My wife Stephanie recently introduced me to the concept of Neural Diversity. For a long time I have not liked the way we constantly refer to people as having defects or disorders. People are “diagnosed” with ADHD, for example, which is Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity DISORDER. Which basically means there is a problem with the person who suffers from this unwanted condition.
But what makes this a disorder? It seems to me that this is a disorder because we take interested curious young people and stick them in class rooms and bore torture them with mind numbing boredom all day long, and those kids that don’t fit into that system have a disorder. But I think if we were to take those kids outside and encourage them to be themselves, most of them would be just fine.
Another example is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. We throw the term OCD around as if half of the world were excessively focused on small details and unable to lead normal productive lives. But what if we were to phrase this as an ability. Hyperfocused attention to detail ability. This is something that I certainly lack! It requires an extreme effort for me to summon the patience to deal with every last small detail, but someone with this ability, can stay with a task until every part of it is perfect.
People often tell me that I have some attention deficit. What really does that mean? That I don’t like to sit and listen to long explanations of things that I get already? My weakness might be attention to detail, but my strength is speed. I typically make decisions very quickly, when I have a clear preference to what I want. So in buying a new car for instance, I can make all the decisions about exactly what I want in a few quick minutes. I don’t have to test drive every model.
To some people this seems rash. I bought a used Toyota Tacoma from a dealer I trust in Palm Beach not long ago. I told them the specifics, they showed me the pictures, I sent the wire, they delivered the truck. It took fifteen minutes. To some this seems irresponsible and rash. To me it’s just not necessary to deliberate longer than that.
Won’t I regret it? Maybe there was a better truck for a little better price somewhere else, maybe I might have actually liked a little different color. Maybe I really don’t care at all about these details, and I am happy getting it 80% right and moving on with my life.
That’s a good rule of thumb for me. The 80% rule. It basically means I can get 80% of what I want with 20% of the effort. To get the remaining 20% of benefit, I will have to put in four times the effort. For me, I’d rather get 80% of the benefit with 20% of the effort, and repeat this a few times. For someone with an obsessive compulsive ability, they can take joy and pleasure our of spending five times as much time on something as me, and getting 100% of the benefit. They can take pleasure from their careful process and attention to detail.
So this is neural diversity and it makes great teams. I can bring in Christmas trees and stand them up and hang some lights on them and get it done fast. Then those with the OCA can finish the trimming to perfection and make them beautiful. I can quickly do the 80% part, and they can slowly do the finish, and together we can get five times as much done.
So often we hear teachers or schools quote Einstein about teaching fish to climb a tree, as if that would be an obvious waste of time. And then they go on to put everyone in the same box. We all have such different ways of looking at things and accomplishing things. But we are taught that if you are not suited to sitting in a cubicle listening all day long and following countless rules and orders, that you are defective.
The system is designed to get workers into cubicles who will toil all day long as they are instructed without rebellion. School is not designed to tease out our strengths, but to stifle them. Anybody who does not fit the mold is “diagnosed” with a disorder, medicated, and stuck back in the class room. All must learn to comply.
This is really not good for a lot of people, and you or your kids may be suffering this terrible abuse while being told it’s because of your disorder. But ask yourself, is there really anything wrong with a kid who does not want to sit in a classroom all day? I don’t think so. I think the problem is the classroom itself. It’s where they teach fish to climb trees.