Ep 229: Exploring the Positive Impact of Neurodiversity and AI

Leveraging Neurodiversity and AI for Business Success

In the ever-evolving landscape of the business world, it's imperative for organizations to embrace diversity and innovation. Amidst the technological advancements, the intersection of neurodiversity and AI presents a unique opportunity for businesses to drive positive impact and foster a more inclusive and productive work environment.

Understanding the Potential of Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity encompasses a range of neurological differences, including autism, dyslexia, ADHD, and dyspraxia. It emphasizes the value of diverse ways of thinking and perceiving the world, challenging the traditional deficit model and recognizing the strengths that neurodivergent individuals bring to the table.

The Impact of Cognitive Biases

Cognitive biases often influence judgments and can create barriers to genuine inclusion, affecting the recruitment and evaluation of talent. By acknowledging and addressing these biases, organizations can pave the way for embracing the unique talents and perspectives of neurodivergent individuals.

Leveraging AI to Enhance Productivity and Communication

Generative AI, such as ChatGPT, has been shown to positively impact how neurodivergent individuals work and interact within the workplace. From streamlining communication and reducing anxiety around messaging to aiding in research and organization, AI has proven to be a valuable asset in enhancing productivity and work efficiency.

Future-Proofing Organizations with Cognitive Diversity

As AI continues to redefine the future of work, businesses are presented with the opportunity to leverage the unique skill sets that neurodivergent individuals possess. Skills such as interdisciplinary thinking, lateral problem solving, and systems thinking, often found within the neurodivergent community, are becoming increasingly essential in the age of AI-driven transformation.

Complementary Cognition and Cultural Fit

The concept of complementary cognition emphasizes the significance of understanding and leveraging cognitive diversity within organizations. Embracing neurodiversity over traditional cultural fit allows businesses to harness the full potential of their human resources, fostering innovation, productivity, and inclusivity in the workplace.

Embracing the Intersection of Neurodiversity and AI

Incorporating neurodiversity and AI as integral components of business strategies can lead to more innovative and successful organizations. By recognizing the strengths of neurodivergent individuals, addressing cognitive biases, and leveraging AI to enhance productivity, businesses can create a workplace culture that values diverse perspectives, fosters inclusivity, and future-proofs the organization in an era of rapid technological advancement.

As businesses navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing world, the integration of neurodiversity and AI presents a unique opportunity to drive positive change and achieve sustainable success.

By embracing cognitive diversity and leveraging the capabilities of AI, organizations can create a workplace culture that not only values diverse perspectives but also taps into the full potential of all team members, paving the way for innovation and growth in the digital age.

Topics Covered in This Episode

1. Neurodiversity and AI
2. Challenges Faced by Neurodivergent Individuals in the Workplace
3. Positive Impact of AI on Neurodivergent Individuals
4. Future Implementations of AI in the Workplace

Podcast Transcript

Jordan Wilson [00:00:18]:
I've literally gotten dozens of messages from people talking about how much chat gpt is helping them, and I I was kind of surprised. A lot of people said, hey. I am neurodivergent, and something as simple as ChatGPT has completely changed the way that I work and has changed my relationship with coworkers. So it's something that I'm excited to explore a little bit more today on everyday AI. So welcome. If you're new here, thanks for joining. My name's Jordan Wilson, and I am the host of everyday AI. We're a daily livestream, podcast, and free daily newsletter helping everyday people like you and me not just learn generative AI, but how we can all actually leverage it to grow our companies and to grow our careers.

Jordan Wilson [00:01:03]:
So I'm extremely excited for, today's episode. But as a reminder, if you are joining us, go to your everydayai.com and sign up for the free daily newsletter. Well, here's why. Normally, I go over the the AI news of the day live. This is actually a a prerecorded episode that will be debuting live. So we still have all of the AI news. Just make sure to check out the newsletter today for that. And while you're on our website, go ahead, look around.

Jordan Wilson [00:01:27]:
I tell people it is a free generative AI, university. Depending on if you wanna learn about Gen AI in in sales, entrepreneurship, career, etcetera, it's all on there. So I'm extremely excited to just really explore the positive impacts of of neurodiversity in AI. And and don't worry. It's not just me talking about that. I actually have an expert on the topic today. So let's go ahead and bring on to the show. There we go.

Jordan Wilson [00:01:56]:
We have, doctor Maureen Dunn, who is an educator, entrepreneur, author of lot of things. Maureen, thank you so much for joining the Everyday AI Show.

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:02:06]:
Hi. Thank you. Great to be here, Jordan.

Jordan Wilson [00:02:08]:
Alright. So, hey, could you just tell everyone a little bit about the work that you do? Because I know you hold a lot of roles. You know, you speak all over, the world, really, on this topic. So, yeah, could you just give everyone a little bit of a background about yourself?

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:02:21]:
Absolutely. So I, yeah, I've been working in the field for over 20 years. A lot has changed since then. So it's been kind of it's been really fascinating, and I've I've worked in a number of different roles. I've helped start some social impact funds investing in neurodiversity. I did my PhD in this space at Oxford University when I was studying as a Rhodes Scholar. You know, so and I and I've, most recently completed my first book, called The Nerdiversity Edge.

Jordan Wilson [00:02:56]:
So, I mean, tell us tell us a little bit about, you know, your your experience. So you said you've been in in the field for, you know, more than more than 2 decades. You know, even for me personally, I feel I've I've started to hear a lot more about, neurodiversity in in the past year or 2. Am I am I imagining that or or has it just become, you know, a bigger topic of conversation now, recently?

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:03:20]:
No. It's it's yeah. For sure. It's it's, I think I think we're finally at this point where it's becoming more of a mainstream conversation, which was really not happening before. And, you know, there's a lot of reasons for that, but I think there's been a lot more public awareness. There's a lot more people that are being diagnosed even, like, late, you know, diagnosis. And and it's, just, I think the the field has evolved, a lot over time, and there's been just more awareness of just, how large of a population the neurodivergent, group is. I mean, we're looking at, you know, at minimum 15 to 20% of the global population.

Jordan Wilson [00:04:07]:
Wow. And could you just help us better understand, you know, what does it even mean to be neurodivergent?

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:04:15]:
Sure. Absolutely. So, so there so the neurodiversity term, was coined in the late 19 nineties by an Australian sociologist named Judy Singer. And, you know, obviously, autism, dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia, a lot a lot of these typologies have existed, you know, for a long time, much you know, for for far longer than than that. But, yeah, the the in the, you know, starting the late 19 nineties, there started to be more of this, you know, these conversations around looking at neurodiversity and, you know, people that autistic people, ADHDers, dyslexia, from a more strength based perspective. But the the the the really, important idea on where things started when the coin the term was coined was just to thinking about neurodiversity as being part of the natural spectrum of what it means to be human, rather than just this pure medical deficit model where there's, you know, we're separating humanity into people that are normal and people that are deficient that it's it's actually a lot more complex and nuanced than that. And that there's this rich diversity of ways of thinking and and ways of perceiving the world that are should be should be valued and that it's that fits within the normal spectrum of what it means to be human.

Jordan Wilson [00:05:50]:
So so maybe even before we jump into AI and how AI can have a positive impact, Can you just you you know, for those of us that, you know, don't fully understand, could you just help us, you know, walk us through maybe, you know, the average, you know, person working. Right? Maybe even here in the US. What are some, you know, common, you know, challenges that people, you know, with neurodiversities can face? I know it's different depending on, you know, if it's ADHD versus autism, etcetera. But, you know, in general, what are some of those common threads, that neurodivergent people face in today's workplace?

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:06:25]:
Sure. Absolutely. So so start out with the a sort of deeper, problem that I see, and then I'll talk a little bit about, some specifics of of things that I think could be done. So so it's one of the the deeper issues I found in my experience is just and and this sort of goes for everyone, all of us, neurodivergent people and neurotypical alike, but there's we're just the way our brains are are wired. We are prone to a lot taking a lot of sort of, like, mental shortcuts. Right? These, like, cognitive biases and sometimes actually pretty often if we're not, you know, careful to be to try to be more aware of them, they do influence our judgments. And so, in my book, I I talk a lot of the neuropsychiatry talk a lot about some of the different types of cognitive biases that could get in the way of of genuine inclusion. One of them is the confirmation bias.

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:07:24]:
And I bring this up because it's well known, you know, the neurodivergent community is, there's a huge, huge disproportionality in terms of, like, the potential to contribute, and the economic opportunities that are actually available. And the unemployment rate is still, you know, unacceptably high. There's, you know, 30 to 40%, neurodivergent people across all the typologies that are unemployed or underemployed. If you look at the autistic population in particular, you know, there's some stats that there's even as high as 85%, and that includes college graduates. Okay. So there's there's a lot of challenges, I think, in just our biases too about how to do interviews and how to evaluate talent. And, you know, it's it's often the case that there's just a sort of standard script of how to do interviews, how we're, you know, you know, evaluating, you know, people that are are applying for jobs. And and and and often it's the case that, some of those scripts really aren't related to what's required for that that job, and that could, naturally in, you know, disadvantage, right, some, some neurodivergent people.

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:08:42]:
So, and, and then also I think it's important, like if someone discloses and says they're neurodivergent, whether it's ADHD, dyslexia, autism, it's really important to, remind yourself that, like, you know, everything's case by case. Like, I think it's so that we again, going back to the cognitive biases, like, we're we're wired in a way where, there's these mental shortcuts. So I think people like they'll hear autism and then they immediately assume like, okay, there's no way this person is gonna be a good, you know, good at at certain types of jobs or, but yet I've known actually some pretty amazing, autistic leaders that have even been in marketing and, like, all sorts all sorts of jobs that you wouldn't think, you know, at first glance would make sense. Right? And so I think just, the deeper issue is is for all of us to just become aware of the cognitive biases, you know, the unconscious cognitive biases, we all come that all come into play, you know, like into our communication and assessment of candidates. And then to be, actively, you know, integrating into our talent assessment processes and systems, different strategies and ways so that there's, not so these biases aren't are not preventing the kind of talent that you really want to be recruiting, at your company. And and that could be things such as, you know, being just being more flexible overall, but, like, offering nontraditional interview processes where, there's a lot of thoughtfulness going into the design of that process and, allowing, you know, people to, submit evidence of what they can do, you know, so it's not so subjective. Right? A lot of interview processes tend to be really about, you know, your subjective impression of a person. In fact, I talked to I had an interview the other day and they said, yeah.

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:10:49]:
You know, I know no CEO who said, yeah. He mostly hires, you know, he his his main criteria is if he can hang with the person. Well, you know, that's not probably the best criteria to hire someone if you actually want your business to excel, especially in the the paradigm that we're looking at in the future where things are gonna be changing really fast.

Jordan Wilson [00:11:07]:
Yeah. And speaking of of changing really fast, this is kinda what I started the show with is I've, you know, personally gotten dozens of of messages from, neurodivergent people saying that AI has changed the way they work. It's, you know, people are saying it's helping them, communicate faster, helping them, you know, be more productive, helping them, you know, learn, you know, in in a more personalized way. Maureen, what's what's been your response so far? I know you're very tapped into the neurodivergent community. What's been your response, so far? What would you say people, you know, with different, you know, neurodivergencies are saying about generative AI and the impact it's had?

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:11:44]:
Yeah. Sure. So and and and the, you know, I've been in general sort of more focused on on some of the limitations of AI and and understanding types of of cognition and modes of thought that actually complement AI really really well, like nonlinear thinking, lateral thinking, whether and we could talk about that later. But I have also heard from a lot of neurodivergent people. I I know, about the kinds, you know, the ways in which it has been improving their productivity and and helping. I think one example is, and I I haven't tested this out myself, but I know I know, someone who told me that, you know, it's the that he's had he in the past, he's kinda had anxiety about, like, just responding to communication with emails, you know, and making sure there's, if they're really polite or and so and so and so this generative AI, I guess, has helped him, like, come up with, you know, different types of of you know, he'll he'll he'll know his bullet points, right, in terms of, like, what he wants to communicate, but it just is it helps, speed up the process and reduce anxiety to have these sort of templates, right, to make sure that he's getting back to people really quickly, that, you know, that communication, is seamless and, and faster than what it would normally be. And then I've also, I know people that, have been, you know, using it, just for, you know, research purposes, and I've heard heard from, a number of of neurodivergent people that have some challenges, like, in terms of, like, organization, especially, like, organizing, information. Even I have a a few friends that have said, you know, that that sometimes struggle to, like, just get all the documents they need in time for, like, filing their taxes, for instance, and are kind of, excited about, you know, the potential of generative AI where, like, the stuffs that they struggle with, will actually be really easy because then they could just, you know, ask this the system to kind of pull up different documents from their emails, you know, and gather all that information at some point soon.

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:14:09]:
And, and then, you know, that the the those those type of tasks, which maybe are difficult for people to have some, like, what we call executive functioning challenges are you know, it frees up a lot of time then for creativity, for innovation, for the types of things that a lot of neurodivergent people I know, especially entrepreneurs, are exceptional at.

Jordan Wilson [00:14:28]:
Yeah. And I and I do wanna focus on that side as well. But, you you know, first, you know, you you mentioned a couple of things there that I think are important. You know, you you mentioned things as simple as, you know, not spending as much time, you know, replying to an email, you know, decreasing anxiety around, like, oh, you know, is is this maybe going to come off a a certain way? Do you think that there's, kind of this maybe outlook or this idea that right now generative AI and even something as simple as using ChatCBT can almost serve as, you know, an assistant or a a sounding board for someone with neurodiversity, to either help them learn something faster or in a different way, communicate, in a different way with their peers. Do you think that's kind of, you you know, one of the biggest positive impacts that generative AI can have at least, you know, topically?

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:15:20]:
Yeah. Yeah. Possibly. And there's that potential. You know, there is something called the double empathy problem, which we won't have time to get into today. And I and I talk about this in my book. But for for, like, you know, I think that there's a lot we can do to share, you know, sort of close the gaps on some shared experiences and, communication and empathy gaps between different neurotypes. And I think, ChatCPT could potentially be a a really great resource, in in in for for that.

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:15:57]:
And then I think not just, you know, beyond our divergent people, like, again, just freeing up some productivity. Right? Filling up time where we could all be focused on, solving some deeper problems. Right? We have so many problems with the world, and I think there's a lot of potential for nerd version people to and neurotypical people to, complement each other in terms of their strengths and challenges and work alongside machines and generative AI in a way where we really, could be making a positive difference.

Jordan Wilson [00:16:29]:
Yeah. And I think that's, you know, even looking at the future of work is is probably important because the the, general school of thought is, you know, generative AI systems are going to be taking over, you know, some sort of that knowledge work or cognitive work that that we talk about. So, you know, what should, neurodivergent people be be following when it comes to future implementations of AI in the work place if we're hearing that, hey. It's gonna take a lot of you know, potentially take a lot or help automate a lot of this cognitive work. So, what does that mean for, you know, neurodivergent people?

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:17:03]:
Yeah. Well, obviously, you know, it it it means a lot for everyone. Right? Not just neurodivergent people. It's going to change how, you know, I mean, how we how all of, you know, for how all of humanity, is working. This is, you know, the first time in history where this level of cognitive work, as you mentioned, is being could is gonna be taken over by machines. And so that will just be this huge, huge, huge adjustment. And I think I think we're all going to have to adapt to this new world, and it's, you know, going to increasingly accelerate. Having said that, I think that, you know, a lot of the skill sets that, you know, and and it's important not to generalize.

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:17:48]:
Right? Because the neurodiversity community and neurodivergence in general is, like, is extremely broad, spectrum of different strengths and weaknesses that we we all have. But I think that there are, it you know, I think that it's an exciting time also because there are certain types of skill sets, I think, that historically have been undervalued, at least in the economy. You know, like, we've had a lot of innovators that happen to still make their mark, you know, in in the world. But, you know, if you look at just just in terms of just more of numbers like the unemployment rates, you know, right now, we're well under 4% in the in the in terms of average unemployment in the United States. And if you look at the neurodivergent community, you know, if it's across all typologies, 30 to 40%, Yet there are a lot of unique talents and skill sets. And again, you know, I'm not gonna generalize across everyone, but but the types there there's types of skill sets that maybe have been undervalued in the past that I think, are going to increasingly be important, as, you know, in the future. Right? And so, you know, people that can connect dots between different fields and, you know, naturally think in a way where there's these intuitive leaps of creative insight. And, it's not, there's not a real obvious way in which they're solving problems that are going beyond sort of traditional linear thinking.

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:19:24]:
But there's, nonlinear approaches to problem solving, a lot of lateral thinking, a lot of reverse engineering, associative thinking. A lot of these skill sets, you know, I think are increasingly become more important and they there there is, documented, overlap, with neurodivergence.

Jordan Wilson [00:19:46]:
So it you know, just so I make sure I'm understanding this correctly. So you're kind of saying that there's maybe these undervalued or, you know, unique skill sets that neurodivergent people have and can bring to the table, that maybe AI can help leverage these skill sets where before, maybe some of these, you know, unique skill sets were being underutilized. Is that is that kind of what you're saying and what AI can maybe help with?

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:20:09]:
Yeah. And and, you know, I I think I think, it's, obviously, you know, every human being is valuable, and we we I think there's important to find a place for everyone in our economy. But just from a cognitive scientist perspective, like, I think a lot of even, like, interdisciplinary thinking or systems thinking, like, we've we had become in the past such a specialist, like, there's been such a focus on specialization and, that sometimes, you know, we've undervalued, the people that are really thinking outside of those boundaries. Right? And and I think I think that, you know, for some neurodivergent people that's that naturally fall into that type of of thinking style, it's gonna be much harder to automate, those modes of thinking. Right? And, you know, maybe far, far in the future, that that'll, you know, be be easier, but I do think we're entering this period of time where, I think we've all we're we're all gonna be really surprised and have already been surprised at what even chat GPT can do, right, in terms of but there's still sort of mash mashups of existing human expressions. And And so what I think is gonna increasingly be more valuable is, these types of skill sets that fall outside of those maps or those boundaries.

Jordan Wilson [00:21:40]:
And, you know, I'd love for, you know, whether our audience tuning in live or those of you on the podcast, you know, I'd love to hear from you. Like, what are ways that you think AI is already or could maybe in the future, you know, better better leverage, you know, your unique skill sets. You know, we'd love to feature some of those, in in in the newsletter today. Maureen, but so so your new book, The Neurodiversity Edge, I'd I'd love to hear you know, I know it it tackles, you know, neurodiversity from all different angles, but, you know, specifically, you know, what did you find or what were some of your takeaways just as it comes to neurodiversity and AI or, you know, neurodiversity and and future technologies. What what what can you tell us a little bit about some of your findings there?

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:22:25]:
Yeah. So I there's a chapter where I go into, you know, strengths that neurodivergent people, bring to the table. But all but also, the final chapter is called, Nerdiversity in the Age of Transformation. And I think, that chapter in particular will be interesting to leaders who are looking to future proof their organization. And, you know, it talks in more detail. I've got actually I've got to talk about a story of of a mentor I had when I was at Oxford and Oxford Don who was dyslexic that, you know, really, you know, put me through some, interesting, thought experiments for my benefit. And, you know, looking at just, how accelerated change happens, you know, in terms of, like, just we're entering this period now where things are gonna move a lot faster and accelerate a lot faster in terms of computational power than we've maybe ever seen ever, right, in in history and how, you know, cognitive diversity, you know, is is is important. Right? It's hugely important.

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:23:38]:
It's, we're entering this very uncertain period, and there there is gonna be a lot of change. And, you know, AI systems, what they do really, really well is, they're gonna be able to, you know, crunch data and and take over a lot of linear thinking tasks, you know, far much faster and much better than most humans. But then we need to focus on whether we're a neurodivergent or or, neurotypical. We need to focus on what what what we're really good at as human beings. And I think that it does, you know, my research suggests that it there is this this special place that, perhaps has been underappreciated for human neurodivergence in particular, especially with regards to, you know, the some of the some of the cognitive, approaches and atypical problem solving approaches. And also just coming and perceiving at problems from a very different lens than neurotypical people are, which in itself is incredibly valuable, you know, just throughout your organization. You want people who, are going to be able to detect some blind spots, that that others may not.

Jordan Wilson [00:24:59]:
I think I think that's such an important, you know, aspect right there, you know, detecting blind spots that others can't. It's hugely hugely important. So so I mean, Maureen, we've we've covered a lot in today's episode, you know, from, you know, going into what neurodivergence means and, you know, some of the special, or untapped, you know, skill sets that AI can actually, you know, help better leverage or better bring to light. But, you know, as we wrap up, what is the one takeaway, that that you hope people can, can kind of, gather from today's conversation, specifically on the positive impact of AI and neurodiversity?

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:25:36]:
Yeah. I mean, I would say that, there's this concept called complementary cognition, and I think that organizations of all kinds will be most competitive if they're not just preparing, to for how their organizations might change in terms of, like, how do we integrate AI? How do we integrate, you know, these emerging technologies? But thinking about it from a human resources perspective. And, you know, there's a concept I call neurodiversification over cultural fit and, you know, sort of taking that taking that seriously and and and understanding in the context of the age of AI and the the paradigm we're we're entering now, how it it's more important than ever that, we really, you know, take the time as leaders to understand neurodiversity, understand cognitive diversity, understand, yeah, how to, you know, leverage our human resources, in a way where we're, we're complementing each other as, as humans and, and also working alongside AI to, be the most productive and innovative that we can.

Jordan Wilson [00:26:44]:
Thank you so much. I think this conversation is one of those that is going to be extremely helpful for all of us. Right? Just just creating, more inclusive and better understanding workplaces, especially as our workplaces are changing so much, you know, with AI. So doctor Maureen Dunn, thank you so much for joining the Everyday AI Show. We really appreciate your time and your insights.

Maureen N. Dunne, [00:27:06]:
K. Thank you, Jordan. I appreciate it. I enjoyed it.

Jordan Wilson [00:27:08]:
And, hey, as a reminder, everyone, there's going to be a lot more. As always, we're gonna be breaking down today's conversation in the newsletter. We'll make sure to drop more information about Maureen's new book as well as additional resources and insights that maybe we didn't even get time to cover today. So make sure if you haven't already, please go to your everydayai.com. Sign up for that free daily newsletter, and we'll see you back tomorrow and every day for more everyday AI. Thanks!

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