The Gift of ADD and Communication

Roughly 12 years ago, my oldest daughter Kati was diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). The Psychologist, Dr. Rosenrosen, told us that it was hereditary. Upon hearing that, my wife looked at me and said, “Well, THAT explains a lot!”

But ADD is not a death sentence. It’s a gift. Not only can you have an entirely different conversation going on in your head as you speak (or in my case, give a seminar), you can learn skills that make you amazingly effective as a sales person, allowing you to keep multiple balls up in the air at once. Disability? What disability?

In my job as a sales coach, I am awed by the number of undiagnosed ADD reps I work with. They’re easy to spot—just listen for the oral diarrhea and a thought process that jumps from subject to subject with no apparent direction or purpose. If I can’t make sense of what they are trying to say, I can only imagine what their customers and prospects must be thinking.

I remember asking Dr. Rosenrosen how it was that I successfully made it 38 years as a salesman (read: “communicator”) without knowing I had ADD. She told me that somewhere along the way I had learned workarounds and probably had a good teacher or two. As I thought about it, a face came to mind: Edwin Fredie.

Mr. Fredie was a seventh grade teacher in the Needham (MA) public school system. He would go on to become the first black headmaster at Milton Academy, a prep school for the rich and obnoxious just south of Boston. But before that move, he left an indelible mark on a skinny 12-year-old kid who went by the name “Farky” and spent enough time in the principal’s office to warrant having his mail forwarded there. What I learned was a lasting lesson about organization. It was a lesson that I apply to this day and remain in his debt for helping me get my thoughts in line with my words. It is also a lesson that ADD sales reps can benefit from.

Mr. Fredie showed his students how to take notes. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? I remember sitting in a lecture-style auditorium while he gave a lesson. Each day, he passed out a page that contained an outline, blank except for the headings. While he talked, we filled in the headline thoughts and information in each sub category.

Mr. Fredie was trying to prepare us for a life of learning and hearing information in big and small points. In doing so, he taught me how to listen (and subsequently give seminars) in outline form. He was “PowerPoint” before there was such a thing (did I mention this was 1972?).

Today, when I give a presentation, I lay out my information in carefully organized thoughts—some big, some small. This allows my audiences to easily receive what I am trying to get across. When I am selling, I apply Mr. Fredie’s lesson this way: I organize my presentation so that the major and minor points are laid out and can be easily understood. In other words, I do the thinking for them. It’s like I hand out a blank outline with just the headings and then ask my client to fill in the information as I speak.

Only one of my three daughters seems to have picked up the ADD gene from her dad. I hope she finds her own set of workarounds. Mine came at the right time in my life. It made me a better listener and a better student. Years later, it helped with my sales ability.

By the way, during the time he was at Milton Academy, my then sister-in-law became a student. This afforded me the opportunity to find him on the sideline of a field hockey game, introduce myself, shake his hand, and thank him for the affect he had on my life. I am so grateful to him and for the chance to express my gratitude.

Bill Farquharson can be reached at You can take his Sales Challenge beginning on September 1. More information is available at

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  • http://Ellen Ellen

    Mr. Fredie had an “effect” on your life, not “affect” (last paragraph). Otherwise, an entertaining and well-written article.

  • http://Kelly Kelly

    You had me at Dr. Rosenrosen. I should have figured a guy with your wit would be a Fletch fan. Great article and very excellent takeaway about communications!
    THANKS as always for a very entertaining blog!

  • http://Shirley Shirley

    We all have “disabilities” … diagnosed and otherwise. It’s called “being human”.

    But to your point, it’s our outlook and what we make of our strengths (and our weaknesses) that will determine our success in our pursuits!

  • http://Nobody Nobody

    I’m sorry, but ADD is not a gift. It’s a disorder. I know because I have it. The saying that says it is was created as a phrase to buy a book.
    This doesn’t mean that ADD doesn’t let you be creative, smart or gifted. You can. The saying was also created to comfort those of us with ADD. I am a lot smarter than that.