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Neurodiversity: Learning from the elephant in the room

Neurodiversity: Learning from the elephant in the room
Emily Luscombe wide crop

By Emily Luscombe, Chief Client Officer

In a training session on neurodiversity, we are asked to imagine an elephant.

Mine is your archetypal matriarch. Big and grey, weathered, dusty about the knees. It’s a metaphor, I say; it’s been a turbulent year.

One colleague’s elephant is rainbow-striped. (Anyone with preschoolers will immediately recognise him). Another elephant is flying. A fourth takes the form of a cuddly toy.

I am always nervous in sessions run by psychologists, who have a disconcerting knack of knowing me better than I know myself. But we are an industry in transition, from arts to analytics, and we need to get more comfortable with our left brain. And anyway, the point is well made. Even with something as innocuous as describing an elephant, a room full of people approach the task differently.

The necessity of neurodiversity in seeing things differently

You don’t have to be neurodiverse to have a different way of seeing things. In fact, someone points out, aren’t we all neurodiverse, because every brain is different? That’s what makes us creatives so interesting to work with. And why no one needs persuading that diversity is the absolute necessity for our industry to continue to thrive. Like sustainability at Davos, it’s no longer the Right Thing To Do; it’s the Only Way To Do It.

How then, to manage an agency team, let alone a client, who see things differently to you? We don’t need our annual Client Satisfaction Survey to tell us that the “stickiest” clients are those who can connect with, and relate to, their advisors. People buy people – and we like the familiar. But herein lies also the challenge – and the fundamental reason why our industry remains resolutely non-diverse.

This issue of divergent perspectives is a very real challenge to the modern communicator – operating in a world of blurred boundaries where to align with one school of thought is often to inadvertently, and publicly, repel another. There really are infinite ways to deliver that key message, and infinite audiences to receive it, each in their unique way.

How best to communicate with neurodiverse individuals

Back to diverse teams – and there’s a wealth of Googleable advice on managing them. Turns out we are all individuals (you don’t say). Email is a disaster – written words are too open to (mis)interpretation.  Pictures are far more effective, although not always practical when you’re working several hundred miles apart.

This is another one where children got to the answer far ahead of management consultants. Before they have words, they draw how they are feeling. I’m a doodler too; the scrawls in my margins revealing far more about my interpretation of the brief than any PowerPoint summary.

At home, we recently sat down to watch an adaptation of Pinocchio. It’s darker than I remembered; 5-year-old son was uncharacteristically quiet. As the credits rolled, he turned to me: “Well mummy, that was very learningful”. A time-old story, reinterpreted for the audience of today, with all its divergent perspectives. We’ll each take something different from it, but apparently that doesn’t matter. As long as we’re still expanding our minds.

Read Emily’s content series on her cancer treatment, Scratching My Bald Head

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