In order to harness the power of this change and equip themselves for the future, businesses will need to look outside of the ordinary and diversify their teams. An answer to the challenges we are facing could come from minds outside of our typical boardrooms and political offices. When searching for atypical answers, we need to look in atypical places: the time might be here to give a larger space to neuroatypical talents, such as people on the autism spectrum. This new diversity could become a new strength and the inspiration teams need going forward.
Those different thinkers possess some surprising abilities and fragilities that make them vulnerable to our usual corporate system — and they fall through the cracks. As a result, we end up missing out on their unique points of view and talents. Brilliant ideas get buried in a broken system. Now more than ever we must solicit and listen to every voice in the room.
To best understand a neuroatypical’s potential, we must educate ourselves on how their minds are unique. Synaptic pruning is a natural process that occurs in the brain between early childhood and adulthood. Our brain prunes extra branches of synaptic connections and reinforces others. The brains of people with autism experience a slowdown of synaptic pruning during development creating a “super-connected” individual. Although not all of its effects are known or consistent, in many cases this delay of synaptic pruning causes the beneficial effects of an extraordinary memory and affinity to numbers, among other incredible talents. Certain individuals even experience a senses synesthesia, which allows them, for example, to visualize numbers in colors, learn an entire language in a few weeks, or simply see things that nobody else can visualize.
Autistic individuals are usually very passionate — sometime even obsessed — about certain causes or subjects and become self-taught experts. One of the most recent examples of a young neuroatypical individual making a major impact is Greta Thunberg. This teenager, who lives with Asperger’s syndrome, has managed to rally an entire generation around climate issues. Her work has triggered admiration and controversy from major ecologists and neoconservatives, and was even shortlisted for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.
She is just beginning her journey where many others before her have left their footsteps: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Leonardo Da Vinci and Tim Burton, for example. All of these talented individuals have been diagnosed or are suspected by experts to be neuroatypical talents.
Is it possible that their genius is defined by their unique capacity to see the world differently and their ability to bring new answers?
Don’t we need more individuals who are able to think outside of the frame, outside of our usual mental schemes to see a broader picture of our problems?
Honest to a fault and incapable of understanding sarcastic irony, many neuroatypical talents stumble during a classic job interview. They will not be able to express their full potential in an ultra-competitive environment in which social skills are still more appreciated than the capacity to create, think or solve.
Moreover, those precious, yet fragile, talents are incapable of handling extremely stressful or violent situations. According to the candidates we interview, those stressful climates are increasingly present in fashion and luxury houses.
Integrating those talents would imply a complete rethinking of the recruiting system and the workplace organization.
Specialized NPOs, h.r. departments and recruiters will have to team to get trained at recognizing those talents in order to adapt their interview process and find the best fit for those candidates. Moreover, h.r. directors and operational managers will have to think of a new professional path for them and make sure they will have room to express themselves, while rethinking their management approach in the most stressful contexts. Those new ways to integrate and manage talents could be beneficial to the entire organization.
Most neuroatypical people are not diagnosed. You have most likely crossed paths with someone without even noticing them. By not understanding the characteristics of these conditions, we have missed out on tapping into so much potential and precious talent in the workplace.
We are witnessing an important change in paradigm: for the first time, the world has prioritized human health and safety over economic stability. In response to the economic pressure, corporations will have to drastically widen their strategies for sustainability, which have mainly been focused on environmental issues. Corporations will now have to expand their definition of sustainability and bring this philosophy to the very heart of their system, starting with the people that embody them.
They will have to redefine the profile of talents that make up their teams, and return to a simpler company structure, more honest and loyal to the strong values that they fight for: all the beautiful qualities that also define neuroatypical talents.
Jean Vigneron is associate partner at Paris-based recruitment firm Agent Secret.