Neurodiversity and the software design dilemma – TechCrunch



Homo sapiens is truly a diverse species. We seem distinct from each other due to our origins in various parts 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 the way we do our business and the way we use tools to perform our tasks. Doing good business is difficult enough for most people, but people with neurodiverse characteristics – professionals who “think differently,” as the late Steve Jobs put it – are a unique breed whose talent is too often underestimated or overlooked. untapped within companies, which often value standardization and prefer limited deviations from normal work models.

The role of neurodiversity

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

Many believe that the percentage is even higher in the sales profession, as good salespeople are often more persistent and think “out of the box”. It is not unlikely that a member of a given sales team is a superstar salesperson but has neurological variants affecting the way they interact with information and with others. This makes a particularly interesting 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 analyzes are standardized and user experience is limited to a how the system has been configured.

But not everyone can use such a complicated and rigid system optimally, especially when the user interaction layer is so strictly limited. Most neurodiverse people especially have difficulty with “optimal” applications which tend to impose a certain way of working on the user, sometimes without considering all aspects of the user’s humanity – their unique way. process information and navigate through workflows. This is why in most sales organizations, the most successful 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 pipeline of transactions.

Neurodiverse professionals bring different perspectives and strengths and often challenge the status quo. It is this diversity of thought that gives an organization a particular strength.

What do companies have to gain from neurodiverse talent?

JP Morgan created a pilot neurodiversity program in 2015 called Autism at Work, and the the results were remarkable. Program employees were 48% faster to complete tasks and 92% more productive than their peers. Preliminary results of another pilot program of the Australian Department of Social Services found that the organization’s neurodiverse software testing teams were 30% more productive than neurotypical teams.

Most people with autism are known to have great attention to detail. A 7-year-old boy with the autism spectrum, for example, memorized the details of every shipwreck in the story. This type of focus and appetite for information has remarkable potential when harnessed in the right roles. Talent with autism is often ideally suited 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 Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.

In another area of ​​neurodiversity, original thinkers are often dyslexic. Consider some of the people with dyslexia 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, the 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, the focus has been largely 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 that software companies need to go further and change their approach at the basic design level.

A lot of software imposes a certain way of working on users, regardless of how everything feels and unfolds 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 tasks as the tools provided to them do not match the way they process information and navigate their workflows, all in the name of standardization, and organizations then suffer from problems in adopting their tools and systems.

No supplier does this intentionally; it’s just that it’s hard to do and 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 software that is more flexible and accessible that a greater 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 – for example, CRM software that requires someone with ADHD to handle a plethora of tedious tasks from data entry. 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 on software user experience and include flexibility as a key design principle.


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