In another week where political turmoil and uncertainty has taken centre stage, you could be forgiven for missing the fact that last week was Dyslexia Awareness Week.
However, with talent high on the agenda, both the awareness week and the broader subject of neurodiversity should be firmly on the radar for all ambitious brands and agencies.
Neurodiversity refers to a wide range of conditions where people's brains are wired differently. This includes autism, dyslexia, ADHD and dyspraxia. Such conditions are typically perceived to be a disadvantage, but in fact in many cases they are a 'superpower', delivering fresh thinking and creativity – innovation from the edges.
Neurodivergent people have different ways of thinking as a result of the uniqueness of their brains. It's important not to overgeneralise but typically people with dyslexia are inherently very creative (with an extreme right-brain) whereas people with autism have incredible capacity to focus on analytical tasks (with an extreme left-brain). This is why so many breakthrough innovations have come from people who are neurodiverse: Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and Andy Warhol all had autism and Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Muhammed Ali all had dyslexia, just to name a few.
This is also why neurodiverse people are perfect for many roles within the marketing industry, where extremes of left-brain thinking and right-brain thinking are required to tackle difficult problems. Simplistically speaking, you can see these two neurological traits relating to creative innovation and data and AI analytics respectively.
Yet the biggest challenge that people with neurodiversity often face is getting in the door in the first-place.
Neurodiversity frequently remains a taboo subject and unfortunately traditional recruitment processes often inadvertently put those with neurodiverse conditions at a disadvantage, testing them in ways that don’t reveal their true capabilities. This is about recognising that there isn't a on size fits all approach to recruitment when you are seeking diversity. It's about creating a level playing field avoiding either systematically favouring or disadvantaging – something that, in general, is a work in progress.
Once within roles, as long as the business remains committed to celebrating their 'superpowers' and enabling them to be the best version of themselves, neurodiverse marketers can flourish. I’ve seen first-hand with my daughter – who is dyslexic – how she can do amazingly creative things that many people would find impossible. For example, she has created a new genre of ‘eye art’ (shown in the image aboce) that has given her a burgeoning Instagram following. Yes, there are some things she struggles with that others find easy, but that is why we need to build whole-brained marketing teams with a balanced set of skills.
Marketers don’t individually need to be whole-brained. It is up to marketing leaders to ensure everyone within the team is empowered and supported to contribute their own unique skillset.
My enduring metaphor for a great marketing leader is that of the captain in a rugby team. Rugby captaincy is about creating an environment where a team wins and loses together. Within this system there is an appreciation for the unique skills and attributes that each person in the team contributes; rugby has long since been a game founded on diversity. A rugby captain needs to be prepared to put their head where it hurts if it is to the benefit of the team, but equally needs to lead as much from behind as from the front. Most importantly on the field of play everyone is empowered to make decisions in the moment. If the team is at the top of its game, this doesn't lead to chaos, because the shared goal for the team provides guidance.
Neurodiversity might be the hardest area of diversity to tap into, since it is arguably the most complex but the least visible. But for those businesses that want to thrive rather than merely survive in the years to come, it could well be the most important. This is especially true in a world where AI will take over those tasks that require repeatable precision, meaning that innovation from the edges will become even more critical.
Mark Evans is the marketing director of Direct Line Group.