“…blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth…” Matthew 5:5.
In these more enlightened and paralytically correct times, you have to be careful of applying labels to people. Calling an individual an antisocial loner can get you into hot water – you even have to be careful referring to someone as ‘socially awkward’ in case it offends people who are, er… socially awkward – a bit clumsy, or people who find themselves on their own at parties. Yet it’s OK to tag them with less prejudicial, though more interesting labels, such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Asbergers Syndrome, or worse, Autistic. But that’s these are medical terms, so it’s alright.
However, it’s now high time to recognise that whatever the label, these human beings can not only make a positive contribution to humanity, but have already proved they have the ability, indeed the talent and inspiration, to make a unique and vital contribution to progress. Time we started to realise that they are – quietly brilliant.
Here are some of the most common traits applicable to the above, and I challenge you to see if you see anyone you recognise:
They can be obsessed with numbers, patterns, machines; they have an obsessive interest in narrow subjects; they are happy performing repetitive tasks; and they have a lack of sensitivity to social strictures.
A lot of them end up as computer geniuses because although they are socially awkward, they find it easy to communicate with others electronically, without the socially awkward business of meeting face to face, shaking hands, engaging in small-talk, that sort of thing.
Dyslexics learn early on how to delegate tasks (getting others at school or college to do homework for them, for example) and tend to gravitate to activities that do not demand formal qualifications and involve little reading or writing. Some of the most successful business people are dyslexic, most notably Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, and Steve Jobs.
FACT: Approximately 30% of entrepreneurs suffer from Dyslexia – compared with 10% of the total population and only 1% of managers.
In the case of Attention Deficit Disorder, people who are unable to focus on one thing for too long can also be the same people who find it second nature to be able to think outside the box. They are consistently more likely than the rest of us to come up with unique solutions, new ideas, new and better, more efficient ways of doing things. Studies suggest that people with ADD are six times more likely to end up running successful businesses than the rest of us. ADD sufferers are also more likely to take risks. That’s not a problem for business though, because the more pedantic managers will serve as a balance. In fact, if the two are able to work together, each understanding the other’s strengths (and weaknesses) there could well be a recipe for success. The eccentric genius working in the lab and the people-savvy manager who charms the customers could make a formidable team, as has been the case with both Google and Facebook.
It’s also possible we could be about to witness the next step in Human Evolution. Brainy people tend to marry other brainy people. Professor Simon Baron Cohen of the University of Cambridge has discovered that students who study mathematics, physics, or engineering are more likely to have autistic relatives than students who study English or the arts. He has also found that when people with technological or very mathematical brains produce offspring, those offspring are more likely to suffer from Asperger’s or autism.
Technicians in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, a major European technology hub, are two to four times more likely to have children who ‘suffer’ from autism. I put ‘suffer’ in inverted commas because I do not regard it as an illness – I regard it as a gift.
The important thing to recognise is that modern technological societies simply cannot operate without these new minds. We need them now more than ever! We simply have to accept the misfits and socially awkward because they are now undeniably part of the human survival strategy. Their genes too will be passed on to their offspring and thus evolution will take another dramatic turn. I view this prospect with excitement. The guy that’s ignored at the office party has the keys to the future. Better be nice to him.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2013. All rights reserved.