10 Highly Successful People You Didn’t Know Were Neurodivergent

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Estimates suggest that at least 30% of the population is neurodivergent, with these statistics being higher for our most creative innovators (around 40% of self-made millionaires are dyslexic). Yet stigmas around neurodiversity remain. Although Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Einstein are all well known for being neurodivergent, it’s easy to call them “exceptions”.

But there are many neurodivergent individuals who could have an amazing impact on society if they are given the opportunity. It’s inexplicable in a world where innovation is at the top of every company’s wishlist that these diversely functioning brains are ignored by the hiring process.

Every day, companies are missing out on the creative brilliance neurodivergent employees offer. Here are just a few neurodivergent people that no company would want to miss out on:

1. Barbara Corcoran, Founder of the Corcoran Group, Shark Tank Investor – Dyslexia

We have witnessed her crack great business deals, read her books, watched her interviews and more. But having achieved so much, Corcoran still worries that her dyslexia might make her appear “less smart”. 

Corcoran flunked in school due to dyslexia and had to transfer, only realising that she was dyslexic when her son was diagnosed. Despite this, she turned a $1000 loan into a $66 million business, using her creative mind to a business advantage. 

2. Ingvar Kamprad, Founder of IKEA – ADHD and Dyslexia

When you hear “IKEA”, innovation springs to mind. It should therefore come as no surprise that its founder, Ingvar Kamprad, had ADHD and Dyslexia.
As IKEA grew, Kamprad struggled with remembering order numbers due to his dyslexia. To overcome this, he used the names of Norwegian people and Swedish islands to remember products. As the names were familiar, he could visualise and memorise his products easily. Kamprad converted the challenges he faced into an iconic market strategy. 

3. Dan Harmon, Writer, creator of ‘Community’ – Autism

Known for his quirky imagination in shows like Rick and Morty, Harmon suspects that he has Autism. This realisation came from the response to his Community character, Abed, with hundreds of Autistic individuals deeply relating to the character.

Too often, as the 2-times Emmy award winner notes, people with Autism are told off, misunderstood, or dismissed. Harmon’s efforts show that with small changes to promote diversity in representation, massive benefits can be found.

4. Emma Watson, Actress, UN Goodwill Ambassador – ADHD

We all know and love her as a remarkable actress who starred in the Harry Potter series. She also scored straight A’s during her GCSEs and A-Levels before going on to study English Literature at Oxford University and becoming an advocate for UN Women’s HeForShe campaign.

What is lesser-known, is that Watson was reportedly medicated throughout the Harry Potter series for ADHD. Too often there is a stigma surrounding medication but for some people, it can offer them the support they need to be the best versions of themselves.

5. Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and 3rd President of America – Autism

American statesman, lawyer, architect, philosopher: there’s not much that Jefferson didn’t do in life. In death he continues to inspire, giving confidence to neurodivergent individuals to value their strengths rather than what they struggle with.

Many experts have compared Jefferson’s behaviour to that which typically presents in Autism. His rival, Alexander Hamilton, claimed that Jefferson’s struggles with making eye contact were proof of his ‘dishonesty’. However, his preference to write rather than speak, and enormous success, goes to show that his suspected Autism didn’t hold him back.

6. Giselle Mota, Principal Consultant for Future of Work team at ADP – Dyslexia

A top 100 Future of Work thought leader, Mota says that as a kid, she saw a lot of things ‘backwards’ due to her dyslexia. Everything changed when one of her teachers helped her play to her strengths, allowing Mota to gain control over her learning, and flourish as a gifted student. 

Mota now campaigns for diversity and inclusion in spaces like Web3.0 and the metaverse. Through her forward-thinking approach, Giselle is shaping a world where anyone can thrive.

7. Emily Dickinson, Poet – Autism

One of the greatest American poets, writing over 1800 poems, Dickinson was considered eccentric by those that knew her. 

Dickinson didn’t publish much of her work during her lifetime (only 10 poems), spending most of her time in isolation and preferring to interact with children. Many academics believe that this was because she felt shunned due to her Autism which also contributed to her unconventional writing style. 

The case of Dickinson and her unpublished work goes to show how important it is to foster an inclusive work culture which encourages neurodivergent individuals to explore their innovative side freely.

8. Caroline Stokes, Author, Thought Leader on Organisational Emotional Intelligence and Exec Coach – ADHD

Stokes is the founder of Forward, a company that steers emotionally intelligent and innovative recruitment solutions. Despite being diagnosed late in life with ADHD, this hasn’t hindered her.

Her diagnosis was a changing point in her life; “I kept thinking I was lazy, unable to concentrate, and just didn’t have much respect for myself”. She believes that everyone needs to figure out what works for them by being curious and observing their internal reactions. 

9. Ryan Gosling, Actor, Producer – ADHD

Famous for his performances in films like The Notebook, Gosling is also a musician and part-owner of Beverly Hills restaurant, Tagine. He has developed talents ranging from the creative to the world of business, but whilst growing up, Gosling struggled to read and had no friends until he was diagnosed with ADHD. 

Gosling pursued acting from a young age and is now fully able to balance a fast-paced career alongside his role as a business owner, and philanthropist. It just goes to show that so often it is the environment that determines outcomes.

Considering the competitive advantage divergent thinking can give people, you might wonder why a recent survey reports that 73% of neurodivergent people don’t disclose their neurological difference during a selection process due to the fear of being discriminated against. After reading this article though, will you be taking steps to welcome innovative minds like Kamprad’s, Watson’s and Jefferson’s into your company?


About the author: Chris Griffiths, the author of The Creative Thinking Handbook and founder of ayoa.com, the app helping digital work support neurodiversity.

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