Peter Shankman, Entrepreneurial Effectiveness and ADHD

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in a breakfast program with Peter Shankman. Bonnie Halper of Startup One Stop hosts regular breakfasts in NYC, about twice a month, each with a different investor. If you're in or near NYC, you definitely need to check out Bonnie and her programs. I haven't come across anyone in the startup scene who Bonnie doesn't know - a “social capitalist.”

Bonnie Halper (left) and Peter Shankman (right), with Peter Sprague (center)

Peter is a successful entrepreneur, author and investor. You may know him as the founder of HARO (Help A Reporter Out), or the author of Faster Than Normal, or have heard his Ted talks or keynote speeches. He's quite quotable and I've been know to borrow a line from him now and then. I especially like his “I have ADOS - Attention Deficit, Oooh Shiny.”

The breakfast was a good opportunity for me to stop talking and listen. About 15 entrepreneurs were there to ask questions. I learned so much from the Q&A between them. As a coach, it is my vocation to ask questions and listen. At events, I tend to speak more. This was a good reminder to the benefits of shutting up every now and then :-)

Given his media & communications background and talent, Peter is very quotable. He shares some of the most eloquent and meaningful sound bites that I’ve ever heard. Here are a few of the topics from that breakfast which I know you’ll find useful.

Attention Deficit. Peter has ADHD. Studies suggest that there is a high incidence of ADHD in entrepreneurs, which is perhaps why we’re more successful working for ourselves. In addition to the book and his talks, Peter has a popular podcast on ADHD, also titled Faster Than Normal. When unharnessed, ADHD presents a lot of risks to our success and personal well-being. As someone with ADHD, Peter says has only two speeds, “Namaste" and "Cut a Bitch.” On any day, he’s “three bad decisions away from being a junkie.” When you look at ADHD as a strength and not a disability, you develop strategies and tools to use this “faster brain.” Part of his regimen is to wake at 5am for two hours of exercise that is critical to building up enough dopamine to counteract the ADHD for the day.

Having a Tribe. Peter’s waking at 5am means that he goes to bed early, 8:30pm. So is he missing out on all those valuable networking events that often happen after work hours? Not at all. He points out that the “power players and market makers” are up early, on 5am runs, not at the evening networking events. Peter is generous with his time and if you want to chat, take the morning run with him. He says that you don’t need to be “awesome” to meet with him, but you need to be prepared. Do your homework. The “bar is low, so you just need to suck less.” That’s a good perspective to have for anyone you’re seeking to consult. Having a robust network is important because we all need to be part of a “tribe.” Peter is a big proponent of Masterminds (as am I).

Effectiveness. Peter shared a lot of strategies for personal effectiveness. Structure and prioritization is key. For example, he only schedules meetings one day a week. He suggested “Deep Work.” I have a few clients who have read that book by Cal Newport (which includes Peter’s story), sub-titled “Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.” You do not need to have ADHD to be distracted in today’s work environment, whether in an office working with others or when working remote. It’s critical to develop the skill of working on one hard thing at a time without distraction. NPR has a great podcast with Cal. (BTW, Newport also wrote “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” which, like I have previously shared, thinks that “following your passion” is a bad business strategy.) Another tip from Peter was to keep meetings short - one hour shouldn’t be the default unit of meeting.

A few other interesting mentions:

  • He works out of shared office space Regus, which he describes as "your grandfather's WeWork." (FWIW, I can’t be effective at WeWork, either.)
  • “If you can't change people around you, then change people around you.”
  • “Have a backup plan for when you succeed.”

All this for the cost of a coffee and bagel. Who will you listen to and learn from today?

BTW, Bonnie’s breakfasts and our NYC Bootstrappers Breakfast are held at Kettlespace. Coworking from restaurants is really creative. Also at the breakfast was Peter Sprague, Founder of HearGlass, and former Chairman who turned around both National Semiconductor and Aston Martin.

Now are you even more convinced to get out of the office and be part of a tribe?