How neurodivergent individuals contribute to innovation

What do Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford and Richard Branson all have in common? They are some of history’s greatest innovators – and all are neurodivergent.

Neurodivergence describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; that there is no 'right' way of thinking learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.

Those who are neurodivergent often have characteristics associated with developmental differences such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia or Tourette’s.

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Unfortunately, for many neurodiverse individuals, these differing qualities are often not valued in the labour market and ONS statistics have found that only two in 10 autistic individuals are employed, revealing how under-utilised this segment of the workforce truly is.

However, neurodiverse individuals can bring great value and potential to the workplace, having strengths such as great attention to detail, focused concentration, pattern recognition, spotting deviances in data, out of the box thinking and loyalty to the company.

Organisations should actively seek in employing neurodiverse individuals and they should be optimising their strengths to allow them to reach their full potential and drive value in the workplace.

This pool of untapped talent comes at an inflexion point for global innovation, with the Global Innovation Index reporting that productivity growth – the metric used by economists to gauge whether living standards can be improved over time – is at its lowest level ever.

Indeed, it has been reported by the WSJ that the IPO Market – often seen as a bellwether for scalable innovation – is seeing its worst year in two decades.

Having reached a global trough of innovation and productivity, businesses must look toward such under-utilised talent and educate themselves on neurodiversity and the qualities and innovation such individuals can bring to their workplaces.

Common types of neurological differences, such as dyslexia, for example, mean that many neurodivergent people are visual learners. Rather than excelling their skills with spreadsheets and heavy documents of text, many process information more easily through images or visual thinking tools.

Visual thinking is renowned for its ability to increase our creativity and research cited by David Hyerle approximates that between 70% and 90% of the information received by the brain is through visual channels.

Crucially, visual learning plays a leading role in how neurodivergent people process information and many of these individuals possess unique and arguably more honed talents in creativity and visual thinking.

Ultimately, creativity is at the heart of innovation – it’s our out-of-the-box ideas and new ways of approaching problems that spark innovative practices. This makes neurodivergent employees the perfect people to help drive innovation in the workplace.

Their unique approach to interpreting information allows them to view challenges from a different perspective, which is extremely powerful when looking to drive forward innovative ventures.

Disparities in employment participation rates for neurodivergent individuals is a global issue that merits our concerted attention, and it is clear businesses must acknowledge how such individuals drive innovation in the workplace.

It’s why workplace programmes across sectors that help neurodivergent individuals with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other neurological conditions build careers are so important. There are many positive examples one could cite.

Last year, for example, EY launched its Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence (NCoE) in the UK to boost client innovation. Elsewhere, the DXC Technology Dandelion program has helped neurodiverse individuals build the skills to pursue a career in information technology. In the UK, the programme has helped 15 neurodivergent individuals into employment, with an ambition to grow that number to 24 before the end of its first year running in the country.

It’s clear businesses must seek to understand the value neurodiverse individuals offer and work to integrate them into their workplace and recruitment models, and I look forward to seeing businesses continued and evolving efforts to this end.

David Gibson, is early careers people manager and Dandelion Programme lead at DXC Technology