When people think of the word “diversity,” what usually comes to mind are the basic categorizations, such as racial diversity, gender, age, and sexual orientation. However, diversity goes far beyond mere demographic data; it also encompasses a range of experiences, intelligence, thought processes, and cognitive functions.

A Case for Neurodivergence and Cognitive Diversity

The Benefits of Neurodiversity in the Workplace

At its core, neurodiversity is an approach that appreciates the various ways that the human brain functions. The brains of individuals with autism spectrum disorder or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), for example, work differently than people without those conditions. However, it is imperative to recognize that “differently abled” does not necessarily equate to “bad.”

As Big Think expert and evolutionary biologist Heather Heying says in a Big Think interview: “being born with what the world is calling a deficit is almost always going to exist in a trade-off relationship with some often hidden strength.” The idea is that being neurodivergent can actually be beneficial and not just something that needs to be “fixed” or prevented.

For example, people with an autistic disorder traditionally have been viewed as being less intelligent than their non-autistic counterparts. However, research shows that there is a positive relationship between autism and higher intelligence:

“A suite of recent studies has reported positive genetic correlations between autism risk and measures of mental ability. These findings indicate that alleles for autism overlap broadly with alleles for high intelligence, which appears paradoxical given that autism is characterized, overall, by below-average IQ.”

An article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) shows that hiring people who are neurodivergent is a competitive advantage that many employers did not recognize until relatively recently. However, research shows that some conditions — including dyslexia, ADHD, and autism — can bestow unique abilities concerning memory, pattern recognition, or mathematics.

Why Cognitive Diversity & Multiple Intelligences Should Be Embraced

Big Think expert and Harvard University professor Howard Gardner’s groundbreaking research on multiple intelligences emphasizes the need for different types of intelligence and cognitive diversity in a productive workplace.

In his Big Think Edge course “Power Your Organization with Multiple Intelligences,” Gardner discusses the need for modern organizations to have diverse problem-solving teams to deal with the pace and complexities of the changing global business environment. These teams should consist of people who demonstrate different types of intelligence, including:

  • Bodily-Kinesthetic
  • Interpersonal intelligences
  • Awareness intelligence
  • Linguistic
  • Logical-Mathematical
  • Musical
  • Naturalist
  • Spatial

In the course, Howard explains that these diverse teams are better equipped to handle whatever challenges come their way:

“For people who are in the position of employers, this is a whole palette of different skills that you need to be on the lookout for, and when you’re putting together teams it’s very important to have teams which cover the whole waterfront of intelligences and not 20 people who have exactly the same kind of profile… there’s huge amounts of evidence from other researchers that problems are more likely to be solved if you put together people who have different expertises rather than just putting together people who look the same.”

Additionally, in terms of hiring and retention, there is another reason why your organization should embrace neurodiversity and cognitive diversity. Teams comprised of employees who are not all the “same” are more likely to feel engaged and are more likely to stay where they are rather than seeking employment elsewhere.

Big Think Edge offers a Diversity & Inclusion Course to help your employees include, and support all individuals while appreciating their differences. Our courses, which feature experts who are prominent business leaders, HR professionals, authors, and psychologists, provides some of the insights they have gained throughout their storied careers. To learn more about how to implement diversity initiatives in an increasingly global economy, click on the image below.

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