Why We Need Neurodiversity in Advertising

The value of hiring people who think differently

Today's best ideas call for more diverse-thinking people at the table. People willing to receive knowledge and question it. To bend, break and blend things in unexpected ways. To make unexpected leaps that relate things seen to things unseen. More spontaneity. Less self-editing. Impactful ideas are derivative and collaborative in nature. And as the need for making things increases, clients and audiences are idea builders as much as agencies. Because even with endlessly evolving tools and technology at our disposal, our greatest strength as humans is our ability to imagine and change things.

Are we maximizing our collective brainpower?

Some of the most celebrated minds of our time were far from standardly wired. Thomas Edison had dyslexia and ADHD. Albert Einstein showed signs of autism. Pablo Picasso struggled with depression. And though Warren Buffett fought having the intellect for business but not the persona, his mastery of abstract concepts is credited to his introversion. In fact, many influential innovators are lacking standard high-performer attributes. From linear to lateral thinkers, each mind should be uniquely leveraged. 

Neurodiversity is a competitive advantage

Traits like introversion or depression don't naturally thrive in business environments and often lead to career-advancement ceilings or talent underutilization. Or worse, some of the world's most brilliant thinkers that are autistic or have a social anxiety disorder may not even make it through the hiring process. We don't wear our thinking differences as an external badge. The nuances of how we learn or how we express ourselves are left off our résumés. And surprisingly, many supposed mental hurdles actually have a very strong correlation with creativity. The key is to create environments and teams that move different kinds of thinkers forward.

Commonalities overshadow meaningful differences

Humans focus on commonalities at the expense of interesting details. We want to be part of the head-nodding majority. To belong, and to be understood. Let's call it small-world syndrome. It goes something like this… We meet someone and ask questions in hopes of getting to that "No way, I [know that person / love doing that thing / want to go there], too." moment. And because we are biased to find like-minded tribes, that similarity is what we remember. We make meeting different people about reaffirming our own perspectives. Tendencies like this lead to hiring people that are like us. But when we do that, we miss out on thinking that may challenge us to move beyond our own realities. 

It's not about unity, it's about healthy dissent

Instead of seeking like minds to pat one another on the back for unanimous brilliance, seek those who push us to rethink what we think we know from the blinders of our own experiences. And though diverse teams are critical, it's about more than representing surface ethnic and gender differences. It's about the collision of different worlds and the amplification of individual voices. All in the name of embracing greater human and brand truths.

Empathy is at the core of empowering those that think differently

Brands like McDonald's Sweden have worked to conjure empathy for dyslexia. Only when we start to see hurdles from other people's viewpoints can we truly maximize human potential. In ad agencies, these kinds of insights change how we brief teams, structure workspaces, address role titles and allow for process flexibility. 

Focus on collective strengths, not individual weaknesses

Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and mental health that sees these neurological variations as normal in the human genome. We must be open to non-conforming thinkers. It's not enough to simply add diversity to your team; you need to engage everyone's differentiated thinking. By empowering and assembling teams of different thinkers with different influences, the ad industry can inspire behavior change like never before. Because in our hyperconnected world, each and every advertising opportunity is a stage ready to pivot society's preconceptions. 

Learn more about neurodiversity in advertising

For the first time since its inception, the 7th annual 3% Conference is getting to the heart of neurodiversity. On this panel, you'll hear about how Rich Silverstein, co-chairman and partner at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, has successfully dealt with dyslexia and ADHD. Other panelists include Kathy Delaney, global chief creative officer at Publicis Health; Rosa T. Sheng, president/founder of Equity by Design; Jennifer Hohn, freelance executive creative director; Jenny Bergman, 3 Percent Movement design director and founder/creative director of The Secret Bureau of Art & Design.

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Jennifer Hohn
Jennifer Hohn rose from art director to executive creative director in three years at Vladimir Jones. Currently, she is freelancing and collaborating with other advertising leaders while plotting her next move.