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ADHD, Brainstorming and New Ideas


“I’ve got an idea!”

It’s a good feeling when some kind of new possibility or realization suddenly materializes in your mind. And, say what you will about how often people with ADHD actually follow through on their ideas, but on the whole people don’t usually fault ADHDers for not having enough ideas to begin with.

If you were to try to come up with some adjectives to describe ADHDers that were more positive than “inattentive” and “disorganized,” you might try out creative.

LightbulbNow, “creativity” is a wide category, and different people are creative in different ways, but there is research suggesting that people with ADHD perform better than average on at least some types of creative tasks, especially on idea generation. One of my favorite posts on here is an interview I did with Dr. Holly White on her research into ADHD and creativity, including an experiment where she asked people with and without ADHD to invent new types of fruit.

Even if ADHDers on average are good at coming up with new ideas, that’s of course going to vary based on the individual.

For me, whether I’m good at brainstorming seems to depend on the situation. I was thinking about this because I do a lot of writing, and the most unpredictable part of writing is always the initial idea of what I want to write about.

The new ideas I have that I find most interesting are the ones that arise spontaneously. I’ll be doing something else and a new idea will pop into head. Or, in the case of writing, I’ll be reading or thinking about a topic, which will suddenly give me an idea of something I want to write about – even if it’s something only loosely related to whatever I was reading or thinking about!

On the other hand, if I try to sit down and say “I’m brainstorming now,” that’s when it gets more difficult to generate new ideas.

Getting a new idea is a little like getting distracted. Not just because both are things ADHDers are purportedly good at, but because in both cases, you’re thinking about one thing, and then an unexpected new line of thought opens up. Just like it’s hard to intentionally get distracted, intentionally telling yourself to come up with new ideas doesn’t necessarily work.

This goes back to the cliché about people getting their best ideas in the shower. It seems like sometimes your brain has to be occupied by something before it can get pulled in an unexpected direction with a new idea. Trying to start out in the unexpected direction right away doesn’t work, because then it’s not unexpected.

To me, that’s why going for a run or even just doing some chores can help with brainstorming. If coming up with a novel idea is partly about getting spontaneously distracted from your routine by a more interesting possibility, that would explain why many ADHDers are pretty good at idea generation. Of course, the problem comes when you start to implement your new idea and then get distracted again by another new idea, but that’s an issue for a different post!

Image: Flickr/shuttermonkey

ADHD, Brainstorming and New Ideas


Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.


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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2019). ADHD, Brainstorming and New Ideas. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/adhd-millennial/2019/12/adhd-brainstorming-and-new-ideas/

 

Last updated: 13 Dec 2019
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