Mental Health “Obstacles” or Entrepreneurial Superpowers? with Johan Wiklund

#009 – Mental health obstacles like ADHD, depression, anxiety, and more are seen as just that… Obstacles. But, what if these “obstacles” were more like entrepreneurial superpowers? 

In this episode, I sit down with Johan Wiklund, a former entrepreneur turned researcher. He has published more than 60 publications about entrepreneurship and mental health and is an established professor at Syracuse.

Johan has studied entrepreneurship and mental health extensively. He bases all of his findings in data, which I find incredibly important. 

And, according to Johan’s research, mental health obstacles might not be obstacles at all. They might just be your entrepreneurial SUPERPOWERS.

Full Episode:

Links:

Johan’s Bio and Research Papers: https://news.syr.edu/faculty-experts/johan-wiklund/

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Full Transcript

This transcript was done by a machine. We apologize for any errors.

Joey Randazzo: (00:03)
Disorganization and problems. Prioritizing impulsiveness, poor time management skills, problems focusing on a task, trouble, multitasking, excessive activity or restlessness, poor planning, low frustration tolerance. These all sound like negative traits, right? You’re probably thinking what are these traits for? These are common symptoms of ADHD, and if I told you that these traits produced really successful entrepreneurs, would you believe me? Remember, traits like poor planning, impulsiveness problems, focusing on a task. What if I told you that common mental health obstacles like depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more could actually be thought of instead of as mental health obstacles could be thought of as entrepreneurial superpowers? Well, there might just be research to already prove this true. In this episode of the podcast, you’ll hear from Johan Wiklund, a professor at Syracuse university specializing in this study of entrepreneurship and mental health. He is considered a leading authority in entrepreneurship research with over 60 articles appearing in leading entrepreneurship and management journals with over 17,000 citations. And as you’ll see through his research, mental health obstacles might just be entrepreneur superpowers.

Joey Randazzo: (01:50)
Hello and welcome to overcoming the mind. My name is Joey Randazzo.

Joey Randazzo: (02:16)
I’d like to thank one of our sponsors, American dream, you American dream. You helps the military members in their families that transition back to civilian life and find their dream job or start a business. Everything they do is 100% free to military members in their families. To learn more, go to American dream U, the letter U. Dot org

Joey Randazzo: (02:37)
as always, if you’d like to listen to the whole on edited version of this episode of the podcast with Johann where we discuss turning mental health obstacles into entrepreneurial superpowers in detail, you can go to overcoming the mine.com backslash nine I found out about Johan Wiklund by reading his research paper called mental disorders in the entrepreneurship context when being different can be an advantage. I was doing my own digging into mental health and entrepreneurship and I found that everything out there was very negative. You know the stats about how entrepreneurs are way more likely to have depression anxiety. So when I saw this paper and after I read it, I was blown away. You know someone out there acknowledging that mental health obstacles are normal, but not only are they normal, they can be a positive thing for entrepreneurship. Someone out there really changing the rhetoric and so I had to get in touch with him.

Joey Randazzo: (03:43)
I found his email on Syracuse’s website and I basically just sent him an email out of nowhere saying, one, I read your paper and it was really great in two, will you be on my podcast? And again, just some random guy emailing him and here it was Johanns response. He says, hi Joey, please call me Johan. I think I called him dr Wiklund. Thanks for reaching out and thanks for your kind words. I love podcasts, parentheses addicted. If you ask the wife, and I’m also passionate about the topic, sorry for my late reply. I have been traveling for over a week, including talking about my research to 500 clinicians, psychiatrists and psychologists in Munich. As you can tell, Johana is incredibly talented and smart. His research is widespread and influential and he’s definitely considered a thought leader in this space. You know, at the time that I reached out to him, he was recently traveling to Munich, talking to over 500 psychiatrists and psychologists about his research. So with that being said, in the rest of this episode, you’ll mostly be hearing directly from him. You know, he’s the thought leader, he’s the expert. So I want to give him as much of the floor to share his expertise. So how does someone at start researching mental health and entrepreneurship? Here’s a bit of Johan story.

Johan Wiklund: (05:07)
I ran into mental health problems and um, for the first time I had context with the mental health profession and uh, I was getting diagnosed left or right, more or less and uh, uh, and ended up realizing that I, I have, um, you know, typical symptoms of ADHD and I’ve had that through my whole life and I was just amazed. But at the same time I got a bit confused because I met recently successful guy. I mean, I’ve been married over 30 years. I have two happy, successful children, not, I’ve done a good professional career. So I thought to myself, well, they point all these negative things, but there’s gotta be some, you know, there’s gotta be some upside because how can I be this successful if everything is wrong with me? So I started seeing, well, there has to be some kind of flipside, some kind of positive

Joey Randazzo: (06:05)
successful 30 year marriage established an influential career. Yet people are telling him that things are wrong with him. And so what does Johann do?

Johan Wiklund: (06:17)
So I essentially cold call a colleague, uh, in psychology, clinical psychology is written more than 200 papers on ADHD. And I said, Kevin, how about, uh, you come and have lunch with me, I treat you to lunch at a nice place. And, uh, he said yes. Uh, I never seen the man before. We went there and I pitched his idea. I said, you know, Kevin, I think that people with ADHD can do really well in entrepreneurship and these are the reasons why I think so. And I said, does that make any sense at all to you

Joey Randazzo: (06:51)
and Kevin being a scholar and being inquisitive? He says, yes, I’m in. And here’s what Kevin also says,

Johan Wiklund: (06:59)
can you say about entrepreneurship and ADHD seems very reasonable. It corresponds to my own, uh, casual observations. So that’s what he said. And I thought to myself, well, if somebody like him coming from the camp, I made EHD, eh, can see these connections and think that makes sense. I’m probably on to something.

Joey Randazzo: (07:21)
So Johan realizes that he’s onto something and he becomes sort of fixated on this idea and he connects with everyone that he possibly can in the scholarly space.

Johan Wiklund: (07:33)
And then of course, over the, over the years I discovered that there are a couple of other people, uh, or a couple of other people over in Europe that have made similar observations. And of course I got in touch with them and since then I’ve been able to build a community of scholars. I’m doing a lot of activities to kind of increase the scholarly interest in this topic.

Joey Randazzo: (08:00)
So that’s Johann story. He goes from getting diagnosed with ADHD and people telling him that he’s got problems to becoming one of the most influential scholars on this subject. But before we jump into his actual research, which is incredibly interesting. We need to understand that Johan, and I believe that from a scholarly perspective, most people think about entrepreneurship wrong.

Johan Wiklund: (08:27)
If you go to school, for example, you’re learning that if there’s high uncertainty, what you’re supposed to do is sit back, collect more information so that uncertainty is reduced and then you start acting well. If you do that in an entrepreneurship, you know the opportunity that might be gone, right?

Joey Randazzo: (08:44)
What Johan is saying is paralysis by analysis. You know, you need a business plan, you need a thorough business plan, you need a comprehensive competitor analysis. You need to have thought through everything. And what’s funny is when I started my business, a lot of people that weren’t in the business community weren’t entrepreneurs. They asked me some of these questions. You know, it’s sort of a societal norm to think these things, you know, have you thought every single little detail through, are you sure you can do it? You know that people fail, but here’s what yo on and I believe about entrepreneurship.

Johan Wiklund: (09:21)
It’s all about writing a based spine. It’s all about analyzing, you know, you can write the most perfect business plan that’s going to take just several months. And I’m, I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna do dis, uh, business plan is to say that the use less, but I mean they certainly have to be paired with a, an an intense level of action. It’s better to actually do something, see what happens and then pivot if things don’t go well.

Joey Randazzo: (09:47)
I agree with Johan and I don’t think that we’re saying that you don’t need to do any research. There’s obviously a ton of value in that. We’re just saying that you don’t need to spend six months on a business plan. You don’t need to get stuck in the minutia to the point where nine months later you still haven’t done anything. And so with that baseline in mind, here’s what Johan has found out about people with ADHD and entrepreneurship.

Johan Wiklund: (10:12)
But I, I found that this thing about ADHD, uh, the fact that it was the ADHD symptoms themselves that seem to be a bear out in entrepreneurship in a positive way. If you, if you have an ADHD diagnosis or if you have the symptoms of ADHD, those are related to inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. And the passivity means that you have a hard time waiting. You’re kind of have this bias for action. You speak before you think for example, or your act before you think, right. And those kinds of things. And if you think about it, entrepreneurship is characterized by a certain, is perfectly suited to somebody who is impulsive. So that was one of those those things that I found absolutely remarkable. And I, I’ve interviewed since then, probably a hundred or I should say, interviewed up, interviewed and spoken to probably close to a hundred people with ADHD, either the diagnosis or a lot of ADHD symptoms. And this comes up all the time. You know, that I, I, I, I’m just, I can’t just sit back and wait. I have to do stuff. I have act.

Joey Randazzo: (11:24)
People with ADHD are willing to take action in a highly uncertain environment. Something that many people can’t do. But that’s just specific to ADHD. What about the other mental health obstacles out there? Well, those can be turned into a superpower and entrepreneurship as well. Here’s the reason why,

Johan Wiklund: (11:46)
and what I’ve noticed is that a lot of these people would essentially both physical, mental disabilities and so forth. Um, they have these feelings that that don’t really fit in the regular job market, whatever, because it’s like all organizations you have, it’s like in any organization, um, you need to be in a certain way in order to flourish in that organization.

Joey Randazzo: (12:16)
Here’s what Johan means. Let’s take company X for example, and company X is set up that if you’re an employee, in order to succeed, you might have to operate in a certain way. You might have to flourish in the nine to five environment. You might be required to work with a large team, or maybe you might be required to work in a really quiet environment coming up with a bunch of creative solutions and might not be wanted at company X. They might have a certain process that they’ve used for 10 years and they want employees to use that process. But let’s say you have ADHD or anxiety or depression that might not be the best environment for you to succeed, that actually might cause you to have lower performance. So here’s what Johan says about how entrepreneurship might be an awesome solution to people with mental health obstacles.

Johan Wiklund: (13:07)
I also think it’s really important to think about the fact that there’s another unique thing about entrepreneurship and that is that you shape the work yourself and you can do that to fit your own strengths and weaknesses. And you know, if you have any kind of disability or a mental disorder, you know, you have certain weaknesses, right? That’s why you have have the disability in the first place. But you have of course develop ways of handling. Do you develop certain strengths? And that’s an entrepreneur. You can actually shape your work to fit that. Like you give me an example, you know, um, I guess I can stay within ADHD and say a lot of people with ADHD, they have disturbed sleep patterns. So Mike wake up like four or five in the morning and might be full of energy. Then of course, if you’re on your own business, you can start working 4:00 AM, but on the other hand, you might crash at 10 and have to take a nap for an hour.

Johan Wiklund: (14:04)
I mean, there’s not a lot of employers who will be happy if you just say it’s 10:00 AM I gotta go take a nap for an hour. I mean, this problem hard. No, and it’s hard for each even find that space, right? But I mean, if you have your own business, I mean, you can have a bit working from home, but you can have a business with 200 employees. I mean, you could do sign it off as so that you know, you have a place where you can have a bed and go and take your nap for an hour. You know, it’s a, so that’s very important.

Joey Randazzo: (14:36)
As the entrepreneur, you’re in control. If you have an a funding or cashflow, you can sort of choose to do whatever you want in your business whenever you want. Uh, all the things that you hate. You can have other people do those things. You can shape your in your own company, but to take it a step further, you can build whatever type of company you want in the first place. Many people with quote unquote mental health obstacles, they’re very creative. You know, they might not be meant to sit in a cubicle from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM every day. They might have more artistic or creative ideas.

Johan Wiklund: (15:11)
We can shape entrepreneurship to be exactly what we want it to be. I mean, you have everything from just talk about scale. You have everything, you know, from, uh, bill Gates and Microsoft at one end to the guy who runs your corner store at the other end. So we can get, so in terms of scale, we had like the full spectrum, right? But also in terms of what you do, you have, you have people that are artistic, you know, but you also have people who run the accounting firms. So it’s, yes, it’s the beauty of entrepreneurship is that you have all that variety.

Joey Randazzo: (15:47)
I know throughout this episode we’ve been painting entrepreneurship to be this perfect solution to people with mental health obstacles. And we know that that’s not always true. There’s a reality that entrepreneurship is a really, really hard, and sometimes it can actually make mental health obstacles worse. So if you’re an entrepreneur with mental health obstacles or you’re thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, how can you know if it’s the right choice for you? Johann recommends asking yourself a couple of questions.

Johan Wiklund: (16:17)
What do you want your life to be? And then the next question is, how can your work helps you becoming what you want to be? And then number three, is entrepreneurship a path for your career that can help you better become what you want to be then regular employment.

Joey Randazzo: (16:40)
And so when answering these questions, you need to be honest with yourself. So the first question, what do you want your life to be? I really like to think about it from the philosophy that how you live each day is how you live your entire life. So what do you want each day to look like? So if you think about it, if starting a business means working longer hours and dealing with potentially more stressed than you have right now in the pursuit of your dreams of starting that business, is that something that you can handle

Johan Wiklund: (17:10)
if you are prone to anxiety, depression, it is important to realize starting a business is very tough. It might be, you know, a good thing where you come out on the other side, but uh, it will be stressful, more stressful than their regular job for that at least during that startup, uh, period. And do you have this strength to, to go through that?

Joey Randazzo: (17:37)
And so for the second question, how can your work help you become what you want to be? You know, do you actually have a legitimate and profitable business idea that can help you live the daily life that you want live? And then lastly is entrepreneurship based on the exercise that you just did, is that going to help you become what you want more than just getting a regular job? The lifestyle that you want, the people that you want to impact, which is going to be better for you and your mental health starting a business or having a regular job. So I want to end the episode with some really empowering scientific evidence that Johann had recently found. You know, there’s a stigma around mental health. If you have anxiety, if you have depression, if you have ADHD, or if you have any other mental health obstacle, you probably personally see that as a weakness and society kind of sees that as a weakness too. But that quote unquote weakness could actually be your entrepreneurial superpower. Here’s what Johan says,

Johan Wiklund: (18:51)
people that you don’t have a mental disorder diagnosed with a mental disorder connection. I performed people without it on a certain circumstance. That’s a very powerful finding.

Joey Randazzo: (19:03)
The stigma around mental health apps tickles needs to be changed. You can have a successful life, you can have a successful business. Keep doing your best. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the overcoming the mind podcast. I’d like to thank Johan Wiklund for coming on and sharing his fascinating and really important research. Johann does not have social media, so if you’d like to learn more about him and read some of his really interesting scientific research, you can simply go to Google and type in the words Johann Wiklund Syracuse in his bio will show up at the top. You can also go to overcoming the mind.com backslash nine and it will have the link to his bio and all of his research papers there. Thanks for listening to this episode of overcoming the mind.

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