In today's fast-paced world, creativity and innovation are key to success. Organizations that embrace diversity are often seen as the most innovative, but many still overlook neurodiversity as a form of diversity. Neurodiversity refers to the idea that the characteristics associated with developmental differences such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, or Tourette’s are not deficits but differences that can benefit larger human systems.
Nikola Tesla and Alan Turing were two of history's most influential inventors and trailblazers in the fields of electrical engineering and computing. Both were likely neurodivergent, and their unique characteristics, such as sensory sensitivity, visual thinking, extreme focus, independent thinking and repetitive behaviors, enabled them to make groundbreaking advances in their respective fields.
Stories of neurodivergent individuals have a long history of driving creativity and innovation. Hans Christian Andersen, for example, is widely known for his genre-defining stories that have stuck with us for generations. Some researchers argue that Andersen's stories, such as The Ugly Duckling and The Emperor's New Clothes, reflect his own experiences as an autistic person and illustrate the importance of neurodiversity in society. The characters in these stories represent the struggle of being socially different, misunderstood, and stuck in an environment that is hostile to their uniqueness. But they also show how groups can self-destruct when they lack truth tellers and individuals with exceptional potential.
Another historical figure who was likely autistic is the trailblazing inventor Nikola Tesla. Tesla's innovative thinking shaped our modern lives, and we continue to benefit from his inventions, such as alternating electric current and the Tesla coil. He was known for his exceptional focus and visual thinking, as well as his sensory sensitivity and repetitive behaviors. Similarly, Alan Turing, the inventor of modern computing, was also described as having multiple neurodivergent characteristics. Turing was known for his extreme focus and independent thinking, which were key to his success in breaking the Nazis' Enigma Code during World War II.
Research supports the link between neurodiversity and creativity. For example, dyslexic adults often demonstrate enhanced nonverbal creativity and often choose creative careers, such as art. College students with ADHD often demonstrate higher levels of divergent thinking and are better at "thinking outside the box." Autistic individuals' immersion in work may expedite learning and facilitate creative breakthroughs and originality that is hard to find in other groups.
Despite their talent, neurodivergent individuals have often faced mistreatment and lack of support throughout history. Nikola Tesla, for example, was cheated out of his pay and was forced to dig ditches to support himself. Today, neurodivergent individuals may still face similar challenges in the workplace, despite the progress that has been made in terms of diversity and inclusion.
Organizations must do more to embrace neurodiversity if they want to enhance their creativity and innovation. This includes creating an inclusive and supportive workplace culture, offering accommodations and support, and promoting neurodiversity as a form of diversity. By embracing neurodiversity, organizations can tap into a vast pool of talent and potential that is often overlooked and underutilized.
In conclusion, neurodiversity is a valuable form of diversity that organizations should embrace if they want to enhance their creativity and innovation. Neurodivergent individuals have a long history of driving creativity and innovation, and their contributions have been invaluable. By embracing neurodiversity, organizations can tap into this potential and create a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture.