Neurotypicals May Be at a Disadvantage to Asperger’s Syndrome

It’s common to hear that the founders of technology companies, such as Bill Gates, have Asperger’s Syndrome or at the very least have Aspie-like traits. That theory gained added support last week when Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel said, “Many of the more successful entrepreneurs seem to be suffering from a mild form of Asperger’s, where it’s like you’re missing the imitation, socialization gene.”

In my book Aspertools I suggested that neurotypicals may be at a disadvantage compared to those with some form of Asperger’s Syndrome when it comes to performing certain tasks. Thiel proposes a similar theory. He said that potential entrepreneurs who do not suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be at a “massive disadvantage” because they “will be talked out of [their] interesting, original, creative ideas before they’re even fully formed. Oh that’s a little bit too weird, that’s a little bit too strange and maybe I’ll just go ahead and open the restaurant that I’ve been talking about that everyone else can understand and agree with, or do something extremely safe and conventional.”

Thiel made these comments while giving a talk on The Future of Innovation at George Mason University. But he has expressed these ideas elsewhere.

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Conformity is the enemy of innovation, according to Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel.

For instance, in his book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, Thiel notes that people without an ASD often walk out on ideas that might at first seem strange, and that this trait ultimately becomes their weakness.

And back in October 2014, Thiel told an audience that employees with Asperger’s Syndrome are more likely to reach their full potential in the business world compared to those with an MBA. He emphasized that those with Asperger’s Syndrome are often behind the most successful companies because they are not intimidated by the off-beat ideas that they often come up with.

Thiel has personal experience with his theory. According to his Wikipedia site, he was the first outside investor in Facebook. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, who has been described as having “a touch of the Asperger’s Syndrome,” according to former colleague Yishon Wong.

Hyperinterests are another reason why Aspies tend to do well when it comes to high-tech companies, especially when creating software. Matt McFarland, in his Innovations blog in the Washington Post, notes how obsessiveness can pay off when building a tech company. As young programmers, Gates and his Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen were comfortable coding software for hours on end.

“Some of the more prudish people would say ‘Go home and take a shower.’ We were just hard-core, writing code,” Gates told author Walter Isaacson in the book The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.

Hearing what Thiel is saying, it’s clearer to me than ever that society has to get that one size does not fit all. Society needs to harness all of our brains, even the different ones.

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