Neurodivergent? Use your unique talents to succeed
Entrepreneurs come from all backgrounds and all demographics. Some are neurodivergent, meaning that their brains work differently from those who are considered ‘neurotypical.’ This can include learning differences, communication differences or different ways of perceiving the environment. Some people who are neurodivergent have a specific diagnosis, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or others.
The characteristics of neurodiversity can represent challenges for entrepreneurs, but they can also be advantages. Here are some things for neurodivergent entrepreneurs to consider.
What do neurodivergent people need to know about business ownership?
Many of the challenges of business ownership are the same for everyone. One of the biggest challenges is that you can’t do everything yourself, so outsource what you can’t do – or don’t want to do – so you can do the things you’re good at. This is particularly true for neurodivergent entrepreneurs who may have difficulty with certain things, such as social interactions. Hiring someone or contracting with a company for functions like sales and human resources can help the neurodivergent entrepreneur who has difficulty relating to other people.
Another thing many business owners, including those who are neurodiverse, struggle with is the concept of ‘progress not perfection.’ Entrepreneurs can become very focused on their product or service – particularly if it’s one they invented themselves – and have trouble recognizing when it’s ‘good enough’ to bring to market. Consulting with others can help boost your confidence here too.
Executive function challenges
Executive function is a term used by psychologists to describe cognitive processes like working memory, reasoning, and impulse inhibition that help people organize tasks, manage time, and solve problems. Neurodivergent people sometimes struggle with executive function which can make it difficult to plan ahead and organize their time.
Nancy Chin is an Executive Function Coach and owner of Step By Step For Success, which helps neurodivergent people develop and maintain executive function skills. She notes that it may help to partner with someone who not only has the executive function skills you may lack, but who understands the kind of help you may need.
“Find the Wozniak to your Jobs,” says Chin, referring to the founders of Apple Computer, who famously had different but complementary skill sets. “Find someone who understands your strengths and offers those qualities you lack. For example, you may require clear, explicit direction to accomplish a task – do this in this amount of time and don’t do anything else until you are done. Find someone who will provide those clear expectations.”
Advantages of neurodiversity in business
One of the keys to success for neurodivergent entrepreneurs is to capitalize on the things you’re good at. “Math, science, and technology are good areas of focus for neurodivergent people,” said Chin. “Anything that’s predictable is often a good choice. These folks can often accomplish very complex tasks but anything that is uncertain is a challenge.”
Some other advantages include dedication, commitment, and loyalty, according to Chin. There’s also the ability to focus on a single task for a long period of time. “Sometimes those with OCD can do tasks that others find repetitive, but they enjoy them,” she said.
Assistance for neurodiverse business owners
All business owners need help or advice at some point, and it’s important to ask for assistance when you need it. Neurodiverse entrepreneurs may find that a local college or university – or their alma mater – may have people who can help. You can also seek help from an executive function coach like Nancy Chin, or from people who know you well and understand your unique traits and help you learn from any mistakes you make along the way.
“Keep at it for the long haul,” said Chin. “Starting and running a successful business isn’t going to happen overnight. That said, be willing to change course if something isn’t working but be sure to get some help to determine what the issue is.”