This article compares the traits of ADHD with the traits of “creative personality types” as described in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – known as the MBTI.
MBTI Personality Types which have score high on both “Intuition” and “Perceiving” personality traits are estimated to occur in only about 12% of the population and 4-6% of women. (Source: ”Please Understand Me” by Keirsey and Bates)
Interestingly, ADHD is thought to occur in 6 – 12% of the population. the estimates of ADHD prevalance varies according to author. Whatever the estimate though, the numbers are so similar they beg for closer scrutiny. This article reviews and compares the descriptions of “MBTI Personality Traits” and what the medical world describes as “symptoms of disorder.”
I seek to answer the question, why is it that in one person, the same behavioral pattern may be considered a personality quirk and in other person it’s a “symptom” of what’s “wrong” with them? My opinion is that (as with beauty) what you call the trait depends on your personal biases. I present my case in the article below.
SIDE NOTE: This was one of my most popular and most commented on articles when it was first published on my Neat & Simple blog in 2008.
Many ADHD traits are actually the same as those of people with “creative personality types” as described in the Meyer MBTI.
What does Creative Personality Type mean?
Having a creative personality type doesn’t mean you are an ”artist” necessarily, though you may be. It’s broader than that. Creative personality type refers to people who exhibit thinking styles and preferences such as: tend to prefer exploring new ways of doing things, take more risks than the average person, challenge the status quo, want to try new things, delight in solving problems, prefer to research and continuously learn new things over implementing routines. They tend to get bored with anything that is too repetitive or that stays the same for too long. They thrive on growth, change and yes, novelty. After all, growth and change implies novelty. Growth is what separates us from machines, but some people are more driven to grow than others. Creative personality types “need” change and growth more than they need “stability” and security.
According to the MBTI I could be either and ENTP or an INFP. What that means is that I tend to be equally I and E – introverted and extraverted – depends on the situation. It also means I’m both T and F – I use both thinking and feeling to make decision – again, depends on the situation. It’s like I’m ambidextrous in both those traits. However, when it comes to intution and perceiving, I score very high. The “N” or iNtuitive” trait means I naturally am always looking for the potential in things, seeing patterns, connections and new possibilities, not just seeing things as they are. The “perceiver” trait means that I prefer to open up new options and possibilities rather than close off options. In other words, I naturally prefer to not make decisions unless it’s really necessary. I’ve come to think of my MBTI type as “xNxP”.
I wonder how creative personality type and ADHD are connected because when you compare the traits of both, it’s striking how similar they are. The main differences seem to be in the degree, frequency, and impact these “traits” have on our lives. Both ADHD and the Creative Personality Types share many characteristics.
Below is a list of ADD traits that I’ve culled from reading ADD books.
COMMON ADD TRAIT DESCRIPTIONS INCLUDE:
- High energy and restless / Hyperactivity
- Takes on too many projects
- Loses interest easily
- High impatience
- May fail to follow through, forget appointments
- Tendency to hyperfocus and not be able to easily break out of it
- Tendency to see everything at once, to think “globally” and see many possibilities at once, making it difficult to make certain kinds of decisions
- Higher than average tolerance for chaos and change
- Often exhibit high risk-taking, high stimulation seeking behavior
- Often hyper-reactive and sensitive – Strong reactions to thoughts, noise, people talking, everything in their environment – may notice everything, or tend to shut down and become inattentive to everything, or a combination of both
- Tend to criticize themselves constantly
- Tend to always be scanning or hunting – looking around for anything that might be new or different, or out of place, looking to make connections, to see patterns, may not even be aware of this. So they seem not to be listening when actually they are trying to take everything in, though sometimes they really aren’t listening because they can’t focus on just one thing that is coming in through their senses
- Highly intuitive thinking
- Inconsistency of attention, mood
Now compare that list with the list below which I made from the descriptions of MBTI ”creative personality types” which have both an “iNtuitive” and a “Perceiving” preference.
Keirsey simplifies the sixteen MBTI types into four groups, whose archetypes he equates with the classical four temperaments: Phlegmatic, Melancholy, Sanguine, and Choleric.
- NT (INTP, INTJ, ENTP, ENTJ): Rational temperament
- NF (INFP, INFJ, ENFP, ENFJ): Idealist temperament
- SP (ISTP, ISFP, ESTP, ESFP): Artisan temperament
- SJ (ISTJ, ISFJ, ESTJ, ESFJ): Guardian temperament
I have never seen anyone group the “NP” preferences as an archetype or temperament but in my work with hundreds of people, I see a pattern that looks like NP could very well be the “ADD” or even “Creative / Disorganized / Clutter-prone” temperament.
According to the MBTI , there are 4 personality types with predominantly “iNtuitive”(seeing the world in terms of it’s possibilities) + Perceiving (preferring improvising over planning) traits. They are:
ENTP (5%) INTP (1%) ENFP (5%) INFP(1%)
The percentages indicate what percent of the population has each personality type. As you can see, these types are clearly a minority. Combined they are found in only about 12% of the population and 4-6% of women. (Source: ”Please Understand Me” by Keirsey and Bates)
As I mentioned before,, ADD is thought to occur in 6 – 12% of the population. So now, let’s take a look at the list of traits I summarized from Please Understand Me” by Keirsey and Bates with my notes in brackets about how this could impact organizing and/or look like ADHD.
ENTP / ENFP TRAITS
- Unusually Enthusiastic, [high energy and high enthusiasm is VERY characteristic of ADD)
- "Apt to express interest in everything" [this makes it very difficult to focus and make choices about how to use your time]
- Characteristically have an eye out for a better way [leads to constantly changing and not sticking to systems you create to organize yourself]
- Always on the lookout for new projects, new activities, new procedures [ a clear link to all those unfinished projects ADD is famous for]
- Always seem to be several jumps ahead [Another hallmark of ADD brains that process informationally globally and often see patterns before others do. Many famous inventors and scientists who made significant discoveries are thought to have had ADD]
The list is stunning, for example, Alexander Graham Bell, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Issac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Galileo and many more.
- Prefers to “improvise” rather than create a detailed plan [Could look like impulsivity, being uprepared, etc.]
- Tends to proceed into action without necessary preparation
- Can succeed in a variety of occupations as long as the job “does not involve humdrum routine”
- In a routine job “they become restless. If a project in which they are engaged is no longer challenging, they tend to lose interest and fail to follow through – often to the discomfort of colleagues”
- “Orderliness in the routines of daily living is not apt to inspire them.”
- ”Not likely to be interested in the routines of daily maintenance”
- “Life with ENTPs is likely to be a daring adventure: this could lead families into physical and economic danger” [The book actually says this...could easily come out of a book on ADD]
- “Apt to react with delight at having an opportunity to improvise a solution to a crisis”
- “Likely to be inconsistent with their attention”
- “May show undependable, fickle characteristics, and be easily discouraged”
- “Always berating themselves for being so conscious of self”
- “Can become bored rather quickly with situations and people, and resist repeating experiences”
- “Enjoy the process of creating “but not interested in follow-through”
- “Can have difficulty picking up on the ideas and projects initiated by others”
- “Extravagant generosity punctuated with periods of frugality”
- “Somewhat unpredictable”
- “Characteristic in their pursuit of novelty”
- “Outstanding intuitive powers”
INTP / INFP TRAITS
- “Can concentrate better than any other personality type” [Obviously similar to hyperfocusing]
- “Once caught up in a thought process, that thought process seems to have a will of its own for INTPS, and they perservere until the issue is comprehended”
- “Impatient with routine details” [Obviously impacts ability to "maintain" traditional organizing systems]
- “The INTP must be given an efficient support staff who can capture ideas as they emerge and before the INTP loses interest and turns to other ideas” [How I would LOVE this! and How unrealistic this is. The book is obviously old enough to remember when most managers had their own secretaries. I had my own Exec Assistant once...it was AWESOME!!!]
- INTPS are often forgetful of appointments and the rituals of daily living unless they are reminded. [Need I say more?]
I think the similarities between creative personality types and ADHD are more than clear. And the link between creativity and difficulty “MAINTAINING” organizing systems is also clear. My theory is that helping people learn how to become more organized by designing organizing solutions that fit their personality and brain type is the most effective way to heal lifelong disorganization tendencies.
People who have been labeled as disorganized for most of their lives, and / or have been labeled ADHD, seem to have consistent personality traits and patterns that in our cultural context make them vulnerable to painful chronic disorganization – unless they have somehow learned the following skills which are just a few of the component skills that are prerequisites to learning how to design organizing systems.
- To appreciate things as they are – not only for what “they could become“
- To accept and embrace that most of the potential they see cannot and does nothave to be fulfilled (This is a skill / habit that makes it much easier to let go of things without deeply grieving the loss of “potential” the things represent.)
- To embrace setting limits on the amount of research they do before making a decision based on the degree of risk involved so that can take action sooner rather than later.
- To purposefully limit the number of ideas they generate in certain situations so they can reduce overwhelm and more easily make decisions
- To design “filters” for easily ruling out options / ideas and automating routine decisions
I’ve learned that organizing “for” people doesn’t empower them…it actually reinforces their feelings of helplessness. When people operate from an assumption that they “can’t” organize themselves it’s almost impossible to develop self-confidence because nearly everything we do in life requires organizing.
Over and over I’ve found that even people who have anxiety, panic attacks and phobias about organizing can learn to organize once they understand their personality type and the sources of their indecision and organizing difficulties. When they realize organizing is composed of skills that can be learned and that can become linked to their natural values and intrinsic reward mechanisms, they begin to flourish.
When they begin to see how creative and intriguing the organizing process can be, and let go of the idea that organizing requires tedious routines, they begin to see a a whole new world of possibilities in the fact that organizing is a custom design process. With iterative practice and encouraging feedback they eventually teach themselves to become “naturally” attracted to the organizing process – in a way that is compatible with their natural personality type.