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How Agencies Can Unleash the Power of Neurodiversity

Advertising Agency
Brussels, Belgium
Creative partner at FamousGrey Peter Ampe on discovering your strength through your weakness

I remember my first global council. Everyone patted each other on the shoulders and called each other “my friend” or “amigo”. It gave me a giant brain freeze. I’m not a natural socialiser; in fact as someone with Asperger Syndrome it’s something I’ve long had to figure out on my own. When it comes to unleashing the potential of neurodiverse talent - and make no mistake this potential is enormous - should agencies take a more proactive, inclusive approach?  As agencies reorganise around their inclusion and diversity goals, seriously integrating the specific needs and strengths of neurodiverse people into their recruitment, retention and training, what sort of impact could that have? And what does that look like?

I’m not creative, I’m just a left handed colourblind Asperger with traits of ADHD

Well, maybe it’s time to be honest: besides being somewhere on the spectrum of autism, I also have traits of ADHD. The Asperger part means my IQ might be a bit higher than average, but my EQ shows some major blind spots. No empathy. No social interactions. I’m working on both points, but maybe it’s time for everyone to know that neurodiversity is also a diversity that needs to be taken into account. 

Maybe it’s time to give neurodiverse people a place in management or councils. These are the people who help a whole group to think different. Maybe that’s what David Ogilvy referred to when he talked about the non-conformists. The wheel wasn’t invented by the socialising group singing around the campfire, it was probably invented by the social outcast who came up with the idea in splendid isolation. In fact, there are many inventions, theories, art forms that were conceived by neurodiverse talents. Not only by people having ASD (autism spectrum disorder), but also people with ADHD or dyslexia. The good thing about these disorders, if they are mild enough - they are not disorders but high functioning weapons making these people stronger than any normal being out there. Wouldn’t it be great to have an agency with only people who are neurodiverse, a powerhouse of talents outperforming all those normal people out there. There are IT companies that recruit on neurodiversity, but why do ad agencies think neurodiversity is only good for creatives to find ideas, while it can also help rethinking the whole business?

Put more neurodiverse people in management positions 

Recently I had a video call where Grey told me they highly value my thoughts and advice, but they raised the question if “I had enough contact with people within the network?” This question was really confronting, because they were right. I have a couple of contacts, but I’m not a socialiser, I’m not a networker, I can hardly get a conversation started or going. This was for me the point where I had to stand up for myself and my neurodiversity. I admitted that I knew this was a professional point, but I also stressed the fact that this was part of who I am. With LGBTQ+ for example, there are already a growing number of valuable groups being given the respect and chances they deserve. I hope everyone will soon learn from progress that groups like that have made and apply those lessons to include more neurodiversity too. If you consider doing so, you have to be aware we come with a manual.

We come with a manual, but it’s worth giving us a stage

Take autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for example. We need an embracing culture, because we exclude ourselves from groups by default. I have always had the luck to work with people who respected me for who I am and compensated for the abilities I was lacking. People with ASD are not the most social people, they dread team building, they cannot cope with a sudden change in agenda, and they never use the word “amazing” if the work is not actually amazing and they will be unable to say “hello, my friend, how are you doing” if the person standing before them is not actually their friend. Hence my global council brain freeze.

But if you surround us with other talents who make up for these blind spots, if you give us more isolated places to work, you will benefit from the advantages people with ADS have. They show signs of raised intelligence, they can focus, they see details nobody noticed, they connect dots nobody sees. 

The same goes with people having ADHD. I guess everyone in advertising has some degree of ADHD, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to cope with increasingly demanding clients, but those with visible signs of ADHD can be the pioneers of your agency. They will go where no man or woman has gone before, they will perform best in moments of stress, they need to tackle different assignments at the same time, they are the best account managers, because they need social contact. Again, embrace the strength of these people and surround them with organised people, coping with their innate lack of organisation and focus. I’m sure, if you form the best constellations of neurodiverse people who cover each other's weaknesses and applaud each other’s strengths, your office will always be evolving. Other disorders are dyslexia, a disorder that is mostly found with art directors. But here again, why not use dyslectic people to think about other things than design, you will find their thoughts revealing. Again, put these people in the right place and they will thrive, surround them with a loving culture, and they surprise you. Add an “N”-profile to each team and spread creativity in every department of your agency.

Extract from the upcoming book “What’s Your Handicap? Discover your strength through your weakness.” Written by Yin United Coach Emily Rammant & Chief Creative Officer Peter Ampe. Expected publishing date December 2021. 

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