Your New Strategic Asset: Neurodiversity (by Charlotte Mader & Chris Parker)

Article

Didier Marlier

March 31, 2023

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What is the diversity of thinking within a company anyway? How can companies truly create the space for inclusion and acceptance of truly different ways of thinking?  Dr Scott E. Page from the University of Michigan, and author of ‘The Diversity Bonus’, summarises his research in the following:

“A team can possess greater depth and breadth only if their members possess cognitive diversity. Two heads will only be better than one if their contents differ. Differences in how people think — differences in problem representations, categorizations, knowledge bases, heuristics, technical and tacit skills, and experiences — are what enable teams to find more novel solutions, develop more creative solutions, make fewer inferential errors, and construct more accurate predictions than individuals.”

However, what could that exactly mean for a company and how could you attract different types of talent?  An emerging domain of increasing cognitive diversity is in the form of neurodiversity.  Neurodiversity is a concept that recognizes and embraces the natural variation in human neurological functioning. It acknowledges that people’s brains are wired differently and that these differences are a normal and natural part of human diversity.

The term neurodiversity was originally coined by the autism community, but it has since been expanded to include a range of neurological differences, including Dyslexia, Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), High Intellectual Potential (HIP) and others such as Tourette syndrome. The concept of neurodiversity is based on the idea that these conditions are not necessarily “disorders” or “deficits,” but rather unique ways of experiencing and interacting with the world. The neurodiversity movement advocates for the acceptance and accommodation of neurodivergent people in all areas of life, including education, employment, and social settings. It promotes the idea that all people, regardless of their neurological differences, should have equal opportunities to participate and contribute to society.

This can be taken further, as neurodivergent people can enrich companies with potentially radical new perspectives and types of creativity that can be translated to meaningful commercial value.  Overall, actively acknowledging and including neurodivergent people in the workplace can provide a competitive advantage to businesses by bringing unique perspectives, problem-solving skills, productivity, and customer service abilities to the table. Additionally, creating a more inclusive and diverse workplace can improve employee morale and engagement, which can have a positive impact on the overall success of the business.

Unsure who these people are? There are many examples of successful people in business.  For example, Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, and Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, both have dyslexia.  Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, has Asperger’s and Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, is on the Autism Spectrum.  Emma Watson, the English actress, model and activist, and Seth Godin, the author and marketing expert, both have ADHD.  Nathalie Portman, the Harvard graduate actress and activist, and Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, have both been identified as being with High Intellectual Potential.  Many of these people have multiple of these superpowers!

Dyslexia

“Without my dyslexia, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s a gift in many ways. It made me more creative in finding solutions to problems, and I think it also helped me to look at things from different perspectives.” – Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s

Dyslexia affects a person’s ability to read, write, and spell. It is a neurological learning condition that is thought to affect up to 20% of the population, although estimates vary.  People with dyslexia often have a range of strengths, including high levels of creativity and problem-solving skills, strong visual thinking and spatial reasoning abilities, good at thinking outside of the box and seeing the big picture, ability to think and learn quickly excellent verbal skills and expressive language abilities.  People with dyslexia face challenges at work that include difficulty with reading, spelling, and writing, and also difficulty with time management and organization and struggles with following written instructions or keeping track of details. When it comes to finding the best types of jobs for people with dyslexia, it is important to consider their strengths and weaknesses. Some potential career paths that may be well-suited to people with dyslexia include:

  • Creative fields, such as graphic design, photography, or video production
  • Jobs in the tech industry, such as coding or software development
  • Jobs that involve communication or interpersonal skills, such as public speaking or counselling
  • Jobs that involve physical activity, such as sports or fitness training

It is important to note that people with dyslexia are a diverse group of people with a wide range of skills and abilities, and the best type of job for one person with dyslexia may not be the best fit for another. It is important to consider each person’s unique strengths and challenges when determining the best type of job for them.

ADHD

“I’ve always been very open and honest about my neurodiversity. I have ADHD and I’ve struggled with it my whole life. But I’ve also come to realize that it’s a huge part of what makes me who I am – my creativity, my focus, my ability to hyperfocus on things that I’m passionate about. It’s not something to be ashamed of, it’s something to embrace and celebrate.” – Emma Watson, actress and activist

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder affects attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.  This neurodevelopmental condition affects approximately 5-10% of the global population.  They tend to be highly energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate about topics that excite them.  According to research published on Personality and Individual Differences, people with ADHD are more creative compared to their peers. Their superpowers include creativity, high energy levels, the ability to multitask, hyperfocus on tasks they find interesting and they can work well under pressure.

People with ADHD may thrive in careers that provide them with variety, stimulation, and opportunities for creative problem-solving. Recommended jobs for people with ADHD involve quick thinking and multitasking, and fast-paced decision-making, such as:

  • Entrepreneur / Small business owner
  • Writing or Journalism
  • Artist / Designer
  • Sales representative

High Intellectual Potential

“Highly intelligent employees are an invaluable asset to any company. They bring a level of creativity, problem-solving skills, and innovation that can help a business thrive. Their ability to quickly understand and analyse complex information can lead to better decision-making and ultimately drive success for the company.” – Sir Richard Branson

The term High Intellectual Potential (HIP) refers to anybody with an IQ score between 130 and 160. Research suggests that approximately 2.5% of the population falls under the high intellectual potential category. HIP people have strong analytical and problem-solving skills, a curious and creative mind, and a capacity for exceptional memory retention. They are quick learners with a broad knowledge base and are generally hyper-efficient when working on things they are comfortable with and interested in.

Many psychologists agree that HIP people have a tendency to be bursting with new ideas. They need new things to create, work on new procedures, and they are constantly looking for new projects. It is common for them to change career paths several times throughout their life. Therefore, they need to work in highly stimulating environments.

They frequently fit in management positions due to their cognitive abilities and attention to detail.  Furthermore, they are often well-suited to roles that require critical thinking skills, complex decision-making processes, and continuous learning.  Some jobs particularly suited to HIPs include:

  • Author, philosopher, musician, singer, actor
  • Scientific researcher and generally science-related professions
  • Psychologist, Coach
  • Web developer

Autism

“Being autistic is an incredible strength. A strength that allows you to see the world differently, to think in new ways, to feel with intensity. It is this strength that can allow each person to find their way, to blossom, to contribute to society in a unique way.” – Dr Temple Grandin, author and speaker on autism and animal behaviour

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental condition that affects communication, social interaction, and behaviour. People with autism often have difficulty with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviours. It is estimated that 1% of the world’s population has autism.  Asperger’s is a condition that affects a person’s ability to socialise and communicate effectively with others and is part of the spectrum of Autism.  Individuals with Asperger’s typically have average or above-average intelligence.

People with Autism have a variety of strengths and weaknesses, and their abilities and challenges can vary widely depending on the person. Some common strengths of people with autism include: incredibly strong memory skills, exceptional attention to detail, unique perspectives and ways of thinking and high levels of focus and concentration.  Challenges to be aware of with people with autism include difficulty with social interaction and communication, sensory sensitivity or aversion and difficulty with executive functioning such as planning and organizing.

Many people with autism excel in jobs that require attention to detail, a structured routine, and the ability to focus for long periods of time. Some examples of jobs that may be a good fit for people with autism include:

  • Computer programming or code testing
  • Data entry or analysis
  • Accounting or bookkeeping
  • Manufacturing or assembly work

Create The Space In Your Company

How can an organisation adapt itself to create the space for these types of people to contribute?  There is endless research on the positive impact of cultural diversity in the workplace. According to BCG research, increasing workplace diversity improves the company’s bottom line by 19%. As cultural and gender diversity have positive business outcomes, it should come as no surprise that neurodiversity has as well. In some work situations, the behaviours and abilities of neurodivergent people can be perceived as troublesome or as bad performance. Here are some ways an organisation can avoid incorrectly categorising their performance and creating the space for both neurodivergent and neurotypical people to success together:

  • Raise awareness: create a culture that welcomes and embraces neurodivergent people, create open discussions on employee diversity, and encourage employees to speak openly about their diversity. Set up focus groups to identify employees in difficulty and work on career paths and integration possibilities, so as to make life easier for everyone
  • Job Matching: Ensure that the job match is suitable for the person’s strengths, interests and passions. Consider whether a job description could be well suited to a neurodivergent person and advertise job offers on neurodiverse platforms such as Neurodiversity Employment Network
  • Accommodation: Design the physical and virtual workplace to cater to the needs of neurodivergent employees. For instance, creating quiet rooms, providing noise-cancelling headphones, or allocating a separate workspace. Provide the necessary accommodations for different types of neurodivergent people, such as visual schedules, ergonomic furniture or software, and accommodations for audio or visual stimuli
  • Training: Offer training and sensitivity sessions to educate staff on neurodiversity, its advantages, and how to work better with neurodivergent colleagues. It may also include providing regular feedback and mentoring for neurodivergent employees, to help them develop their skills and succeed in their careers
  • Flexibility: Encourage and promote flexibility within organisations, by offering part-time or remote work options and adjustments to work schedules to meet individual needs.

In conclusion, your company can adopt strategies to support neurodivergent employees to help them perform at their highest potential. This will help foster an inclusive corporate culture, maximise performance and promote real diversity. Taking neurodiversity into account will ensure these people will be your new strategic asset.

Charlotte Mader & Chris Parker March 31st 2023

4 Comments

  1. Marvin Faure

    An excellent article on an important subject. Too often people with unusual neurodiverse skills are dismissed as “not normal”, and their unique gifts and abilities are not recognised. Organisations can and should do better, for their own benefit!
    Well done Charlotte Mader and Chris Parker!

    Reply
    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you for them, dear Marvin. I fully support your thought!

      Reply
  2. Scott Walls

    I am neurodiverse and just learning how to turn it from a disadvantage to an asset that I can take advantage of. Being at the mercy of a corporate culture that didn’t “get it” was no goof for me. So I went plumbing.

    Reply
    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Scott… And I went teaching ski instead. and these were the happiest years of my life. Fully understand you!Thanks for your testimonial
      Didier

      Reply

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