WHY DOES NEURODIVERSITY BOOST INNOVATION?
There are many reasons why neurodiversity boosts innovation equity in a company, the one we will focus on in this article is how diversity of thought is proven to boost the number and quality of ideas required for conversion into products and service of value. The later is in essence the definition of innovation, empathy to connect with another and be inspired through that connection to solve their pain. This inspiration is then converted into ideas which are evaluated for technological feasibility and financial viability. Viable ideas are then tested through prototyping, learnings applied, and the product or service is launched.
The process of converting inspiration into ideas is called ideation. Neurodiversity is of value at each stage of the innovation process though none more apparent than in the stage of ideation. If according to neuroscience human beings are only able to process via the Reticular Activating System (RAS) on average 40 bits of information per second vs the 11 million available, it does indeed make more sense that the more people seeing the world from different perspectives then the richer the ideas.
Add to this the new 2022 skills required for success according to WEF and you have a potent argument for the value of neurodiversity:
- Analytical thinking and innovation
- Active learning and learning strategies
- Creativity, originality, and initiative
- Technology design and programming
- Critical thinking and analysis
- Complex problem-solving
- Leadership and social influence
- Emotional intelligence
- Reasoning, problem-solving
- Systems analysis andevaluation
The case for neurodiverse hiring is especially compelling given the skills shortages that increasingly afflict technology and other industries. The biggest deficits are expected to be in strategically important and rapidly expanding areas such as data analytics and IT services implementation, whose tasks are a good match with the abilities of some neurodiverse people.
WHAT IS NEURODIVERSITY?
Writing in Harvard Business Review, researchers Alison Reynolds and David Lewis discovered that the kinds of diversity we most commonly think of — gender, race, age — had no correlation to a team’s results. What did have a correlation, was the diversity of thinking.
This type of diversity focuses on the inclusion of people who have different styles of processing knowledge and solving problems. Each human being has a unique blend of identities, cultures, and experiences that inform how he or she thinks, interprets, negotiates, and accomplishes a task.
We all think differently and there is no one way of thinking that has been agreed upon as correct. Research shows that, while we are all capable of thinking in various ways, most people have a preferred way of approaching and solving problems.
An American psychologist Robert Sternberg, in 1985, developed the Triarchic Model of Intelligence which encompasses three different types of intelligence: analytical, creative and practical. Thus, having a homogenous thinking team, is not the most effective.
In fact, many studies have proven that homogenous companies are not able to innovate at the rate of heterogenous companies. Heterogenous or Neurodiverse companies see the world differently, act differently and take different strategic decisions. Even though people all think differently, the way their brains function and process information is neurotypical. However, it is estimated that around 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent, meaning that the brain functions, learns and processes information differently. Neurodivergence includes Attention Deficit Disorders, Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. There is an increasing demand globally in both the neurodiverse and the neurodivergent.
HOW DOES ONE ACHIEVE NEURODIVERSITY?
To increase diversity of thought among your workforce, the following needs to occur:
- Hire differently: The job description and interview process should contain competencies and questions designed to help identify and select a cognitively diverse organisation. A good way of ascertaining different thinking styles is to request the potential employee to complete a work sample or solve a small problem before selection.
- Manage differently: Instead of seeking consensus, managers should encourage task-focused conflict that can push their teams to new levels of creativity and productivity. The aim is to foster an environment where all feel comfortable sharing their views and their authentic selves.
- Promote differently: Moving towards more of a team-based performance evaluation framework can allow an organisation to create and foster a culture of inclusion that empowers its people, encourages collaboration and inspires more innovation.
It is also important to note that an emotionally safe environment is key to creating a culture of inclusivity without which the extraction of value from neurodiversity is not possible.
An emotionally safe environment is one with a, “baseline of trust and respect, constructive conflict, a sense of humor, a general feeling that “we’re in this together,” and the corresponding ability to collaborate effectively all contribute to creating an inclusive culture”. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/increasing-the-meaning-quotient-of-work?cid=other-eml-cls-mip-mck&hlkid=8cef630ba35444329490a7325de873b4&hctky=11181167&hdpid=5398acfa-35ea-4804-9964-8a78268cc725
This can be defined as an environment with high levels of emotional intelligence or EQ, avoiding energy wastage on internal politics, ego management and passive-aggressive conflict avoidance.
On the topic of energy wastage it is also important to note that whilst neurodiversity is essential for innovation provided the environment is inclusive, if meaning is lacking within the environment this will dissipate energy levels. For optimum innovation energy a strong purpose is vital to creating a meaningful work environment.
WHAT IF A COMPANY DOES NOT HAVE NEURODIVERSITY?
Neurodiversity is a concept that’s been around for a while. In a nutshell, it means that brain differences are just that: differences. Noting and leveraging differences is key to innovation. And Neurodivergence like ADHD and autism isn’t “abnormal.” They’re simply variations of the human brain.
Without neurodiversity and neurodivergence company will not have the creative, analytical and logical thinking combinations required to meet the skills gap essential for problem solving and innovation success in the Exponential Age.