Have you ever attended a drawing class? I have, and as someone who is particularly bad at drawing, it surprised me. We visited the Eden Project, where an incredible local artist taught us to draw more effectively. It turns out that it has little to do with how well you hold a pencil and a lot to do with how often you stand back and look at your drawing from a distance. I created artwork that resembled the object I was attempting to draw. It was a huge surprise and impressed the little girl sitting next to me. This got me thinking about Zooming out on neurodiversity!
When integrating neurodiversity into organisations, we are often tempted to make many small changes. These can be beneficial, but if we don’t take a step back and look at the big picture of what’s happening in the organisation, we risk a disjointed, ineffective approach.
This is especially true when discussing the subject of awareness. I facilitate a lot of neurodiversity awareness-training sessions, which are always well attended with very engaged interactive audiences. Still, there is a risk that if all you do is raise awareness, nothing changes, and you end up having a very informative meeting accompanied by lovely biscuits.
Professor Amanda Kirby highlights the dangers of oversimplification, stereotyping, tokenism, cause blindness, pinup people and becoming a broken record. Neurodiversity is not simple! Neurodiversity is very complicated because each individual will present their neurodivergent traits differently. There is a temptation to simplify neurodiversity to make it more accessible and understandable for everyone. Still, we must treat each person individually and provide a tailored solution to their struggles.
Raising awareness can create new stereotypes of how people behave. For example, I frequently get asked, “What should we be looking out for?” And “how will we know if someone has a neurodivergent trait?” I don’t think this is always helpful because it is more important to ask the individual what is beneficial for them and not put them into a box so we allow them to progress and then flourish.
(We all love a bandwagon and going along with the crowd). It was recently Neurodiversity Week, which is fantastic, but if all it does is make noise, it is ineffective; nothing changes for the people who need it the most, and our organisations suffer from not embracing and engaging with different thinking styles to help with innovation.
People will become bored if we continue to bang the drum but make no progress. You must act, even if it is only a tiny action, or you risk nothing effective happening.
It’s common to hear the same stories about the same people. Richard Branson is an excellent role model but is not the world’s only dyslexic entrepreneur. Love him or hate him, Elon Musk is not the only autistic entrepreneur; there are many brilliant people with neurodivergent traits who have done outstanding work. You need to think more broadly and not just roll out the same old pinups.
Whether you like it or not, our world history has some challenging lessons for us to learn. Taking a person’s humanity and labelling them can dehumanise them. You must ensure that you focus on the individual and learn from mistakes in the past.
As we stand back and take a look at what it means to be inclusive within our organisations, I think it’s helpful to consider some of the following areas.
The issue we’re attempting to resolve by Zooming out on neurodiversity
Instead of raising awareness and avoiding it, let’s get real and address it. Is it about recruiting, retaining employees, or something else? Let’s be clear about the problem and ensure our efforts are directed towards resolving it. Sometimes more data will be required, while other times, it will simply be a question of what should happen next.
Communicate with others
We frequently make assumptions about what is required. We must have an open and safe conversation about what and how change needs to occur. This conversation must be sensitive to specific cultural backgrounds or thinking styles, but it must happen.
Collaborate with others
It is beneficial to collaborate with other organisations that can assist you in moving forward with solving the problems you’ve identified. They may provide specialised knowledge or simply the ability to step outside the situation. This does not need to be a general label but a specific response to a problem you are attempting to solve.
Think carefully about your goals
SMART Goals aren’t the be-all and end-all, but they can help you figure out what you want to do and ensure it’s realistic and time-bound. This is critical because it allows you to assess your progress and determine whether your actions are effective or if something needs to be changed.
Taking action by Zooming out on neurodiversity
This will not occur unless we take the first step forward. Moving forward may entail collaborating with an outside organisation to help you achieve your goals or forming an employee group. What matters is that you do not postpone this until tomorrow. Take the first step and figure out what you need to do next.
Measure what’s going on
You’ll never know if your changes have had any beneficial impact unless you measure their outcomes. Before you measure the outcome, it’s always helpful to take a baseline of where you are before you start. Otherwise, you will never know if anything you’ve done has made a difference. I would encourage you to consider ways to measure and understand the changes you have made easily.
Keep going by Zooming out on neurodiversity
Moving inclusion forward, particularly in neurodiversity, requires a sustained effort. Many leaders will need to be involved in moving your efforts forward, and the organisation must buy into the entire process. If you want long-term change, you must ensure that you have the energy and drive to continue this effort for an extended period.
Would a conversation on zooming out be helpful? – Contact us here.