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Have you ever worked with someone who has Asperger's Syndrome?

Take a look at "Peter Thiel: Asperger's can be a big advantage in Silicon Valley" http://read.bi/1XHDbfs

Since people (engineers) with Asperger's don't fit in the normal business culture, and can drive partners and managers nuts with their social behaviors and obsessions, how can you harness and productize their creative energy in an entrepreneurial setting?

25 Replies

Kanwaldeep 'KD' Singh Arneja
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Kanwaldeep 'KD' Singh Arneja Entrepreneur • Advisor
Products & People
I have. I had to read up on such books to understand how I can work best with him as he was certainly much smarter than me.

Best thing is to let them be. Don't interrupt when their creative juices are flowing, rather channel. Approach them with precise clear questions , like what is 2+2. You will always be an idiot to them so never take it personally, due to obvious reasons. They are best tools for getting prototypes in place and they have an amazing throughput. Just need to find out what excites them and set up a mutual protocol on how they are going to deliver otherwise they will keep working on priorities that do not align with team goals.

Best people-experience of my life so far.
Pierce Wetter
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Pierce Wetter Entrepreneur
Front End Principal at Skyport Systems
Yes, I have worked with someone with AS to varying degrees. In fact, from years of managing engineers I think all engineers have AS to some degree. There's a reason they're engineers and not sales/marketing people. :-) Harness their creative energy by setting explicit, prioritized, goals, and realize they're not going to necessarily get emotional nuance. Neurotypicals get a constant radio broadcast of the emotional state of everyone around them. Engineers don't get that station. So they are blithely able to say "The Emperor has No Clothes". What in particular is driving you nuts? Realize its a 2-way street, you may be driving them nuts.
Frank Braswell
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Frank Braswell Entrepreneur
iPhone App Developer, Social Media Marketing, Entrepreneur, Electrical Engineer, Purveyor of Inspirational Quotes
What I'm hearing is that managers who invest the time and energy into understanding "aspies," can successfully channel that creative energy into the corporate goals. It does take effort, perhaps a lot of effort, to make it work, and keep everyone happy and motivated. Peter Thiel says they are good people to hire, but doesn't get into the details on how to manage their creativity, or leverage it successfully to come up with the next disruptive technology.
God bless you both, Pierce & KD, for taking time to understand AS! It is a 2-way street, but because of lack of social skills, aspies don't usually know how to express or discuss their relationships with others or to corporate priorities and goals. As managers who have chosen to learn about AS and apply that to your management skills, you may be among as rarefied a group among managers as aspies are to the general population.
Rob Mitchell
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Rob Mitchell Entrepreneur
Senior Java Software Engineer at Direct Commerce
My 24yo son has been dx AS since early on and I can relate working through a variety of "life projects" with him. The saying goes, if you've met one person with AS, then you've met one person with AS - meaning the spectrum is quite wide and no two are exactly alike.

As far as recommendation and traits, I can also draw on my experience as a Software Engineer Manager to tell you that having some level of compassion and empathy goes a long, long way.

Find out what what this person likes and dislikes along with a means for them to change their mind. Discuss concrete check-in mechanisms and whether perhaps email 1x or 2x per day would be better than face-to-face. Make sure you ask and get answers about their work environment e.g. light, dark, noise, heat, cold, drinks, etc. Any previously unwritten social things need to be reexamined e.g. 4:00pm beer o'clock on Thu, etc.

AS people are, in general, very much like neurotypical people but with some distinct differences. Find those differences (and they might change over time) and optimize them. I find my son is super-dependable, gentle, and curious as he's an early childhood educator and, yes, he has already earned his undergrad degree from a local university.

Oh, one more thing, my wife's an expert in this area and has told me that quite often an AS person may be aware or at least exhibit otheridiosyncrasiese.g. anxiety or depression or hypersensitivity. The more you're aware as a manager, the better off you'll be helping folks reach their potential.

This is a special top and anyone who'd like more info, I'm happy to collaborate.



Pierce Wetter
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Pierce Wetter Entrepreneur
Front End Principal at Skyport Systems
Well, its like managing anyone. You have to adapt to their communication modes and styles.

Here's a counter point from NyMag arguing that we're over diagnosing AS to refer to people who just have less social skills:http://nymag.com/news/features/autism-spectrum-2012-11/

Peter Thiel is talking about "a mild form of Aspergers", which I think gives better perspective. Different people have different skills, you have to manage accordingly. Living in Silicon Valley, it seems like all the engineers here have AS in the broad definition used in DSM-IV, which NY-Mag seems to indicate DSM-V will narrow down to mean more what I call "TV Aspergers", something closer to "mild-autism" than the "kind of a geek" we use it to mean now.

Managing artists was probably the most challenging thing I've had to do because I had to give them creative freedom, but I also had to time box them so they don't spend too much time seeking perfection. Too little time though and they would be frustrated. So it took some interaction between us to learn that I needed them to do good work, but I only wanted a certain amount of apple polishing.


Frank Braswell
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Frank Braswell Entrepreneur
iPhone App Developer, Social Media Marketing, Entrepreneur, Electrical Engineer, Purveyor of Inspirational Quotes
To Pierces point that "all engineers have AS to varying degrees," it is referred to as a spectrum disorder, and the symptomatic markers can vary significantly. However, I think Peter Thiel isn't talking about the "average" engineer, and I think as managers you can identify pretty quickly aspies who are off the charts on the analytical and creative side.
As an engineer, I've found very few people like Thiel describes over my career. I've also adjuncted a few engineering courses at local Taylor University and have observed only a very few of the engineering students that might fit into Thiel's description.
Since aspies, like myself, tend to be extremely introverted, and lack business skills, how can they successfully connect with business entrepreneurs through various founders sites to bring their ideas to market?
Stephen Palmer
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Stephen Palmer Advisor
Grand Master, Sovereign White Knights - 6 Peaceful Orders
President George W. Bush has it, but for a long time only his mother knew he had it; his father became aware of it when George Jr. was Gov. of Texas; so he got some folks that he knew to handle him in all circumstances [In reality, George H.W. was President with GW just a proxie.] Richard Cheney made sure G.H.W. stayed in control in the background.
People with this syndrome have a difficult time making a descision, but once made cannot revisit the process, and trudges forward knowing it was wrong in the first place. Such a person cannot and will not change the direction even if it kills him. Such a person has no feelings about others, and very little self-awareness. At least this has been my experience.
Rob Mitchell
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0
Rob Mitchell Entrepreneur
Senior Java Software Engineer at Direct Commerce
Also, just a great resource for all things related to AS is the website Asperger/Autism Network (AANE)- I can tell you first-hand they're great.
Frank Braswell
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Frank Braswell Entrepreneur
iPhone App Developer, Social Media Marketing, Entrepreneur, Electrical Engineer, Purveyor of Inspirational Quotes
Let's keep the focus on concepts from Thiel's article and off of politics and over-diagnosis and educational (special ed) issues. I like Pierce's comment about managing artists being similar. It intrigues me because engineers aren't usually thought of as being creative like artists. It's hard for folks to see circuit cards, computer software or bridge design as creative, like a painting.
But, who are these people Thiel has identified, and how do you find them? How will they produce the next great innovations. Perhaps, not all folks on the autism spectrum will produce the innovations Thiel is looking for. I want to share some of my own personal experience in this area as the thread develops. I really appreciate your comments so far!




Jeff Fitzmyers
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Jeff Fitzmyers Entrepreneur
Project Manager at Energy Remodeling Inc.
One thing that has not been mentioned: manyaspiesare bluntly honest and "overly sensitive" to other's integrity or lack of integrity.
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