Neurodiversity and the software design dilemma – TechCrunch

Homo sapiens is truly a diverse species. We appear distinct from each other because of our origins in various regions of the planet; we communicate using thousands of languages; we have different thought patterns based on our experiences, heritage and cultures. Our brains are all unique; we analyze problems and make decisions using all of these properties – and many more.

These factors all directly affect how we conduct our business and how we use the tools to perform our tasks. Doing business well is hard enough for most people, but people with neurodiverse characteristics — professionals who “think differently,” as the late Steve Jobs said — are a unique breed whose talent is too often underestimated. or untapped within companies, which often value standardization and prefer limited deviations from normal work patterns.

The role of neurodiversity

Neurodivergent people process information differently than the general public does. Examples of this are people on the autism spectrum, with dyslexia, or those with attention deficit disorder, or ADD. Experts believe that up to 40% of the population is neurodivergent.

Many believe the percentage is even higher in the sales profession, since good salespeople are often more persistent and think “outside the box”. It’s not unlikely that a member of any given sales team is a superstar salesperson, but has neurological variants that affect how they interact with information and with others. This makes a particularly compelling argument for the wisdom of bringing neuroatypical people into sales organizations and allowing them to thrive.

For example, salespeople use customer relationship management (CRM) software systems, where all records, workflows, and analytics are standardized and the user experience is limited to the a how the system was configured.

But not everyone can make optimal use of such a complicated and rigid system, especially when the user interaction layer is so strictly limited. Most neurodiverse people have particular difficulty with “obstinate” apps that tend to impose a certain way of working on the user, sometimes without taking into account all aspects of the user’s humanity – their way to process information and navigate workflows. This is why in most sales organizations, the top performing sales reps are often the ones who update the CRM the least and why most sales reps use basic note-taking apps, tasks and spreadsheets. to manage their own deal pipeline.

Neurodiversity professionals bring different perspectives and strengths to the table and often challenge the status quo. It is this diversity of thought that gives an organization special strength.

What do companies have to gain from neurodiverse talent?

JP Morgan created a neurodiversity pilot program in 2015 called Autism at Work, and the results have been notable. Employees participating in the program were 48% faster at completing tasks and 92% more productive than their peers. Preliminary results from another Australian Department of Social Services pilot program found that the organization’s neurodiverse software testing teams were 30% more productive than neurotypical teams.

Most people with autism are known for their attention to detail. A 7-year-old boy with autism, for example, memorized the details of every shipwreck in history. This type of focus and appetite for information has remarkable potential when harnessed in the right roles. Autistic talent is often a perfect fit for some of the fastest growing segments of the knowledge economy, including data analytics, technology services, and software engineering. In fact, Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently revealed that he has a form of autism.

In another area of ​​neurodiversity, original thinkers are often dyslexic. Consider some of the dyslexic people who changed the world: Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Bill Gates, to name a few. What they have in common is the ability to look at the world differently.

The software dilemma

More and more companies are getting the message: neurodivergent employees should be valued as a huge source of talent and contribution. At the same time, heightened awareness of social injustices of all kinds following the events of 2020 has prompted more organizations to recognize neurodiversity as part of their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

But so far, much of the focus has been on how hiring, training, onboarding processes, and even office design (when we all go back to the office) can be more inclusive for people. neurodivergent. For example, SAP and Microsoft have stepped up efforts to hire more neuroatypical employees.

These initiatives are important, but we believe software vendors need to go further and change their approach to core design.

A lot of software imposes a certain way of working on users, regardless of how everything feels and plays out from the user’s point of view. And along the way, this rigid system ends up excluding many neurodiverse people. As a result, users face challenges in their day-to-day work because the tools they have been provided with do not match the way they process information and navigate their workflows, all in the name of standardization, and organizations then suffer from poor adoption of their tools and systems.

No provider does this intentionally; it’s just that it’s hard to do and to do well. But it should become a core value for every software company to pursue empathetic software design that imagines and speaks to all users, and helps everyone be equally efficient and productive. It starts with recognizing and appreciating that not all “users” are the same, which then leads to designing more flexible and accessible software that a larger percentage of people can use naturally.

If sales organizations have more than their share of neurodivergent people, imagine the effect the wrong kind of tools can have – say, CRM software that forces someone with ADHD to manage a plethora of tedious data entry tasks. of data. Imagine all the frustration, lost potential, and damaged morale because a skilled, neurodiverse salesperson was simply given the wrong tools to enable them to demonstrate their full potential.

Now is the time for the industry as a whole to broaden its thinking about software user experience and include flexibility as a key design principle.

Abdul J. Gaspar