Management Outside the Box

Embrace difference to enhance your business

As I stated in my About page I have ADHD.  I admit, I was one of the lucky ones who had a great doctor who helped me learn how to control it and use it to my advantage.  That being said I will never fully control my ADHD, but I can do my best to keep it under control.  ADHD is a lifelong struggle, and one that is not visible which makes it harder to understand for others.

For me this means I’m socially awkward and honestly don’t really understand people.  Most of the things people take for granted is a mystery to me.  Things like social cues, accepting something as good enough, not looking for the next challenge, all these things are foreign to me.

Social Queues

Say you’re talking to someone and I want to talk to you too. I know enough not to interrupt but when you’re done with that person I will try to stop you and talk to you not realizing that you intend to talk to someone else.  Then maybe I will try to strike up a conversation about something I remember from a while back and it will fall flat and look like I’m just trying to suck up.  In reality I’m just trying to act “normal” because I’ve seen others do that and figure it’s what’s expected.

There’s also the situation where someone comes up to me and starts talking and I briefly acknowledge them then move away.  In my mind I’ve got another goal and am trying to reach that goal, it’s not that I don’t value you or you attempt to engage with me, it’s just I’m not good at understanding it’s time to set aside that minor goal and focus on you.  Again I’m not trying to be rude, I just don’t understand social cues like everyone else.

Quick note: When I was tested and diagnosed with ADHD I was also tested for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and while the things above do sound like ASD I was shown to not be on the ASD spectrum.  These traits are ADHD related, not ASD.

It’s good enough

This is one that drives me crazy.  I look at things and think about how they can be improved, I’m always amazed at how so many people will say “it’s good enough so why change it?”.  To me everything can be improved, I understand not being on the bleeding edge all the time but becoming stagnant and being fine with it makes no sense to me.  To me not wanting to innovate and improve is like wanting to lay down and die.

Looking for the next challenge

My brain basically has two modes, warp 9 (make it so) and off.  I’m always looking for a challenge to engage my brain and keep me busy.  It’s hard to understand but my brain is always working on multiple things.  Let me give you an example to help you understand, picture a computer and you have 4 programs running, all actively working on projects.  What I just described is a view into my brain all the time.

Now before I go any further let me say I like my job, I’m happy to have it, and have no intention of leaving the company.  That being said it is a bit dull and repetitive, sure there are times when it gets challenging but for most of the time it can be a bit dull.  I’ve had to adapt things to keep myself focused, and for one I gamified my work.  I track my work and then at the end of the day upload the number completed to a spreadsheet that feeds a heavily modified spreadsheet with lots of formulas.  This gives me a goal every day, I have things in place to highlight a number below a certain level in red, and above a certain level in purple.  So now my daily goal is don’t get red, get purple, and I have a tracker on the side of the spreadsheet to keep track of my red and purple days.  I also have monthly and yearly averages, kind of a personal “score”.

Sounds like enough, right?  Nope.  I can still get bored, so I spend all night listening to podcasts and audiobooks.  At this point I consider my Audible subscription a work related cost.  And even then my brain is working on other problems.  I’ll give you an example from last week, earlier in the week I listened to my favorite tech podcast, Security Now, and they were talking about IP addresses and MAC addresses in relation to the broader topic.  Then later in the week I’m working away at my job, listening to an audiobook I was thoroughly enjoying and in the back of my mind I was working on an idea I had while listening to Security Now to build a universal physical address system combining amateur radio grid squares and IP/MAC addresses.

That’s how it works for me, as counter intuitive as this sounds I’m more able to focus on my work when I’m distracted, or should I say when my brain is distracted.  I’m able to focus on my job when my brain is being distracted with things I find engaging or interesting….or both in this case.  All this isn’t to say I can’t focus on one thing, in fact when I really get interested in something it can be my sole focus.  Give me a project I can really get excited about and I will lose myself in it.

So what’s the point?

Why am I writing all this?  The point is there are a lot more people out there like me than you know.  I’m a big fan of the website Reddit, and one of the subReddits I follow is r/ADHD along with countless others.  I’ve seen in various ADHD related subReddits where people talk about bringing up their ADHD during job interviews and how the mood instantly changed.  And to be honest I’ve seen this myself, I had really great interviews and when I brought up my ADHD the mood of the interviewer changed instantly and the interview would be over.

While ADHD is covered under the ADA, I just don’t bring it up now.  I’m not asking for special accommodations, or treatment, I just want to be held to the same standards as my coworkers.  And this is the advice I see on these ADHD subReddits, don’t tell employers you have ADHD they won’t hire you.

There is a bias against people with ADHD, and that’s sad because we have a lot to offer if put into the right job.  Sure someone with ADHD might not be a good fit for an assembly line job, but put that person in a job that requires thinking creatively and outside the box and we can excel.  Just look at my example from before, no one asked me to come up with a universal address system, I just had the idea and started working on it.  It’s completely outside the box and requires thinking creatively to work it out, in other words perfect for someone with ADHD.

How can employers harness ADHD?

The first step is making sure those with ADHD know they won’t be discriminated against.  This is not an easy task, we’ve seen so much discrimination that we will be less trusting at first.  The key will be sticking with it and consistently showing that you won’t discriminate.  Eventually employers will become known as non-discriminatory and employees will become more open about their ADHD.

Next is about finding the right position to harness the ADHD mind, find out what really drives the person, and what can really keep them focused.  Maybe that means they won’t be a good fit for your company and that’s ok but it also doesn’t mean you can’t hire them.  I’ve worked jobs where I honestly wasn’t a great fit for the job at first, but found aspects of the job that engaged me or found that another position within the company is a better fit. 

Hiring people is about taking a chance on someone, and once you get in them the door you can readjust as needed.  Maybe that means they aren’t a good fit for the position but would work great in a different division with an opening that would harness their talents.  The key is managers understanding the business as a whole and seeing ways to use someone’s talents even if it means boosting a different part of the company other than their own.

No one ever said management was easy, but that’s the job and you should know that going into the job.  The key is to understand the needs of those you manage, to work with them to help them excel at their job and in turn they will make the manager look good.  Sometimes the best look is the willingness to let go of a person to boost another part of the company, this not only shows you understand the needs of employees and the company as a whole, but improves your chance at promotion because you are seen as an effective manager.  This is a win/win/win, the employee got a job they can excel at, the company gets a dedicated employee instead of a basic wage earner, and you get recognition for helping the company succeed.  


Understanding your employee’s needs isn’t easy, but it’s what every effective manager has to strive for.  You won’t be able to understand everyone’s individual needs but if you put in the effort and show you are trying, more employees will feel like they can open up to you about their needs and will make it easier for you to help them succeed.  But this will only happen once employees understand you’re open to helping them, and then they will help you.

Obviously I’ve focused on ADHD in this post, it is what I have the most experience with, but there are other challenges people face that need attention.  If managers see behaviors they think might need help, they should privately pull the person aside and talk to them about it.  Don’t be accusatory about it but just let them know what you are seeing and ask how you can help.  Not only can this improve efficiency, but if handled correctly it can lead to a more loyal and dedicated employee.


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