to get excited about the winnowing process, and function well in that capacity.  Enlist the help of a Clarifier to establish functional boundaries like deliverable schedules and milestones.  Time-block brainstorming sessions to help lateral thinkers be creative within a time-context.  Without a time-block expectation, lateral thinkers may resist finishing when they are ‘on a roll’ and may lead to dissatisfaction.

In summary, having at least one Lateral Thinker included on a team project, especially during discovery, sets the entire team up for success.  Just make sure at least one Vertical Thinker can lead clarification efforts and expectations.

Please share your insights, views and experiences to enrich the conversation.

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