The Elephant in the Ecosystem

The Elephant in the Ecosystem

Chris Messina 5 min

To all CEOs, investors, and board members, it’s time for introspection and potentially a transformative shift in our ecosystem strategies and leadership to improve our programs and their results.


I’ve recently prompted a discussion among ecosystem professionals to address what I perceive as a significant yet overlooked issue in our field.


My hypothesis has been formed through my extensive conversations with ecosystem leaders and executives frustrated with their present circumstances and my own experiences. While it isn’t academically verified, it’s underpinned by abundant anecdotal evidence that can no longer be ignored.


The heart of the matter is the high degree of ADHD neurodiversity within our ranks, particularly among those in leadership roles. Neurodiversity is our ally in navigating the complex challenges of the modern, interconnected economy, yet it also presents significant challenges to our advancement.

My journey with ADHD began in 2019 when I was diagnosed, prompting an extensive exploration into its causes, effects, and management. This deep dive helped me recognize my own patterns, especially how my communication style failed to persuade others. It incited defensiveness, intensifying my frustrations and stalling the progress of our strategic initiatives.


Though it might appear that I’m merely sharing personal experiences, I’ve found that many peers encounter similar difficulties—feeling unseen, unheard, and powerless. Therefore, this story is uniquely mine and reflects a common narrative within our community.


Tracing back to 2020, I started recognizing patterns among my peers and incorporating neurodiversity into numerous discussions, mainly with ecosystem leaders. These dialogues suggested a widespread prevalence of ADHD neurodivergence.


Contrary to popular misconception, ADHD does not signify a lack of attention. In fact, it’s the opposite, with the caveat that our attention is often drawn to new and stimulating activities, as explained by resources like Additude. When engaged, our attention can lead to remarkable outcomes.


We are adept at discerning patterns and converting diverse information into comprehensible strategies, applying our wide-ranging experiences to devise solutions to intricate problems.


This draws us to ecosystem development’s dynamic and rule-deficient domain rather than more predictable and routine fields like sales. Properly executed, ecosystem development intersects with every functional area of a business, aligning well with our skill set.


Our defining neurodivergent qualities—like pattern recognition and relational abilities—come with challenges. These ADHD-associated traits propel our understanding forward but often impede our communicative abilities.


My personal experiences on the ADHD spectrum do not just support this, but are echoed, almost ubiquitously, by the overwhelming majority of ecosystem professionals I’ve spoken with across various and disparate verticals and technology landscapes.


Our innate capability to forge deep connections is powerful but can inadvertently lead to alienation, especially for those overwhelmed by such rapid intimacy. This predisposition can result in echo chambers that amplify our ideas amongst our peers and limit our exposure to differing viewpoints.


Collectively, we are aware of the limitations inherent in traditional linear strategies and the need for a more comprehensive, omnidirectional approach. Yet, our challenges with effective communication can stand in the way of guiding others.


The converse of our fervor is the emotional reactions we can exhibit when we feel misunderstood, an issue I intend to address more thoroughly in a later article.


Neurodivergent ecosystem professionals must recognize that finding and seeing solutions is not the same as solving problems. Our effectiveness hinges on our capability to construct ecosystems that inspire understanding and action throughout an organization.


The responsibility for enacting this change is not ours alone. Gartner’s 2024 projections highlight neurodiversity, indicating an imminent shift in the appreciation and pursuit of neurodivergent talent.


The progression of AI further emphasizes the significance of neurodiversity. Esteemed bodies like the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) and works such as the RAND Corporation’s "Neurodiversity and National Security" accentuate the special contributions of neurodivergent individuals.


What’s required is an innovative leadership approach, one that maximizes the potential of neurodivergent-led ecosystems. Those of us with ADHD must focus on refining our communication and leadership abilities to connect effectively across diverse viewpoints.


Acknowledging the impact of neurodivergence on our emotional responses is fundamental. For me, transparency about my ADHD has been instrumental in fostering an environment of understanding and mutual accountability among my colleagues.


I think former Daily Show host and fellow ADHDer Trevor Noah put it best when he talked about how depression and ADHD go hand in hand in an interview on 60 Minutes, and how critical structure is for us when he said, “If I’m not careful with how I…manage my routine, I can become overwhelmed, and it can just feel like the whole world is just too heavy to bear.” 


Getting the most out of us requires an understanding that, for most, our impetus is rooted in a deep desire to contribute meaningfully and see our endeavors’ fruits.


Leaders who can effectively channel our passion and revamp leadership paradigms to harness our neurodivergent strengths stand to gain immensely. Conversely, confining us within standard roles could intensify the less advantageous aspects of our neurodivergence.


In an era increasingly shaped by AI, a complex interconnected set of tools that require the ability to work in concert with dozens of models simultaneously to take advantage of its immense capabilities fully, we must embrace a new, divergent (neurodivergent?) approach to our professional endeavors and broader interactions within the world.


Chris Messina 5 min

The Elephant in the Ecosystem

Chris Messina, CEO at, shares how to embrace ADHD neurodivergence in the business ecosystem. Dive into personal experiences, industry insights, and innovative strategies to reshape leadership paradigms.

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