The bright side with Johan Wiklund
A Professor of Entrepreneurship at Syracuse University and an RMIT University Fulbright Scholar, Dr Johan Wiklund has spent the majority of his academic life studying entrepreneurship, and more recently the link between entrepreneurs and mental health disorders including ADHD, dyslexia and bipolar. According to him, not only do many entrepreneurs share these traits, they could also be the reason for their success.
Johan’s background is not what you’d expect when initially learning about such a prolific academic; for one thing, he never intended to go into research. His first foray into tertiary education was mechanical engineering, and the reason behind this choice was simple: he needed it to take over his family’s 100-year-old business. Unfortunately, after his mother became seriously ill his family had to sell and Johan’s future became uncertain.
It was a little bit of luck and lot of hard work that resulted in Johan getting his first job with a university. A friend recommended him for a position in international relations in Sweden and from there he was totally hooked. After seeing academics up close and personal, Johan was immediately attracted to the flexible nature the work and the ability to pursue passion projects, and soon began a PhD in entrepreneurship.
Two decades later and Johan is an incredibly successful academic. With over 60 articles, and over 21,000 citations, he is considered a leading authority in entrepreneurial research. And as the recipient of the inaugural RMIT Fulbright Scholarship, he is currently studying how Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and bipolar conditions could be assets in entrepreneurship and business.
“People with ADHD, dyslexia, bipolar, etc. often have problems in life, such as getting or keeping a job … the basic hypothesis is that these people might do well in entrepreneurship and the reason for that is that you can shape your work according to your strengths and weaknesses, you can design your own job,” explains Johan. “For example, these people might have disturbed sleep patterns so they might need to get up at 4.00am to work but then take a nap at 11.00am -- things like that. The other thing is that there is a lot of uncertainty in entrepreneurship and most people shy away from that because it gives them anxiety, but people with these traits tend to enjoy risk-taking, are attracted to uncertainty, and like to improvise rather than plan. So their style of decision making and their way of being fits very well with entrepreneurship.
But this isn't his first study on the topic. Since 2014 he has conducted several studies, finding that not only are people with these diagnoses more likely to be attracted to entrepreneurship, they are also more likely to succeed. “It’s pretty remarkable,” says Johan. “Although these people have more problems ranging across drugs, alcohol, anxiety, depression -- they do really well in entrepreneurship.”
Johan’s passion for the subject is infectious. He’s deeply invested in creating positive representation for people with these issues to help counteract the prevalent negative one, commenting that “the problem with clinical psychologists and psychiatrists is that, for good reason, they are trained to see what is wrong with people. So I just want to get the message out that there can actually be a flip side.” But there are also other factors at play. The study Johan is currently undertaking at RMIT will not only evaluate how these mental issues intersect with entrepreneurship, it will also look at how self-care can affect business outcomes.
“Entrepreneurship can be very stressful. Positive self-care such as exercise and meditation can be very helpful, whereas negative self-care -- drugs and alcohol, eating badly and not sleeping can have negative consequences, particularly in the long run. Self-care is likely particularly important for vulnerable populations, such as those with the traits we’re interested in. So that’s what I’m interested in. To what extent do entrepreneurs engage in positive and negative self-care and what are the consequences for teamwork, performance, well-being and so on.”
“Our survey targets anyone who is trying to start a business, anyone who is already running a business and anyone involved in a new venture -- so we’re casting a wide net,” says Johan. There are benefits in taking the survey. Everyone who takes part will get a summary of the overall results as well as their own profile. That way they can benchmark how they compare to other entrepreneurs. We will also hold workshops or seminars to discuss the findings.”
If you’re interested in taking part in Johan’s study and learning more about entrepreneurship you can complete his survey here: