The next talent opportunity for the digital workplace? Neurodiversity

The next talent opportunity for the digital workplace? Neurodiversity

When I first met my former colleague Alex he told me he had difficulty writing and reading owing to his dyslexia. As his manager, I searched the internet for how to help the dyslexic workforce.

It was a mistake – I was focusing on his weakness. After some months, I discovered Alex has above-average capabilities in reasoning and that, in all likelihood, these are related to his dyslexia.

As explained in a previous World Economic Forum article, we all carry with us a wealth of life experience, a kind of book of stories, which we consult to make sense of the world. Our identity (gender, race, age, origin), neurological differences, our studies and our experiences influence the content of that book directly and, therefore, the way we reason.

Neurodiversity is the word term that describes those neurological differences. The books of neurodiverse people contain unique information that makes them see the world from a different perspective. It is manifested in conditions such as autism, ADHD or dyslexia.

In the digital workplace and specifically in the tech industry, we need to solve complex problems, constantly innovate and think creatively to face our next cybersecurity or artificial intelligence (AI) challenge. We need more people who reason differently because this is the way to come up with new ideas and overcome biases. Neurodiverse colleagues provide a unique set of skills. Unfortunately, as was the case with my conversation with Alex, the emphasis is usually on their challenges. It’s time to change this; let’s talk about the unique contributions they can make.

The competitive advantage of neurodiversity

Looking into it from a general perspective, neurodiverse people are gifted in some skills that are essential in the digital age, for example:

  • Autistic brains are said to be highly creative with exceptional concentration, logic, imagination and visual thought. They also tend to be systematic, meticulous and detailed. Besides, they share unique insights and perspectives in problem-solving.
  • ADHD people also have great imagination and score higher on creativity tests than non-ADHD people. ADHD people can hyperfocus, which means that while they generally have an attention deficit, they do have a high focus on their area of interest. For example, it takes them less effort to play videogames.
  • Dyslexic people have demonstrated the ability to think outside the box: 84% of dyslexic people are above average in reasoning, understanding patterns, evaluating possibilities and making decisions. Their competencies are invaluable when it comes to viewing aspects from a broader perspective and assessing situations from multiple views.

These conditions also bring an added value to the digital workplace. While most of us are easily distracted by constant digital interruptions (emails, instant messages, notifications), neurodiverse brains are better at maintaining focus on a task. They are also, in general, more keen on holding on routine tasks, which can also be very valuable in our environment where we tend to jump from one assignment to the next too quickly. Those traits make those people with such brains a very productive workforce.

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