Tag Archives: neurodiversity

Working with diversity in thinking, learning and interpersonal styles


Elisabeth Goodman, 9th May 2020

I’ve been doing a bit of reading and thinking about the impact of diversity in how we think and learn and how this might play out in our interactions with each other at work, or indeed at home.

A look at Neurodiversity

There is a lot that we can learn from people who are described as ‘neurodiverse’, given, as Nancy Doyle (2019) says, that:

It is estimated that just 59% of people can be considered “neurotypical”. With prevalence data like that, we have to assume that neurodiversity is a natural variation within the human species.

People who are ‘neurodiverse’ include those “with autism, Asperger’s, dyslexia, ADHD. They have a cognitive profile of extreme strengths and weaknesses and in how they think, and in how they interact with others. People who are ‘neurotypical’ tend to score about the same on all measures of their cognitive profiles.

According to Genius Within , the cognitive strengths of the ‘neurodiverse’ cover a plethora of intellectual and interpersonal skills (or intelligences) such as problem solving, holistic thinking, verbal skills, visual thinking, mechanical skills, creativity, attention to detail, hyperfocus, empathy, persistance etc.

The list represents all the different skills that we would want in the workplace the difference being, Doyle (2019) suggests, that individuals who are ‘neurodiverse’ will specialise in some of these, whilst those who are ‘neurotypical’ might be more generalist. Or would they?

Insights from personality tools and learning styles

We have a vast choice of personality tools available to us to help us understand our individual strengths and those of others.

MBTI summary slide

MBTI summary slide from RiverRhee’s training courses, with illustrations by Nathaniel Spain

What we can learn from personality tools is that we are all diverse in terms of which cognitive and interpersonal skills come to us most naturally, and which ones we have learnt to develop over time.

Kolb, and Honey and Mumford add yet more perspectives to this in terms of our different learning styles such as:

  • experiential or activist
  • reviewing or reflecting
  • concluding or theorising
  • planning or pragmatism

Are we simply talking about different types of intelligences?

In digging deeper on this whole subject, as part of carrying out my research for my PG Certificate in Business and Personal Coaching, I came across Watagodakumbura (2014).  His focus is on the need to address all of these differences in terms of education.

He quotes, amongst other really useful things, a range of intelligences: linguistic, spatial, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal and interpersonal, naturalistic and existential.

Watagodakumbura also reminds us, as Grandin (2013) does, that a lot of the differences in our cognitive and interpersonal skills can be related to differences in brain development. This opens up further questions for me about what we are born with, and what we can develop over time.  What role does neuroplasticity for instance play in all of this?

Conclusion: So what can we do with this understanding of diversity?

I personally find this whole area tremendously fascinating and exciting.  There is so much we can learn about ourselves and the people around us.

We can use this knowledge in a way that is enriching for ourselves and to enhance our interactions with others. We can make conscious choices about how to develop ourselves, and how to take advantage of opportunities that make the best of our strengths.

There is so much more to learn about this area.  I’m looking forward to finding out more.

Notes

References

Doyle, N (2019). Making the invisible visible – supporting neurodiversity in the workplace. Personnel Today, 1st Feb. https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/making-the-invisible-visible/ (Accessed 9th May 2020)

Genius Within – https://www.geniuswithin.co.uk/infographics-and-literature/neuro-diversity-venn-diagram/ (Accessed 9th May 2020)

Grandin, T. and Panek, R. (2013). The Autistic Brain. Rider Books.

Honey and Mumford – https://www.open.edu/openlearn/ocw/pluginfile.php/629607/mod_resource/content/1/t175_4_3.pdf (Accessed 9th May 2020)

Kolb – https://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html (Accessed 9th May 2020)

Watagodakumbura, C. (2014). The need to address psychological and neurological characteristics of learners in the mainstream education system. Journal of Studies in Education, Vol 4(1), 94-108

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through courses, workshops and one-to-one coaching, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.  She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to develop management, interpersonal and communication skills, and to deal with change.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Elisabeth is also a member of the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and is working towards her PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester.

Neurodiversity – an organisational advantage to be valued and supported


By Elisabeth Goodman, 4th July 2017

2017-06-22 09.37.32

Delegates at RiverRhee’s June 2017 Introduction to Management course demonstrating a diverse approach to one of the challenges that we set them.

What is neurodiversity, and why value it?

I’ve been reading and thinking about neurodiversity for a while, as it is something that we value and support in young people at the Red Balloon Learner Centre in Cambridge, for which I am a Trustee.

It is something that is sometimes attributed to ‘gifted’ young people, or to our ‘cleverest thinkers’ .  And it is something that is described by John Elder Robinson, the co-chair of the Neurodiversity Working Group at the College of William and Mary as “the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome”.

The quote above is cited by Robert D. Austin and Gary P. Pisano in “Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage.  Why you should embrace it in your workforce.”  HBR, May-June 20217, pp. 96-103.  In fact, neurodiversity also includes Asperger’s, dyslexia, dyspraxia and other natural variations.  The authors assert that this neurodiversity is not something to be cured, but rather to be embraced as bringing valuable new perspectives to an organisation.

Similar points are made by Carol Fowler, in her blog on Neurodiversity for One Nucleus, and by Sally Moore, of Top Stream, an organisation that “works to get the best from brilliant minds in the workplace.”

All these practitioners argue that recruiting and supporting such neurodiversity in our organisations will enhance creativity, innovation, problem solving.

Sally Moore and the HBR authors cite typical applications of neurodiversity to IT related roles in SAP, HPE, Microsoft, EY such as software testing, cybersecurity, business analytics; and also scientific and engineering research and development.

However, neurodiverse people can also bring enhanced people interaction and social skills.  The HBR authors cite companies that have experienced advantages for product management and development, HR support and interfacing with customers for software consulting and support.

Hiring neurodiverse people can have other unexpected benefits, as the HBR authors also discovered, in enhancing the people skills of the managers and of other members of the teams that work with them as they seek to support them more effectively.

What managers and teams need to do to recruit for and support neurodiversity

Personality tools such as MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and Belbin Team Roles go some way to help us recognise and appreciate the diversity of soft skills and strengths that people can bring to an organisation.

However our recruitment and performance management and development processes tend to be set up for more “neurotypical” people.  According to the HBR article, they put an emphasis on “solid communication skills, being a team player, emotional intelligence, persuasiveness, salesperson-type personalities, the ability to network, the ability to conform to standard practices without special accommodation” etc.

Many neurodiverse people do not interview well – for example they may have difficulty with eye contact, be prone to going off on a tangent, and can be over-honest about their weaknesses.  Making presentations can also be particularly challenging.

In addition, the general emphasis on open plan working makes no allowance for people who may be oversensitive to noise and to light.

Pioneering companies are using a range of approaches to overcome such obstacles for example:

  1. Teaming up with ‘social partners’ who have expertise and can help companies find and work with people from neurodiverse backgrounds.  The HBR article’s examples are mainly in the US and also in Australia and Germany.  I don’t know if we have anything similar happening in the UK.
  2. Using non-traditional, non-interview-based assessment and training programmes. Examples cited include the use of “hangouts”, comfortable half-day gatherings that enable candidates to demonstrate their skills in casual interactions.  Lego Mindstorms are robotic construction and programming kits used for project work, both individually and in groups.  “Soft skills” modules help candidates get first-hand experience of a professional environment.
  3. Training managers and existing co-workers in how to better support neurodiverse colleagues.
  4. Setting up a support ‘ecosystem’ – simple support systems for new employees which could include a team buddy, a job and life skills coach, a work mentor and more..

Concluding thoughts

It seems we have some way to go to value and support neurodiversity in our organisations in the UK.  It would be interesting to hear of examples that already exist and/or of endeavours being made to do so.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. 

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.