Thinking Differently About Different Ways of Thinking

For many years, ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, and other brain differences have been seen as disabilities, but recently this opinion has been turned on its head.

Neurodiversity has been shown to foster innovation, problem-solving and creativity in business, and it’s more common than you think. The World Health Organization reports that about 1 in 5 people have some form of neurodiversity.  

These days, many organizations are investing in understanding, measuring and benchmarking the positive impacts of diversity and inclusion to the culture and the bottom line of their business. As April is Celebrate Diversity Month, it’s a good time to highlight some of those positive results.

Dyslexia is a common form of neurodivergence. This neurological difference has nothing to do with intelligence; it simply describes a different kind of cognitive processing. People with dyslexia possess many strengths due to the unique way in which their brains process stimuli, including language.  Many individuals with dyslexia are right-brain dominant and are often holistic thinkers rather than linear thinkers. Though not commonly shared, people with dyslexia have included Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Stephen Spielberg, John Lennon, Walt Disney, and Stephen Hawking.

Richard Branson

Richard Branson recently discussed his own dyslexia as influencing his unlikely path to success. A school dropout at the age of 15, Branson went on to become a world-renowned entrepreneur, author and philanthropist.  In his interview, “How Dyslexia Made Me,” Branson stated, “I suspect I would have ended up having a much more conventional life … but because I was dyslexic there was no way I thought I could do that. That turned out to be a big advantage.”

Academic studies of dyslexia in the workplace have concluded that the vast majority of adults with dyslexia choose not to disclose or ask for accommodations in the workplace. Branson, along with other celebrities, support Made by Dyslexia, a global charity with a mission of helping the world understand the value of dyslexia and ensure that all with dyslexia are identified and supported.  

“There’s a huge advantage around dyslexic thinking that the world isn’t really aware of because it just focuses on the difficulties,” said Kate Griggs, Made by Dyslexia founder and chief executive. “However, communicating is a really strong dyslexic skill. Dyslexics have an amazing ability to take a lot of information, simplify it and communicate it.”

Dyslexia can, in fact, be a competitive advantage. Compensating skills, such as oral communication, delegation, creativity and spatial awareness, make people with dyslexia good business leaders who often start their own companies. Julie Logan, emeritus professor of entrepreneurship at Cass Business School, conducted research in the U.S. market which showed that 35% of company founders identified themselves as dyslexic, compared with 15% in the general population.

The goal for leaders is to create a workplace where employees feel comfortable bringing their full selves to work. You can’t solve or support what’s hidden. Employers should consider providing confidential, optional surveys through Human Resources to better understand their employee population as a whole.  

It is important to remember that neurological differences drive progress in every field through creating cognitive contrasts that lead to inspired, productive work.  

Jackie Ferguson is a certified diversity executive, co-founder of The Diversity Movement and a member of the National Diversity Council. A life-long equality advocate, Ferguson believes that everyone has a right to live boldly, love freely and achieve the success they work for. 

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