Updated: Jan 22
Let us keep in mind that everyone is “neurodivergent”.
The distinction between “neurodivergent” and what you might call “neuroconvergent” is in terms of normative behavior. From the standpoint of neurology, each person’s brain is unique, just like people’s fingerprints and retinas.
Yup, you gotta “brainprint”. And that is the key to everything!
That said, some people see the world raw; and some cooked, to paraphrase Levi Strauss in his definition of “natural” and socially derivative or “cultural.
People with “ADHD” see it raw. “Normal” people see it through the lens of culture—cooked, as it were. I like sushi. A lot of my normal friends like hamburgers.
In our hunting and gathering past, we needed all kinds of people. Diversity of perception and cognition was a survival advantage, providing extra tools in engaging with the ever-changing challenges of uncertain environments. In a hunting and gathering society, everyone is a chief. In "civilizations" almost everyone is a follower.
With climate and ecosystem changes 10,000 years ago, agriculture and population dense, multi-level hierarchical societies changed all that.
Today, with the advent of the Anthropocene and the threat of imminent human extinction, new technologies, especially advanced information systems are also revolutionizing human life. Previous social systems required people who were submissive to social order and could ignore reality. Today, we innovation and, creativity – which means people who think differently and take their marching orders from their hearts, rather than habit. It takes a leap of faith. And this is a slow revolution, in fact evolutionary. Still it can make all the difference in terms of success or failure. So, jump if you can. But remember that you may fall since our system is ambivalent. "Normal" means wanting your cake and to eat it too.
Inclusiveness or just different cogs?
“Woke” for example demands “inclusiveness”; exalts “difference” yet is also conformist, if not normopathic . One size fits all. The shoes might look come in different styles but the sizes remain the same, as does the general functionality—and, no, you can’t wear sandals to business meetings. "Woke" is a "rule"; therefore rule-based.
As I wrote in one of my earlier pieces, the mantra is “we are all different but we are the same”. You can be “different” as long as you wear the right clothes, have the right opinions, and generally behave as a good middle-class person, signaling virtue that is held as an ideal but not acted upon. If you don’t do that, we will “cancel” you. And we have Google and Facebook, the New York Times, WaPo and CNN to help us. The point of all this is to support the Elite who own everything—including you.
“Neurodivergent” people find it hard to conform, although most try. Previously, we just
ignored them or put them in institutions. Now we seek to “help” them “fit in”. Drugs, drugs, drugs. Counseling. “Therapy”. But still, the results are depression and anxiety.
But suddenly, out of the blue, also red, pink, green, yellow, black society suddenly thinks it needs these people.
After all, our modern-day Gods—Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Richard Bransom and others – have ADHD and/or Asperger’s. But while we know that Giftedness is not “normal”, we still try to normalize it, and therefore neuter it. It is a new age of Eunuchs.
Nowadays, we are panning of gold – the gold being giftedness—and sands being neurodiversity. As in previous Gold Rushes, few get rich.
Corporations are driving this new Gold Rush, in which only a few will succeed. Yes, the rich get richer.
I should know, having worked for some of the world’s largest corporations, who do get richer whose corporate ideologies hamstring them in their attempts to do anything truly creative or meaningful.
In the neoliberal world that emerged in the mid 20th Century and still prevails, all large corporations’ function through what Alvesson and Spicer call “functional stupidity”.
Most of these organizations claim to hire only the brightest and best, creative and “innovative” people who are always learning. Instead, they encourage conformity, compliance with even the dumbest notions of management, petty rules and order, and of course brainless, uncritical enthusiasm.
Avelsonn and Spicer’s work dovetails with that of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa whose study of 2300 college students showed that 45% of them made little or no improvement in the ability to think and analyze problems, the worst being business students. An MBA is certification of what?
You need human ‘bots to run large organizations in business, the military, and government. Like ‘bots they are programmed to do certain tasks without thinking in the interests of convenience for their programmers. Unfortunately, as AI progresses, these human ‘bots become less and less necessary.
They are certainly not well equipped to find solutions to problems which appear. For that you need the neurodivergent--people who can code, unlock code and hack. And think critically, innovate, and see reality "raw".
Care and maintenance
But people in the ADHD category or with Asperger’s are not going to help much if you just give them a desk and a cubicle and dull their senses with drugs. John Nash did his best work only after he went off his meds.
By and large, corporations seek out lower functioning autistic people who are happy to get any job they can, with employment rates below 20%. They are the perfect wage slaves who can work long hours focused on a single thing, without complaint, solving a wide variety of computational problems, including programming. They are just soooooo happy that someone accepts them.
High functioning autists or people with ADHD or the Gifted are usually hired on a case by case basis as contractors. For example, I am the go-to person for managers with apparently insolvable problems. I do not advertise: I get my work by word of mouth. I can handle PR, branding, and media analysis. And I even consult for individuals and groups in disputes. I'm a polymath and autodidact. Despite my success, no one has offered me a full-time job, with the exception of one major network some years ago and a major media company.
I rejected both because I recognized I would never “fit in”. Neither company really knew who I was, or more especially, what I was. They were just following the recommendations of highly respected people.
People in my category (ADHD / Asperger’s / Polymathic Giftedness) have a critical eye which causes us tend to disrespect authority and conventional hierarchies. We see systemic issues— “organizational stupidity” with amazing clarity. We are poor at managing time. In fact, we have a very different sense of time, especially futurity and which makes schedules or even getting somewhere on time challenges. We forget details that are not germane when we hyperfocus, which is off and on. We do not like to sit in one place for a long time. I hate chairs and use a balance ball!
Boring meetings and especially PowerPoint sessions irritate us.
We may also blurt things out impulsively—we are just too honest. When I have to do meetings, I bring a “normal” partner whose job is to kick me under the table, when I start talking too much.
So how do you “include” someone like me without breaking your nicely stupid but smooth-running functional system?
Some companies sequester creative people in creative “teams”.
This works well in engineering and design. Advertising and PR companies are not really into real creativity—they are into selling clients media space, campaigns, and the like at inflated prices. They are a like brother keepers-- they don't actually do it themselves.
I should know – I have been called in to do pitches for them.
I can think of one major company that I worked for that paid its advertising company about $3 million for a new slogan and branding concept.
The actual work for this concept was done by a small company of creatives—run by people “on the spectrum” It took about 20 manhours and the people who did the work got about US$2000 to come up with 20 possible solutions, of which the client chose the worst- the one that the creatives included on the orders of the advertising company but did not recommend, not that the caveats were ever communicated to the client!
So there are a lot of problems. Still, let’s say you are enlightened enough to want to hire high functioning neurodiverse, innovative and creative people.
The need for a progressive work environment
Here are the requirements:
Creative people with Asperger’s or ADHD tend to work in spurts. You need to provide them the opportunity to hyperfocus and do what they do best. COVID has proven that flextime considerably improves work productivity for all employees overall. For ADHD people it is necessary all the time.
Creatives need to choose their own location for work, which is often in their own homes although it might be a coffee shop or a park. They also need to move around wherever they are. The usual office layout is not going to work. I don’t use a chair. I use balance balls. No, standing desks are not the answer! Again, such options improve productivity and result in lower costs.
ADHD people don’t like sitting for hours listening to group think and most company “training sessions” are the kind of indoctrination that they rebel against. Online meetings are better. That’s because I can turn the camera and do other things. The usual trajectory of a meeting is obvious and you know that nothing important will be said until they meeting is almost over, at which point they need my input. Before that, it will be lost in the muddy waters of group posturing. You need to let ADHD people communicate directly one on one a lot, in the formats that they like – not “meet”. US companies waste $37 billion a year on unproductive “meetings”.
Anchoring means setting up partnerships with “normal” employees or neurodivergent people with complementary skill sets.
As I have said elsewhere, I don’t do meetings without a “normal” to keep me in line., kicking my shins under the table if I start to talk or get too honest. In creative work, I work best with other neurodivergent people—creative partnerships-- which may include people with OCD and Bipolar Disorder, as well as others who are uncategorizable.
For example, my book Ageing Young: You’re Never Too Old to Rock and Roll is written with Dwight Whitney who is neurodiverse but does not fit the usual categories. We approach things in quite different ways. Early on we developed a kind of dialectic. Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis. You want people who can disagree with you, who argue, who help you think and and especially help find the problems in what you thought were "solutions".
Most companies, however, find people like me and Dwight as simply too “high maintenance”.
That is their loss.
ADHD, Asperger's, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia
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