25 Oct 2018, in Neurodiversity
Theo Smith is a leading recruiter in London, currently with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. He was part of a working group of leading recruiters that recently met with Uptimize founder Ed Thompson.
Here he shares his perspective on neurodiversity - enjoy.
8 Aug 2018, in Neurodiversity
(Ed Thompson, CEO and founder of Uptimize, will be speaking at the World of Learning Conference in Birmingham, UK in October this year. The following is a guest blog post by World of Learning)
Senior L&D and HR professionals will gather at Birmingham’s NEC on 16 & 17 October for the year’s must-attend L&D event.
Bringing together experts and innovators in the L&D community with those at the frontline of influencing workforce performance, the World of Learning Conference & Exhibition has established itself as a hub for sharing best practice, thought leadership and the latest learning technology.
This globally renowned two-day conference will host leading experts as they reveal and examine the latest thinking and practices to drive organisational performance and success.
An extensive exhibition will showcase suppliers of training and development services, and cutting-edge technology. A programme of free seminars and workshops will allow visitors to gather specialist insights into topics ranging from leadership development and organisational culture, to immersive learning and virtual reality.
A dedicated conference co-located within the exhibition, Learning Design Live, will provide invaluable expertise and support for anyone concerned with learning design and technology.
The range of interactive features and zones at the event ensure that visitors have ample opportunity to experience best practice and to network with their industry peers.
Andrew Gee, senior project manager for World of Learning, comments:
“The World of Learning Conference & Exhibition delivers a thriving and industrious platform for L&D and HR professionals to immerse themselves in current practices and the most exciting technology the industry has to offer.
“Visitors will take away inspiration, practical advice, and knowledge of the best methods and tools to meet the current and future needs of their organisations and their people.”
For more details and to register for free tickets to the World of Learning Conference and Exhibition, visit learnevents.com or to book the conference call 020 8394 5171.
For the latest news and updates about the World of Learning 2018 read the World of Learning blog at www.learnevents.com/blog, follow the exhibition on Twitter at #WOL18 and www.twitter.com/Learn_EventsUK, and join the World of Learning Conference & Exhibition group on LinkedIn.
The World of Learning 2018 is held in association with the Institute of Training & Occupational Learning.
• To book your place on the conference visit www.learnevents.com or call +44 (0)20 8394 5171
• For more information on all aspects of the event please visit www.learnevents.com
30 Apr 2018, in Neurodiversity
One of Uptimize’s subject matter advisors, Tim Goldstein, recently wrote a thought-provoking article entitled The Curse of Being "High Functioning" on the Autism Spectrum. The below is a summary of its key ideas.
The conclusion most reach is I talk like a neurotypical, I act like one, and I converse and engage like one, therefore, I must be a neurotypical like them.
Tim Goldstein has had a highly successful career in the tech sector. He’s autistic, without many of the more visible cues that would be picked up by neurotypical colleagues. He credits many of his career successes to his different thinking style. He also attributes a lack of understanding of this as the reason behind a number of career challenges.
In his recent article, The Curse of Being "High Functioning" on the Autism Spectrum, Tim makes a series of interesting points related to the difficulties he has experienced at work of coming across as ‘almost neurotypical’.
He mentions the common perception of autistic people as sitting on a linear spectrum of competencies, as compared to neurotypicals: this scale is what generates the ‘functional labels’ such as ‘low functioning’ and ‘high functioning’ that are often now seen as overly simplistic, and insufficiently nuanced.
For Tim, these labels are problematic as they effectively place autistic people on a scale of proximity to neurotypical thinking, whereas – as he points out – ‘even’ a ‘higher functioning’ individual such as he processes the world in a markedly different way.
The popular concept is if the person is ‘low functioning’ they have very high expression of most spectrum condition traits. For ‘high functioning’ the belief is the traits decrease across the board as the function improves. At some point the function is so high and the traits so low the ‘high functioning’ start being considered as being merely geeky normal neurotypicals. The Curse of being ‘high functioning’ is being evaluated by neurotypical norms instead of autistic ones.
‘Being seen as neurotypical’, Tim continues, ‘shifts the standards us high functioning autistics have to meet from being challenging to impossible’.
What does ‘being seen as neurotypical’ mean here, to Tim? He has graded some of his own challenges in the following graphic:
What’s interesting here is that while Tim is strong on some of the most ‘visible’ areas of social interaction, he nevertheless does have a number of ‘hidden’ challenges. In his own words:
A quick glance at the graph of my strength and challenge areas clearly disproves the popular concept that high functioning does not mean minimal challenges. I max out at a 10 for anxiety and have multiple challenges at 9 such as emotional processing, black-and-white rigid thinking, and ability to understand non-literal parts of communication.
On the other hand, in the highly visible areas such as eye contact, real time communication, dress, and appropriate vocal tone and body language, I show little to no challenge and perform on or above the typical norm.
The conclusion most reach is I talk like a neurotypical, I act like one, and I converse and engage like one, therefore, I must be a neurotypical like them.
To rectify this ‘curse’ – of being seen as ‘more or less neurotypical’, and having true challenges ignored and/or misunderstood, Tim proposes firstly a rethink in the old linear ‘functional’ scale. He suggests considering cognitive traits (for ALL, not just for neurodivergent or autistic people) using a cloud (360degree) model, as opposed to a linear one – he calls this the ‘Neuro Cloud’. In this way, nuanced traits can be better understood and recognized: and we avoid the problematic urban myth of so called ‘high functioning’ autistic people being seen as ‘basically neurotypical’.
Tim's own profile within his ‘neuro cloud’ model is shown below.
Tim: ‘I am sure you see the misleading implications when we consider developmental disorders in a low to high continuum; more important is your understanding of the random mixing of trait appearance and intensity in any given individual, whether neurotypical or neurodivergent’.
As understanding builds of neurodiversity at work, more people like Tim (diagnosed at 54) are receiving belated recognition for the skills and strengths they can bring to their work and their teams. It’s Tim’s hope – and ours – that more nuanced thinking around ‘strengths’ and ‘challenges’ will help both to provide inclusive workplaces for autistic people, and to spark a broader discussion of cognitive abilities across the ‘human spectrum’.
To talk more about neurodiversity inclusion in your organization, get in touch!
27 Apr 2018, in Neurodiversity
What a few days at the autism at work summit. Uptimize founder Ed Thompson was in Seattle at a wonderful event hosted by Microsoft, where as a year ago employers, service providers, education professionals and more came together to share best practices, insights and strategies relating to neurodiversity in the workplace.
Particular highlights included keynotes by Thomas D'Eri of Rising Tide Car Wash - an extraordinary, pioneering small business in Florida - and Holly Robinson Peete, who talked movingly about her son on the spectrum and enthusiastically about a new partnership with Microsoft to teach young people digital skills.
Themes included: the value to ALL employees of including autistic people in the workplace, and the importance of further research in this area to capture and shape best practice strategies, and to continue to make the case for more inclusive hiring and workplaces.
What was also clear - the inspiration that pioneering companies such as Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase have given to a new wave of autism at work program builders.
We're already excited for Autism at Work Summit 2019. Thanks again, Microsoft, for this year's event.
17 Apr 2017, in Neurodiversity
Neurodivergent people are disproportionately represented amongst entrepreneurs.
What do Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John have in common?
Yes, they are all successful, vastly wealthy businesspeople that appear as hosts on the hit show ‘Shark Tank’.
But – less well known – they also all have dyslexia, a familiar yet still often misunderstood condition affecting 10-20% of the US population. It’s a condition that is classified as a ‘learning disability’ - but one that is better understood as simply an alternative thinking style.
This dyslexic style can lead to challenges in phonological processing and visual perception, but it also has a positive and overlooked ‘flip side’ of powerful visual spatial skills and exceptional creativity.
Corcoran grades suffered at school due to her dyslexia, which she wasn’t fully aware of until her son began to have similar problems of his own at school. John struggled in similar fashion, frustrated that his greater effort in words-based subjects yielded significantly lower grades than his high marks in math and science. O’Leary, meanwhile, found his self-confidence significantly shaken as a result of his condition.
Yet all three went on to build multimillion-dollar businesses, and become figurehead business celebrities.
This Shark Tank trio are far from exceptions, too; successful entrepreneurs with neurodiverse conditions are unusually prevalent when considering the neurodivergent/neurotypical population spread. This fact was highlighted and confirmed in a series of academic studies, such as those in 2001 and 2007 by Professor Julie Logan in the UK and the US, that revealed a significantly higher proportion of entrepreneurs to be dyslexic as against those with the condition in the general population.
Meanwhile neurodiverse entrepreneurs are not all or only dyslexic – many prominent and successful businesspeople like Virgin Founder Richard Branson also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, the subject of a notable Forbes article in 2014, ‘ADHD: The Entrepreneur’s Superpower’. Neurodivergent entrepreneurs have also included those with other conditions such as autism and Down Syndrome.
So – the crucial question: why the over-representation of neurodivergence – and dyslexia in particular - amongst entrepreneurs?
Let’s return to our original three ‘Sharks’, each of which has described their dyslexia as a useful attribute in their entrepreneurial endeavours.
O’Leary and others have cited and embraced the visual creative ability that arises from dyslexics’ unique thinking style. In O’Leary’s words (to Entrepreneur Magazine), ‘dyslexia gives you some really unique perspectives and abilities that I’d call superpowers’. John has described himself as being ‘blessed’ with dyslexia, while Corcoran has echoed such sentiments: dyslexia ‘made me more creative, more social and more competitive’ she told the same publication in 2014.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurs with ADHD have leveraged their own unique attributes, including their restless energy, ability to focus intently when sufficiently stimulated by a task, and their own creative lateral thinking abilities. ADHDers are often also both adept multitaskers, and cool under pressure – two vital attributes for an entrepreneur or senior executive.
It’s no surprise, then, to see David Neeleman (founder of Jet Blue Airlines and a proud ADHDer) state that he would never choose to lose his ADHD and become ‘neurotypical’, such are the advantages his unique thinking style has given him in business: “I'm afraid of taking drugs once, blowing a circuit, and then being like the rest of you,” he once joked to Additude magazine.
Similarly, ADHDer Cameron Herold, who has grown three companies to over $100m in revenue, has been vocal in highlighting the advantage his own, natural ‘big picture thinking’ has given him in business. Herold told the Guardian that ““Attention deficit [hyperactivity] disorder can be a problem, or it can be an opportunity”. In his 2010 Ted Talk, he opened with the memorable line “I would be willing to bet that I’m the dumbest guy in the room because I couldn’t get through school”.
Beyond the intrinsic advantages of their different thinking styles, neurodivergent entrepreneurs have also leveraged the toughness, resilience and adaptability developed from a lifetime of living in a world shaped for ‘neurotypicals’. Kevin O’Leary, for example, mentions as critical to his success an ability to focus and problem-solve, due to dealing with dyslexia and its challenges.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book David & Goliath, suggested entrepreneurs with ADHD and dyslexia have the advantage of greater, learned problem-solving skills, as a result of living with their conditions: "Dyslexia”, he wrote, “in the best of cases - forces you to develop skills that might otherwise have lain dormant”.
People with neurodiverse conditions can possess unique skills and attributes that can be a significant benefit in business. As well as entrepreneurs, there are countless examples of neurodiverse individuals rising to the very top of the corporate world (think Gary Cohn of Goldman Sachs, John Chambers of Cisco, and many more) through leveraging the unique strengths of their alternative brain processing style. Given the insight, creativity and drive such individuals can bring to the workplace, it’s worth pausing to ask questions such as:
Would a young Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary or Barbara Corcoran have been attracted to apply to your organization? And – even more pertinently - would they have made it through your hiring process?
11 Apr 2017, in Neurodiversity
People with neurodiverse conditions don’t just make great employees. Some of the most famous and successful entrepreneurs of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have been individuals with one or more neurodiverse conditions.
It’s not only striking to see how many such business icons are ‘neurodivergent’ – but to see how these businesspeople have embraced and leveraged their unique thinking styles for business success.
1. Daymond John, founder of FUBU
Daymond John founded apparel and footwear brand FUBU in the 1990s – he is now thought to be worth over $250 million.
John has been vocal in insisting his dyslexia was much more of a help than a hindrance in his rise to such extraordinary business success, describing himself as being “blessed with dyslexia”.
Although he struggled at school with tasks involving reading and writing, he found his highly visual brain was a formidable asset in visualising strategy and business plans.
He also naturally ‘dreamt big’ – another significant advantage for an entrepreneur. “My mother always said, ‘It takes the same energy to think small as it does to think big" ” John told Yale’s Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, “so dream big and think bigger.”
2. Richard Branson
Virgin billionaire Richard Branson – perhaps the business icon of our times – created a multi-billion dollar empire across industries such as music, media, and travel.
Branson said on his own website of his dyslexia ‘"I see my condition as a gift, not a disability. It has helped me learn the art of delegation, focus my skills, and work with incredible people."
3. Charles Schwab
The founder of the eponymous investment services provider is also dyslexic, although he was not aware of this until he reached the age of forty.
He has been clear both on how dyslexia has been a challenge – “if you gave me a book on some subject that I’m not familiar with, it would take me twice as long to read it as anybody else” – but also a strength, noting like Daymond John that it has given him “better visualization capability and conceptual vision” (interview with Steven Moore, The Wall Street Journal (July 28, 2007).
4. Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA
Ingvar Kamprad is a Swedish business magnate and the founder of IKEA, whose first entrepreneurial endeavour was selling matches to neighbours from his bicycle as a young boy. He founded IKEA as a mostly mail-order retail business in 1943, selling a variety of homeware products – the first IKEA furniture was created and sold 5 years later, in 1948.
Kamprad has both ADHD and dyslexia – it was his difficulties remembering product codes that led to IKEA’s famously creative furniture names (chairs and desks have men’s names, garden furniture is names after Swedish islands, and so on…)
This ended up being one of the defining aspects of the ultra-successful brand.
Kamprad is a great example of the positive ADHDer traits of high energy, drive, and creativity.
5. David Neeleman, Founder of JetBlue
ADHDer Neeleman founded JetBlue airlines, and is now CEO of Azul. A posterboy of ADHD entrepreneurship, Neeleman was the principal subject of an influential Forbes article in May 2014 entitled ‘ADHD: The Entrepreneur’s Superpower’.
Neeleman has clearly articulated the benefits his ADHD has given him in his highly successful business journey, telling ADDitude Magazine “I can distill complicated facts and come up with simple solutions. I can look out on an industry with all kinds of problems and say, 'How can I do this better?' My ADD brain naturally searches for better ways of doing things.”
Given the advantages he has benefitted from, it’s no surprise to see Neeleman reach the following striking conclusion: ‘“If someone told me you could be normal or you could continue to have your ADD (the original name for what is now called ADHD), I would take ADD”.
It’s remarkable not just that so many of the very top business people of our time have neurodiverse conditions, but that many of them actively credit these conditions with their success.
Meanwhile many organizations that would benefit from creative, high impact individuals and greater ‘diversity of thought’ continue to overlook and even unintentionally exclude neurodiverse talent.