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The place of ideas

I was once asked in a job interview where ideas start! I told them it was when people sat with each other, listened to each other and had a dialogue! For a fortnight I sat anxiously at home waiting to get an answer. I was already thinking that it would be another one of those situations like so many others I've been through. I just got a message saying that I got the job! I don't even know what to say!

This was the experience of Jorge (fictitious name), 39 years old and diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

After sending three hundred and twenty eight Cv's in response to job offers in his training area - Design. And another thirty five spontaneous applications, all this over five years and two months, he finally got his first job in the area. Jorge had already worked, but never in his field of training. He finished secondary school at the age of twenty two. He had some failures and other difficulties during his compulsory schooling. It was not always easy to be referred to Inclusive Education, and when he was, things did not always go well. At the end of Year 12 he needed to take a gap year. He was exhausted. He felt he couldn't do anything else. He managed to resume higher education at the age of twenty-four under the Maiores de 23 programme. The three-year degree took longer than he thought. And the three years were five and a half years. He finished his training before he was thirty. He worked in some internships, not all of them paid. And he had two opportunities with a work contract in a large retail store and another in a food chain.

The company where Jorge will start working is not new to the idea that it knows the added value of having workers who think differently. And that this different way of thinking can perfectly reflect on the functioning profile of neurodivergent people. These are people who have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Specific Learning Difficulties, but also other types of profiles. Of the three people who founded the company about fifteen years ago, two of them have a diagnosis, one of autism and the other of attention deficit disorder. They met at University, both already diagnosed in their teens. When they got to Higher Education they realised they would have no one to help them, and by coincidence they got to know each other. It was precisely during a group work in the first semester of the first year. As fate would have it, all the classmates chose who they wanted to be with, and they both ended up last. The teacher said that they would both stay together. And since then they have never been apart again. If one starts the work, the other finishes it. They discovered that this is their added value. It's not the only one!

When they started the company, initially just the two of them, they quickly realised that there was room to grow. And that this meant having people with them who functioned in a similar way. The fact that their partner and third team member did not have a diagnosis was a casting error, as they both always jokingly make a point of saying. The acquisition of that person into the partnership shows that neurodiversity doesn't just stop at neurodevelopmental and other diagnoses. And they all feel that that is what makes perfect sense to them. After that, the growth of the company and the different work teams has been based on that same idea.

Talking to them I have the clear notion, as do the three of them, that the business world in Portugal, but not only there, does not work in the same way. This is because managers are still too anchored in the archetypes that people diagnosed with a (neuro)psychiatric disorder are not capable of working and that they will only bring difficulties and expenses in the necessary adaptations. The company has grown precisely from these very adaptations. And why has it grown? Because it has innovated and managed to respond to an increasingly diverse set of needs in its field of business. But they know that this same possibility does not only happen to them. And that there is also a set of emerging companies adopting a neurodivergent organisational culture.

So when they heard Jorge say that ideas are born from people sitting down together, listening to each other and having a dialogue, they had no doubts in hiring him. They felt his way of thinking was the right one, besides his basic training. The rest would help Jorge, like any other worker in the company to learn and develop the necessary tools.

I don't understand why other companies, inside and outside our industry, have not yet understood the added value of this change? says one of the partners. When I told them that it probably has to do with the lack of knowledge about neurodiversity and how to make this transformation, they all replied almost at the same time. They are entrepreneurs, aren't they? So, it makes no sense not to make that bet! they said.

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