Can neuro-atypical team members help improve the quality of decisions in teams responsible for the complex problem-solving in VUCA situations, such as in addressing strategy business transformation and innovation?

I enjoyed watching the ABC TV series ‘The Good Doctor’. Starring Freddy Highmore as the likeable Dr Shaun Murphy, an autistic surgical resident at a California hospital, the series has been massively popular. I thought it to be an interesting, engaging example of neurodiversity in a highly professional workplace.

As both a keen scholar and a practitioner of business strategy, I have a deep interest in strategic decision-making processes. In particular, I like to explore how firm leaders and leadership teams make sense of volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (‘VUCA’) situations and reach the best decisions, to deliver the best outcomes for their firms.  So, it was very easy for me to imagine the benefits of having somebody on a firm’s leadership team who, although perhaps lacking in some social skills, can visualise the most difficult challenges and opportunities and to conceptualise innovative solutions that are far beyond the capabilities of colleagues. Who would not want such a person on their team?

I was surprised though to be taken to task by my daughter Shannon, a neuroscientist, who told me that in her opinion the series misrepresents autism and might even harm the cause of neurodiversity.

Dr Murphy is not only autistic but also a savant who is blessed with a photographic memory.  Savant syndrome is exceedingly rare. A mere handful of true savants (perhaps a few hundred) are alive on earth today. It does occur more frequently amongst people with autism, but still only at a rate of one percent or less of that population. So, the story in ‘The Good Doctor’ is about an especially rare human being with extraordinary savant talents, who is autistic, rather than about a ‘typical’ autistic person.

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