Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, stated that ‘originality is the name of the entrepreneurial game’. In a saturated marketplace, originality is the result of new patterns of thought, themselves the product of unique minds. If companies hope to grow, they must embrace rare thinkers, for, if Thiel is to be believed, growth is difference – new brains willing to work in new ways.
PR has always celebrated and rewarded trailblazers, with companies investing millions in recruitment drives for brilliant individuals. Such drives are often focused on acquiring classic stereotypes, though: fresh-faced, neurotypical graduates equipped with gleaming CVs and ‘can-do’ attitudes. This makes sense. Assuredly intelligent, they are easy to integrate. They are a low risk gamble.
Yet this is symptomatic of the ‘sameness’ that thwarts Thiel’s idea of originality. Conventional recruits are part of a tried and tested routine, and so become a part of the problem. If you buy your chickens from the same farmer and feed them the same food are you not going to get the same eggs?
The challenge facing the market is how to facilitate something new. In high stakes business this is tricky, for with difference comes risk. Yet it is necessary. Growth is dependent on embracing newness, and so companies must find ways to reach previously untapped pools of talent.
One such group is those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Equipped with a unique way of thinking, those with the condition can produce astounding results. Take, for example, Bill Gates. Often thought to be on the spectrum, it was his unique interpretation of technology that afforded him the opportunity to establish Microsoft. Should he have been neurotypical, his intelligence would’ve only got him so far. It was his ability to think differently that allowed him to facilitate change.
Not all on the spectrum are so brilliant, of course, but such figures serve as a reminder of the potential rewards to be had in embracing those on the spectrum. But with employers often reluctant to invest, what’s the value of taking a chance on an unorthodox mind? How can those with Asperger’s actually bring about success and growth in business?
Think of Asperger’s Syndrome and your brain conjures images of social awkwardness. Yet for Thiel a reluctance to engage socially can be a positive: ‘many of the more successful entrepreneurs seem to be suffering from a mild form of Asperger’s where it’s like you’re missing the imitation, socialization gene,’ which ‘happens to be a plus for innovation and creating great companies’.
The ability to forego social norms – often seen in those with Asperger’s – grants an individual a unique perspective, one in which they are free to forge their own path. In an industry in which growth and success are synonymous with new ideas and divergent perspectives this is invaluable.
Those with Asperger’s often possess an impressive cognitive toolkit: with an eye for detail, technical ability and a wealth of factual knowledge. Yet such qualities can remain hidden or under-utilised – often as a result of mismanagement or a lack of understanding. Allowed time to think, and afforded a platform adapted to suit their needs, they can flourish – doing things other can’t in the process.
There is, however, a caveat. Those with Asperger’s are often incapable of deviating from a singular focus, and should they be asked to their concentration, performance and motivation may suffer. Understandably this is a challenge, although if correctly harnessed a skewed set of interests can be invaluable – it is simply a matter of intelligent management. Afforded the opportunity to focus and develop their specific skillset, theirs is a dedication that can ultimately result in industry–specific expertise.
Reliability, dedication and loyalty
Wired to resent change and appreciate the known, their commitment to a project is conducive to business success. They’re less likely to quit, more likely to be on time and far less inclined to procrastinate – all of which demonstrate a solidity only likely to improve the overall sturdiness and productivity of a company.
Diversity and representation
With companies switching on to the idea of broader societal and cultural representation, the incorporation of people with Asperger’s into their workforces is essential. Their numbers are huge: more than one in every 100 people are suspected to have the condition – that’s about 700,000 people – and 2.8 million people are thought to live with it daily. If companies are hoping to be inclusive should they not be including at least a small percentage of such a large force? Companies need to make efforts to represent the populations they serve, not marginalise individual demographics, and so should employ those from as many different backgrounds as possible.
Getting it right
Despite all of the above, it is impossible to consider the positives without also considering the challenges. People with Asperger’s are likely to struggle: they are easily overwhelmed, their skillsets are often very specific and their lack of social skills can impact on team chemistry.
Yet if managed correctly, they are undoubtedly of huge value. Embraced and encouraged, theirs is a perspective and skillset that is atypical, a prospect that should be celebrated, not shunned. Difference should be encouraged, and so employers should look to those with Asperger’s, for they are undoubtedly an opportunity to create something new, something magnificent in its originality.