Welcome to Remarkable People. We’re on a mission to make you remarkable. Helping me in this episode is Maureen Dunne.

Maureen is no ordinary advocate for neurodiversity; she is a trailblazer paving the way for a more inclusive future. As the first community college graduate to become a Rhodes Scholar, Maureen has dedicated over two decades to helping organizations harness the power of neurodivergent talent.

In this episode, we dive into Maureen’s groundbreaking book, The Neurodiversity Edge, which presents a framework for embracing the strengths of individuals with autism, ADHD, and dyslexia. Maureen challenges the status quo, pushing organizations to look beyond the deficit-based perspective and recognize the vast potential of neurodivergent minds.

Please enjoy this remarkable episode, Maureen Dunne: Unlocking the Power of Neurodivergent Talent.

If you enjoyed this episode of the Remarkable People podcast, please leave a rating, write a review, and subscribe. Thank you!

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Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with Maureen Dunne: Unlocking the Power of Neurodivergent Talent.

Guy Kawasaki:
I'm Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. Today we have with us Maureen Dunne. She's a trailblazer in the field of neurodiversity and cognitive science. She was trained at Oxford and she has dedicated over two decades to helping organizations harness the power of neurodivergent talent. Maureen's journey is an inspiring one.
She was the first community college graduate to be named a Rhodes Scholar, and she's carved out an exceptional career as an advisor to corporations, universities, and government officials. This includes the Lego Foundation, Cornell University, and members of Congress. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, New York Times, and other prestigious publications.
In her book, The Neurodiversity Edge, Maureen presents a groundbreaking framework embracing the strengths of neurodivergent individuals. These are people with autism, ADHD and dyslexia. Maureen's mission is to challenge the status quo and break society's neurotypical script. She wants to empower organizations to tap into the vast potential of neurodivergent talent.
Join us as we learn about The Neurodiversity Edge and unlock a world of untapped possibilities. I'm Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People. And now here is the remarkable Maureen Dunne. Let's start with something very basic. Can you give us the definition of neurodiversity?
Maureen Dunne:
If you go back to a little bit in history, it started as part of an autism rights movement back in the late 1990s. And the term originated by a sociologist, an Australian sociologist named Judy Singer. And since then, it's really evolved into a much broader global movement.
And while it first started in acknowledging that there are different ways of thinking about autism and Asperger's syndrome and the value that neurodivergent people bring to our communities, to our societies, to our companies, it's now since evolved to encompass a pretty broad range of neurodivergent conditions, including ADHD, including dyslexia, synesthesia, hyperlexia. There's a pretty broad range of individuals that fit under the neurodiversity umbrella.
But I think the crux of how we are defining neurodiversity now is it's really a paradigm shift from how we've been seeing things like autism and dyslexia and ADHD for many years, which has been a purely deficit based perspective.
And seeing the rich diversity of abilities and strengths and human cognitive abilities that come along with neurodiversity and seeing it through this strength-based lens and trying to get the world to understand the limitations of a purely, what we would call a purely deficit-based model. And of course, you've probably, I'm sure really aware of there's a pretty high overlap between successful entrepreneurs even and neurodivergent people. So there's that interesting link as well.
Guy Kawasaki:
If I were a venture capitalist, I would only invest in neurodiverse entrepreneurs, quite frankly.
Maureen Dunne:
Well, that's amazing. Well then, yeah, we're definitely peeps here. Because I think that a lot of people need to appreciate and understand. One thing I bring up in my book is there's a disproportionate number of innovations throughout history that have been driven by neurodivergent innovators, and yet there's such a large number of neurodivergent people that have been left out of our economy.
And trying to reconcile that discrepancy is something that I think we need to on a moral and functional and economic level be having more conversations about.
Guy Kawasaki:
Okay. So since we've already touched upon this deficit orientation, let's go the other extreme, and maybe just for ADHD, dyslexia, autism and synesthesia, can you just briefly explain what they are and what are the possible positives of those kind of diagnosis?
Maureen Dunne:
Sure, absolutely. I think that's really important. So I think you see some of these conditions from a purely deficit based perspective, and one thing I get in my book is just we're still at an infancy understanding some of these conditions where there's still a lot of cognitive biases, but there's all these amazing strengths that are critical to the success of organizations and especially where we're going with the future of work.
I believe it really, our collective future depends on having a lot of unique problem solvers, and we don't want to have all members of a team be perceptually and cognitively correlated. We want people that are seeing things from different angles and pointing out new paths where we could be doing things and that's in the best interest of corporations. And so to drill that down a little bit further, if we focus on say, ADHD.
So I'll give some examples from ADHD, Autism and dyslexia. And again, I want to really reinforce the point that there's actually a lot more overlap in nuance than people realize. There are so many people, including myself, that don't neatly fit into one box. And that's another conversation to have, which is I think super important.
But for people say that are ADHDers, you could look at ADHD from this perspective, like a very deficit based lens where people are really impulsive and thinking about the aspects, the challenges that go along with ADHD, but there's also been a body of research that shows that ADHDers, because of the way their brains work, that there's less boundaries around more conventional scripts or ways of doing things.
And so there's a number of studies which you probably don't have time to go into in detail today, but happy to elaborate later where there's less what we would call design fixation, where there's a lot of creativity, there's a lot of thinking that are outside the standard boundaries that a lot of neurotypical people maybe end up intuitively sticking to.
And one example is a study that Holly White had led where they looked at ADHD college students, and it was a task related to trying to imagine and create different types of alien fruits that might exist on another planet. And so neurotypical people came up with some innovative ideas, but they're much closer to your more conventional existing ways of thinking about different fruits.
And the ADHDers came up with just a different level of novelty with fruits that really don't exist on our planet. So the idea there was that they weren't as constrained by some of the boundaries of social scripts or they have a broader repertoire of material to draw upon.
So that's just one example. And then for autism, there's a lot of extraordinary strengths that relate to detailed thinking, hyper-focus, which also sometimes overlaps with ADHD. But again, I think a lot of the neurodivergent populations, there's a tendency to solve problems in unique ways because they're coming at these solution pathways from different perceptual, cognitive and analytical tendencies.
And that in itself, in my opinion, is extremely valuable, especially when we think about the work and where things are going with AI and a lot of automation is just having individuals that are at least part of the conversation and included on teams that may notice a new path of exploration or innovation that other people may not notice because they're coming from that problem solving, from new angles that that's inherently valuable.
Guy Kawasaki:
And how about people with dyslexia?
Maureen Dunne:
It's absolutely, hugely important. I think, and I'm sure you're quite aware of Richard Branson's been a huge advocate for dyslexia and has been very vocal about how his way of thinking has, in his opinion been absolutely essential to his success, right, as an entrepreneur.
And there's been a growing body research with dyslexic thinking of how there's a lot of alignment with the kinds of skills that are predicted to be critical in the future with being able to connect dots between different fields. I think a lot of neurodivergent conditions end up overlapping with what I would call nonlinear thinking and intuitive leaps of logic.
And I think that type of thinking is going to, in my personal view, is that's going to become increasingly more important, especially as automation starts to become more prevalent in our society and in companies where a lot of the generative AI solutions still are chained to a lot of very impressive processing speed, but still extremely linear tasks that are being taken over.
And I think there's this whole other domain of thinking where neurodivergent people and neurotypical people could really work well together to cover some of the more human aspects or what I would call the limitations of AI that overlap with these intuitive leaps of logic and an insight and the nonlinear domain of thinking that is really difficult to replicate with the current AI paradigm.
Guy Kawasaki:
So how about you burst the bubble that many people seems to me think that there is a relationship between neurodiversity and intelligence, and I'm focusing on the negative assumption that these neurodiverse people, they're not intelligent. Does one thing have anything to do with the other?
Maureen Dunne:
I'm glad you brought that up. Something that I think has been an inaccurate way of thinking about this, whereas the degree of neurodivergence and intelligence there really isn't overlap. A lot of people hear of someone who's autistic or an ADHD or dyslexic, and they make false assumptions about that person's capabilities or intelligence. And it's really a separate thing.
Neurodivergent people are just people like anyone else. They have strengths and weaknesses. They tend to have more spiky profiles when compared to neurotypical people, but there should be no judgment about abilities and intelligence.
An autistic person for instance, it's just a huge range in terms of a spectrum of abilities and challenges. And just like anyone else, we're just people. And there's some people that are extremely intellectually gifted and there's other people that have intellectual disabilities, but there should be no presumption about what someone can and can't do.
And when something I really feel passionate about that I've got into detail in my book is being a cognitive scientist of course too, is trying to educate people about some of these unconscious biases that really I think get in the way of giving people fairer opportunities. And I guess I'm trying to spread the message of if we can all just become more aware of these unconscious biases, we could go in the direction of having just a more productive and functional world.
And I even call some species of unconscious biases, I call them invisible cockroaches because they're very difficult to become aware of and very difficult to get a grasp of what you do about them. But two really big examples is one is called the overconfidence effect, and that's a really common one.
And I've seen it in practice even with large corporations where I was brought in to consult on a multi-billion dollar brand where that played out where there was a marketing ad focus on autistic people, and they didn't include anyone in the community that had lived experience.
And there was this sort of, I guess the overconfidence that, hey, this is a global award-winning marketing team. So they felt like they really knew what they were doing, but they ended up releasing an ad that was actually ended up being extremely offensive to the neurodiversity community because they didn't include anyone in the community. And then I was brought in to do some damage control. And so it's also, I think what people, the companies need to understand this is a growing market segment for them.
It is actually a really huge proportion of our global population, and we're talking about at minimum 15 percent to 20 percent of the global population that identify as neurodivergent, and it's important to get this right. And then even the younger generations, like generation Z, for instance, there's been some surveys including one from Zen Business where over 50 percent of Gen Z identify as being part of the neurodiversity umbrella.
I think it was like 31 percent said that they identify as definitely being neurodivergent and like 20 percent somewhat neurodivergent. Of course there's some complexities there of identification versus diagnosis, but still says a lot that this is an important topic for all companies I think are going to need to really take this more seriously because it's just becoming increasingly important.
And then there's also a cognitive bias called the availability bias, which I think really was important one to become aware of because it's the bias where we all tend to default to the information that we most readily have available in our mental repertoire or experience. And sometimes that unfortunately ends up reinforcing stereotypes.
And so I think the goal is to try to make front and center people that actually really don't fit into the traditional stereotypes, because I think that's been a huge barrier where, especially with women, because I think a lot of the initial data and diagnostic tools were based on Caucasian boys, and then the way in which some of these conditions manifest in women are actually pretty different.
And so there's been so many women that have not been getting the support they need or been flying under the radar. And so I think just becoming more aware, and I think there's strategies to become better at this of at minimum questioning yourself, "Hey, okay, the two or three people I met that were ADHD or autistic, you're dyslexic, that's not necessarily representative of the community as a whole."
And becoming more aware of that, there's this really rich tapestry of ways in which neurodiversity manifests it selves. And part of my book, I really try hard to bring up some interesting examples and drawings, and my hope is to get people to really appreciate and have a broader understanding of neurodiversity and have a genuine appreciation and empathy for the gifts that come along with neurodiversity.
And just get outside these sort of, I don't know, warm, very narrow understandings of these different typologies that maybe are causing barriers for people, many people that don't necessarily fit one box or another extremely well, but nevertheless identify as neurodivergent.
Guy Kawasaki:
Okay. Now you've touched upon this briefly, but it seems that there's until this perfect world where neurodiversity is accepted, if not celebrated, it seems that diagnosis is very important. And I want you to explain to me how people become diagnosed with these neurodivergent conditions.
And I think in regular life you go to somebody's house and that his or her bookshelf, all the red books are together, all the white books are together, all the green books are together, and you make this instant diagnosis, "Oh, this person must be OCD." So exactly how should diagnosis be done?
Maureen Dunne:
Yeah, it's a great question. And one thing I think a lot about is I feel like even though we've made so much progress in the cognitive brain sciences, I still feel like we've got the infancy in some of that because so many of the diagnostic instruments are still somewhat subjective and there's observational options. But if you go way back, especially for autism for instance, there's been a bias towards White Caucasian boys that a lot of the research has initially done, I think it's been improving over time.
But what I would want to, answering your question, I would want to really focus on is that I feel like there's so much more nuance and complexity and overlap between even typologies where there's a lot of people that are searching for their tribes so to speak and they don't necessarily fit neatly into one category of another even if they've been diagnosed with one or more typologies.
And I feel we might be in a really different place, say ten years from now where there's an explanation for people like me that never fit into one diagnostic category really well. And maybe that's too long of a conversation for this episode, but there's a lot more overlap of different interesting talents and ways of thinking that go beyond one diagnostic category.
And so there's a lot of overlap with conceptual synesthesia and hyperlexia and there's a lot more, especially women for instance, where they don't fit really neatly into an autism diagnosis or an ADHD diagnosis at the extremes, but that they're sometimes being diagnosed with both, but their true skill sets are best represented at the intersections of some of these different typologies.
And I feel like our science is not quite there to best understand some of these nuances and complexities, and I'm hoping we get there over time. But there is increasingly a lot of people that are being diagnosed with one or more typologies, and they don't necessarily perfectly fit into one or the other. And they're best explained by the ways in which there's synergies or interactions between these different typologies.
Guy Kawasaki:
So let's pretend, actually, we don't have to pretend, this is true. So parents are listening to this and they say, "Oh, my kid is always sitting in the corner of the kindergarten classroom. He's not socializing, he's not relating, do you think he's autistic?"
Or "My kid is a very slow reader, maybe he has ADHD." But how do you know when it's a real thing versus maybe it's just a teenage boy who's bored with your curriculum and that's why he can't focus, it's not him, it's you, it's your curriculum. How do you decide what's going on?
Maureen Dunne:
It's a great question, and it's one of the reasons why I'm a really strong advocate for what I would call universal design, where we move in this direction where we design neuro-inclusive environments where even regardless of diagnosis, we're moving this direction where everybody can just be more productive.
And it's not necessarily by diagnosis as much as whatever support needs people have that there's no shame if you need to use noise-canceling headphones or there's more sensory-friendly environments. I think that's where I think even companies will get the most out of all their employees. But from a parent perspective, I think there's still a lot of progress that needs to be made in the schools.
There's still usually a structure depending on what school we're talking about, some are more rigid than others in terms of where there needs to be that sort of, okay, what are the exact needs this child needs and what box does someone fit into?
And generally what I've seen is that there's not an issue with, it may be a child that is diagnosed as say ADHD, but that doesn't explain the full story. And part of what I do then is try to be an advocate to and use my expertise to create a more nuanced plan and attend some of the IEPs and every child's different.
So just advocating for what's really going to work for that particular child. And sometimes the diagnostic process is imperfect. I would say too, we're still in infancy, I think in this field where so much of what's happening is still somewhat subjective and it's helpful as a starting point to get the resources and support that's needed.
But I suspect that if I had to imagine where things might be even ten years from now, I think we might have just much more explanations for people that don't as neatly fit into one box or another, or there's overlap.
And the complexity is there is I think that there's these stereotypes. And to me that's something I get in my book a lot is just I think one of the difficulties is to combat these cognitive biases and stereotypes where people tend to, it's just how our brains work, we tend to desire these mental shortcuts and the one or two people we each might have met that are autistic or ADHD or seen in the movies, then when we're going through a hiring process, that ends up unfortunately factoring into some of these decisions.
And so a lot of what I do is trying to get people to be aware of the dangers of that and just how incredibly rich the neurodiversity community really is, and the amazing skill sets that come along with neurodiversity.
And the importance of thinking through, in my opinion, all companies should be planning for the future and future proofing their organizations, not just from the perspective of integrating technology and AI, but taking it really seriously and thinking about the human resources perspective too, and how do you recruit unique talent and how do you recruit talent that are thinking along lines that are going to be operating out as outside of these conceptual maps that AI are going to be by far more proficient than human beings and how we can all work together.
Guy Kawasaki:
A couple minutes ago you used the term IEP. What is an IEP?
Maureen Dunne:
Yeah, it's an individual education plan. So by law, all students are required to what we would call a free and appropriate education. And the idea there is that students should be in the least restrictive environment and that there should be the support to be in a more inclusive environment.
Guy Kawasaki:
As far as I could tell, I did not notice one word in your book about treatment or drugs or Concerta or Adderall or anything like this. Are you basically saying we should accept neurodiversity and not try to fix people, but rather accommodate people's special needs? Is there a place for, quote unquote, treatment and drugs?
Maureen Dunne:
Yeah, that's a great question. Yeah. Just to clarify, I think this is an important point is that I'm not saying in any way that accommodations, again, there's this huge spectrum of strengths and challenges within the neurodiversity community, and I think it's important too. It's always a case by case basis, and there's each individual is going to be different. And I'm not in any way saying that those supports aren't important.
I do think that they absolutely are. And then there's also just laws that protect people that have disabilities and making sure that appropriate education and supports are being met. And then there's more tools on the online version that get into some more specifics and how to go about that. But what I try to focus on is what I believe just from my twenty plus years of working in this space is that that's the support needs when there's varying support needs.
But that's absolutely important. So I'm not in any way dismissing that, but I think that even within that, it's really important that there's this cultural shift and paradigm shift where we don't by default see neurodivergent profiles as being not as valuable as neurotypical profiles. And throughout history too, there's been so many of our innovators, so many entrepreneurs, as I am sure you as well, whether they're disclosing or not, certainly fit a neurodivergent profile.
And there has been a disproportionate number of innovations that have come from the neurodiversity community, and yet there's been also a disproportionate number of neurodivergent people that have been completely left out of the economy with this just ridiculously high unemployment rate. And so I try to bring up just that discrepancy in how can we as a society go about trying to welcome and integrate and authentically include people that have some really amazing skill sets that haven't been tapped into.
And so, there's varying support needs. And so I'm not in any way, shape or form dismissing that. I think that's certainly part, it's part of this equation, but I think it's one of the challenges is that we need to acknowledge that there is a really broad range. I'd say that the consistency is that most neurodivergent people have what we call spiky profiles, where there's in some cases more extreme talents and abilities and then more challenges as well.
But I believe personally that if we take a strength-based perspective, regardless of where people fit in the neurodiversity umbrella, that I think that still goes a long way to helping people actualize their full potential and self-potential and some people will need more support than others.
Guy Kawasaki:
Okay. Now listen, I realize what I'm going to talk about next is on the fringe of paranoia, but I am just so curious about what you'd say because much of your book is about accepting people for who they are and what they are and looking at people's, what they bring to the party as opposed to what they be missing according to your personal specifications.
Now, it seems to me that right now in America, there's a large number of politicians who they just cannot accept LGBTQ+, black and brown people, et cetera, et cetera, basically diverse people. Aren't you afraid that they're coming for the neurodiverse people too? It's not going to be just your race, your color, your creed, your religion, your sexual orientation. Pretty soon they're going to try to do away with neurodiversity.
Maureen Dunne:
Sure. I know if you've noticed on the side, I'm an elected official myself. I don't know if you saw that. I mean I was elected, I'm a trustee at a community college. The community college I got my start at, I graduated high school early, and then I've been involved in the state national levels in elected positions. And so I've been forced into this arena and know more about it than I intended to, I suppose in a way.
And yeah, the country's pretty polarized when we get into a lot of issues especially around DEI. And I guess from my perspective is I'm so passionate about the space that I'm just going to keep trying to influence as many people as I can. And I know it's a really difficult environment politically for that because of all the DEI stuff. But then neurodiversity is an interesting thing because it affects everyone. It's not just along political lines, it's not just every race, every ethnicity.
It's something that has touched, I think everyone as well. So there's that common ground. But I do think that it's something that I certainly think about a lot, and it becomes, I think that much more important that there's people in the community, neurodivergent people that are in leadership positions, that are very visible. They're at least at the table having a voice in some of these conversations. I think that's absolutely critical.
And also, I would take it as far as to say that it's not just about the DEI paradigm, but it's also there's a lot of unique ways of thinking or seeing things from different angles within the neurodiversity community where maybe even in our political institutions where there's been a lot of inertia or innovation stagnation due to group think and some of the social dynamics that come into play, of course, in that arena, and just even including one or two neurodivergent people into the equation, in my opinion, just could change the structure of some of the conversations we're having and start thinking along the lines of, okay, maybe there's other avenues we haven't thought about before.
Because I just find a lot of neurodivergent people that are not quite as bound to the same social scripts or boundaries that a lot of people intuitively feel they have to stick within. And I just think that's a healthy part of, a healthy and necessary part of our democracy, especially considering where we're at at this current point in our history.
I think it's so important that we have problem solvers involved in these conversations that are maybe less concerned about social status and able to talk about some of the problems that we're experiencing from a more pure rational, how do we solve these problems? And it's not easy to do because of all the cognitive biases, but I do think that our world would be a more functional place and just a better place for everyone if we can welcome neurodiversity into all of these important conversations.
Guy Kawasaki:
I'll tell you a little personal story. My son was diagnosed professionally, not just us amateurs with both ADHD and dyslexia and this dyslexia association came to his school for parents night. And they set up these exercises where you use mirrors on text and stuff, and they were trying to make you understand that you read this paragraph of text, you can just linearly read and using these mirrors and other optical things, it shows you what a dyslexic sees.
And I got to tell you, Maureen, I was brought to tears that you try to tell your son, or your daughter focus more, try harder, and then you go, and you do an exercise like that, and you see it's not a matter of trying harder or focusing, it's just completely different. It was a shock to me. It literally brought me to tears.
Maureen Dunne:
That's really fascinating. And I think part of my motivation too with my book, I'm hoping anyway, to open the eyes, especially leaders and people in decision-making positions where maybe it challenges some other assumptions. There's sometimes entirely different ways of thinking about things and problem solving.
And these, a lot of neurodivergent people are used to living comfortably, very much outside of the box of how things are currently done. And I think to really reap the value of that, I think we as a culture have to be more tolerant and open-minded to understanding that maybe we don't understand everything and maybe there is better ways to go about doing things, or at least be open-minded to have these conversations.
And I also think from what I've found in the companies I've worked with and the experiences I've had across organizations and government institutions and political institutions and social enterprises, is just I think that just when we can engage in what I would call complementary cognition where we really can embrace all kinds of minds and work collaboratively, and there be that complimentary where not everyone has to be the same, I think that's where I think we're going to make the most progress. But it is a very different way of thinking.
Guy Kawasaki:
I think in that regard, step number one is to separate intelligence from diversity because I bet you a lot of people see diversity and think lack of intelligence, and then they say themselves, "Why would we bring in people who are not intelligent into this cognition system?" And there goes that.
Maureen Dunne:
Absolutely. Yeah. And that's just a complete misunderstanding of neurodiversity, and it's one of the things I bring up in the introduction of my book is to say intelligence or assumptions about what one can and cannot do and capabilities is completely independent of a neurodivergent profile. And I'm sure you've given your background and being in Silicon Valley as long as you have, there's a lot of really super successful entrepreneurs that are neurodivergent.
But I think that one of my goals is to try to make some of these concepts and ideas more mainstream, because I still think there is a large percentage of the world that doesn't quite understand that you can have a neurodivergent profile and be extremely gifted, and that's not that uncommon. And you could be autistic, for instance, and be extremely intellectually gifted, or you could have an intellectual disability. A lot of people don't quite understand the nuance of that.
Guy Kawasaki:
But Maureen being in Silicon Valley, I would urge you to be a little cautious there because you don't want the thinking to be, my son, my daughter has these neurodivergence characteristics, therefore he or she is the next Steve Jobs, because that's setting them up for failure too. You can be neurodivergent and live a good life. You don't have to be Steve Jobs to make up for your diversity.
Maureen Dunne:
Absolutely. And I think it's communicating that wherever someone falls on the neurodivergent spectrum is every human being deserves to be valued and treated with a sense of dignity, but also sending the message of that some of these stereotypes that have been harmful in the past are also inaccurate where it is possible for someone to be ADHD or dyslexia or ADHD. And it's pretty common in entrepreneurship circles. There's not necessarily an intellectual disability.
So getting that across at the same time, truly appreciating the full spectrum of neurodiversity and the richness diversity that comes along with that, and that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and to find a meaningful job.
Guy Kawasaki:
Don't get me wrong, we have used the example of Richard Branson and once Henry Winkler came to speak to my son's school. So we've used those kinds of examples to show, you know what, you're not a loser because you're neurodiverse. There's people like Richard Branson who have succeeded, but that's different than saying, "You've got to be a Richard Branson."
Maureen Dunne:
Sure, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think how I think about this is it is more of just trying to help people come to terms with just having a strategy to, rather than focus only on their deficits, which is how many people have been trained to think about their neurodiversity all their whole life, is to just focus more on what am I good at? It doesn't mean I'm going to be a Steve Jobs. It doesn't mean I'm going to be Richard Branson.
There shouldn't be that expectation, but I think everybody benefits from having a more holistic view of themselves to say, "Okay, you know what? I'm just like any other person. I've got strengths and weaknesses. Maybe my profile's a little bit more spiky, and there's some good to that and there's some challenges to that." But just having a really honest examination of where those strengths and challenges are.
And I feel like I fear that sometimes the negatives and the challenges and the deficits get so much attention that then people don't ever learn to leverage their strengths to have the life that they want and have a meaningful career. But I agree with you, it's important to be careful not to send that message of, okay, you're a neurodivergent, so that means you should be in Silicon Valley, and you should be like this, I don't know, you're the next Steve Jobs.
No, so I'm not saying that. I think it's more of just there's such large unemployment rates. Hey, there's more we could be doing there to just tap into these amazing talents that of so many people that are just not actualizing their self-potential and should and could be really contributing at a different level.
Guy Kawasaki:
Explain to us how we can decipher whether neurodiverse inclusion is authentic or inauthentic in an organization.
Maureen Dunne:
Yeah, that's a great question. So in my research, one of the things I've found over many years is that there's certainly more attention on neurodiversity than there was in the past. And there's a lot of good progress that has been made, but sometimes unfortunately, there's been more attention than there should be on this, what I would call check the box approaches where, okay, we can now advertise, we have X number of neurodivergent people that we've hired, and that doesn't really move the needle in terms of creating the kind of neurodivergent friendly cultures at a deeper level where those organizations are actually going to really, truly benefit from the talents that many neurodivergent people bring to the table.
And so I talk in my book a lot about, I actually have a pyramid I call a Pyramid of Neuroinclusion where I put psychological safety and transparent communication at the base leader because I've worked with organizations where they actually seem to be doing some great work with instituting sensory friendly policies and flexible working policies and doing some good things.
But if there's still bullying going on, if there's not really integrity in terms of how they're codifying policies, and then what's happening on an everyday basis is still not going to be the kind of organizational culture where I think anyone can do their best, most productive work and certainly neurodivergent people, you're not going to get the most out of neurodivergent people.
I've been focused on that paradigm and the importance of doing the deeper work at a DNA level of change where I think going through that process where all organizations are really going to have a competitive edge going into the future, and also really be able to leverage talents and strengths of neurodivergent people as well, but also create a culture where everybody is going to be happier and more productive.
Guy Kawasaki:
And not working in the mail room with a master's degree as your book points out.
Maureen Dunne:
Absolutely. Which, yeah, there's unfortunately far too many examples of that, right?
Guy Kawasaki:
Yeah. So if I'm a parent listening to this or I'm a person with neurodiversity, just summarize for me, what should be my perspective, what should be my best practices? What should I do to live a fulfilling life?
Maureen Dunne:
As a parent?
Guy Kawasaki:
As a parent or a person?
Maureen Dunne:
And I think from just my experience, because I've also been heavily involved in higher ed and creating these neurodiversity friendly opportunity pathways leading into meaningful work, which, so starting earlier I think is also incredibly important. But I would say that as a parent, I think it's really important to support your child in better understanding and supporting a process going through where's my child going to best able to belong, whether this college or an internship.
And a lot of things in my experience, a lot of things go together. So a lot of college students end up doing paid internships, and the ultimate goal is to develop a portfolio of skills and learn how to navigate what can be tricky given the biases in that of where's that first job that's going to be really a good fit, that's a meaningful career opportunity.
And then one of the things I've been working on is I have a program where we have a support team that continues to support students as they graduate from college or a certificate program or apprenticeship and help them through those paid internships and first jobs and developing these portfolio of skill sets to show employers. But I think a lot of parents are just nervous about will their child ever become independent?
How they can help support their child to be able to navigate the complexities of the current world and showcase the amazing talents that so many of these young people display maybe historically haven't been fully appreciated.
And I'm hoping just given where things are going in the future with the future of work and AI, that there's I think a lot of gifts and talents that actually really complement even AI and working alongside neurotypical employees. I think there's more opportunity than maybe ever before where that cognitive diversity is really a competitive edge, I think, to corporations.
And so getting parents and advocates and employers to see that perspective, I think is crucial. And then helping to increasingly develop those opportunity pathways to make that happen, I think is going to be a game changer.
Guy Kawasaki:
It seems to me that more or less all LLMs are being created by people who lack neurodiversity. So do you think a case can be made that we should purposely create the equivalent of neurodiverse LLMs who just see the world differently in order to optimize AI?
Maureen Dunne:
Personally, yeah, absolutely. This is a process I've called in the past neurodiversification, where I think that if you don't involve people coming from different perceptual analytical perspectives, that there's always going to be some blind spots. And I think it's crucial to include people who are uncorrelated to neurotypical teams.
And also something I argue a lot in the book is, and this isn't just neurodivergent people, but there is evidence of a disproportionate level of ability and correlation with different types of neurodivergent cognition, where there's strong nonlinear skill sets or lateral thinking.
And being a cognitive scientist myself, I think that there's ways of thinking and spotting some blind spots that I do believe neurodivergent people might have an easier time identifying and some of the limitations of AI, given that the current AI paradigm anyway is limited to a conceptual map that by and large is focused on linear tasks and was just not really capable of getting into things outside of that conceptual map.
But I think a lot of neurodivergent people are very good at that, these intuitive leaps of logic. And some of the examples I give in my book is I've known; I've done case studies and known people like where they're connecting more sensory experiences that they experienced at a friend's funeral to an experience with studying different types of flowers.
And somehow all these not very logical seeming data points end up combining in this way that AI is not really well-trained for, that arrives at this original solution for how to solve a problem at work. And so I think, to me anyway, I think it's actually incredibly important to be including cognitive diversity, people that are coming from some of these problems from different angles. And I think it may uncover some of the blind spots even in product development and design that other people might not be thinking of.
Guy Kawasaki:
Thank you Maureen for explaining so much about neurodiversity and helping us to appreciate the special skills and strengths that neurodivergent people have. I'm Guy Kawasaki, this is Remarkable People. We're on a mission to make you remarkable.
And the team that's on this mission includes Jeff Sieh and Shannon Hernandez in sound design. Madisun Nuismer who is the producer and also the co-author of Think Remarkable. And then there's Tessa Nuismer who does all our great research and Alexis Nishimura, Fallon Yates and Luis Magaña. We are the Remarkable People team, and we are trying to help you make a difference and be remarkable. Until next time, Mahalo and Aloha.