Neurodiversity - Opening the doors to competitive advantage

Updated: 4th December 2023

Many of the world’s most successful business people will tell you that the difference between success and failure in business comes down to your staff.

Opening the doors to competitive advantage

As Richard Branson says: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients."

Taking this a step further, researchers at Harvard have found that, if employees in an organisation have more negative perceptions of their organisation at one point in time, the bottom line of the company is likely to be weaker in the future. 

So, if it is people that makes the difference between business success and failure,  those people need to be different from those that your competitors have - right?

Those people need to have unique talents and skill sets. We, as business leaders, need to harness those talents, and optimise what they can deliver into our business, making us different and better than our competitors.

Let me ask you a question:

If you were pulling together your ‘dream team’ to innovate on a new product or service, what talents would you look for?

  • lateral or creative thinking?
  • problem solving?
  • seeing things from a different perspective?
  • the ability to connect ideas?
  • deep concentration?
  • communication skills?
  • and energy and passion?

You’d probably want all of these talents in your ‘dream team’ - but where would you find this level of talent’?  The answer is not where, but how - by looking to neurodiversity. 

I’ve had the privilege of working with individuals and organisations who are embracing neurodivergent talent. Neurodivergent staff bring a different perspective and a different set of skills to your workplace.  Neurodivergent staff are extremely valuable within an organisation because such employees have unique skill sets and strengths.

What is neurodiversity? 

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term for a group of hidden disabilities and neurodifferences.  A non-exhaustive list might include dyslexia, autism, Asperger’s, dyspraxia, ADHD and others. The most common of these is dyslexia, which affects around 10% of people in the UK. 

We’re seeing increasing numbers of organisations all around the world creating competitive advantage by harnessing the power of neurodiversity

For example, GCHQ (MI5) actively seek to recruit spies and codebreakers who have  dyslexia and similar neurodivergent conditions. They recognise that the dyslexic brain has a unique ability to solve complex problems and see situations from a different perspective.  It has been proven that this group can spot patterns others do not see.

The BBC has realised that individuals with autism can make excellent software and technology developers. The ability of deep concentration, fine detail processing and extraordinary attention to detail makes people with autism ideal candidates for these roles. (Creating A Positive Environment project)

Neurodivergent individuals are often drawn to specific sectors such as blue light services, engineering, IT, architecture and the health sector, for example, also nursing and caring professions. Indeed the Royal College of Nursing recognised recently that as many as 14% of student nurses have dyslexia. The Blue light services is another sector with a high occurrence of neurodiversity. 

Approximately 13,000 graduates each year have dyslexia, so that means that you’ll almost certainly already have some neurodivergent staff on your payroll (Prof Peter D Pumphrey FBPsS, 2006/7). 

We design our organisations for neurotypical people, measure everyone against standard performance measures. But as business leaders, we need to think differently about “different thinking” because neurodiversity can transform the fortunes of organisations.

We live in an increasingly diverse society and successful businesses are ones which recognise this and reflect the diversity of the public they serve, in the staff they employ.

Looking outside of our workforce, these talented people also become our customers, suppliers and competitors –  something to consider  if we are to truly achieve business success.