My AI and I: a case for neurodiversity in advertising and planning


Agency News



This piece was first published in Campaign

There are many types of intelligence: musical, mathematical, kinesthetic and artificial are some of them. There are even more types of brains, but human ones are described using two terms – neurotypical (they have typical neurological function and development) and neurodivergent (those with alternative brain development and function, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, autism, and ADHD).

Every type of intelligence, even AI, has unique strengths and challenges. However, most of life, education, work and socialising is designed to reward and encourage the neurotypical kind. This presents some of the biggest challenges for people with alternative brain functions.

As a new junior planner in advertising with a "neurodivergent" brain, I found myself asking: is my brain a good fit for planning/strategy? After a colleague delivered a presentation called "A love letter to AI", I had another question: could AI help neurodivergent people in the workplace? Here's my perspective, to answer those questions.

Please note I represent one neurodivergent person. There are also many types of AI, but I'm focusing on ChatGPT as it's the fastest-growing app of all time and it's difficult to get through a day without someone saying: "OMG look what ChatGPT did now."

To get to the answers with meaning, let me explain my brain and some of the traits that have been with me my whole life and made me feel like I don't fit in in many environments, especially work ones.

The traits: overthinking, asking a million questions, many of which can challenge conventions, quickly becoming deeply passionate about new things. Some say easily distracted, I say insatiably curious.

Now to capture my challenges in a work environment – specifically advertising, an environment that's infamous for its lightning-quick pace and do-it-yesterday urgency – here's an analogy for how my brain works. Ferrari engine, pedal bike brakes and a default speed of a billion mph. Remember, this is internal, so despite stereotypes, it's not me sprinting around the office.

From the second I wake up, to trying to get to sleep, this is the speed it's taking in information and thinking. Ultimately, thinking at high speeds non-stop isn't sustainable; the information needs to be organised and understood.

This is why you need brakes, to slow things down to get your thoughts, ideas, and observations in order to be able to access them efficiently. Pedal bike brakes don't really slow down sports cars, so eventually, I crash.

Crashing means diminished focus, elusive memory, zoning out and migraines. Therefore a strategy is needed, not to remove the Ferrari engine or eradicate my traits as they're great assets, but as a gearbox to harness my potential and stay healthy.

Crashing means diminished focus, elusive memory, zoning out and migraines. Therefore a strategy is needed, not to remove the Ferrari engine or eradicate my traits as they're great assets, but as a gearbox to harness my potential and stay healthy.

ChatGPT is that metaphorical gearbox and a supportive partner. There's no judgment from it, it doesn't get annoyed by anything I say. My curious nature and constant high-speed thoughts mean that I'm a whizz at research and finding insights. But it also means I quickly end up with too many tabs open to keep on top of or organise.

Recently I've been doing a sales channel audit of five retailers. You can imagine with the number of channels there are, how that turned into hundreds of tabs and even more questions.

To avoid chaos, getting confused and staying organised I began conversations in ChatGPT on the initial task, and each of the retailers. That acted as an anchor point and base for me to go back and forth with my findings, interrogate them further with questions, then collate them into summaries all in one place.

Some people may use a notepad to do the same thing but it brings me clarity to get my thoughts and ideas out somewhere. I can ask questions and get answers back immediately, brainstorm, edit, get prompts and correct my mistakes all in one place.

Dealing with long text isn't fun for anyone. But for a neurodivergent person, it can be impossible. Yet ChatGPT crunches it into key points in seconds. Recently I was looking through a 2023 trend report but I only wanted to know about Gen Z. I copied the text into ChatGPT and asked it to collate the Gen Z relevant information then I asked it to turn that into 10 key bullet points. It saved me a lot of time and fatigue.

To summarise and answer one of the questions: yes, AI can help neurodivergent people in the workplace, ChatGPT is a fantastic assistive tool that's helping me navigate personal challenges in my daily work as a planner.

So is planning a place neurodivergence can flourish? I believe so. Our naturally unique perspective, passionate drive and relentless stamina for questions is perfect for uncovering insights and opportunities.

My personal experience has also been very positive. I've been met with a mutual amount of curiosity and passion-felt lectures. For the first time ever I feel like I can ask all the questions and my different perspectives have been embraced, most recently in the inception of this article.

Staying true to my challenging convention mindset, and as a planner, I present an opportunity. Between 15% and 20% of the UK is neurodivergent, that's a huge amount of talent and part of society for us to embrace. Welcoming different brains and intelligence into advertising will enrich the insights we get, inject jumping-off points for creativity that haven't been there before, help us build more connected mass-appeal brands, and create more inclusive workplaces.

So ask yourself as a curious person and a challenger, what you know about different brains, whether you're embracing them, including the AI kind, and whether they're in the room working on campaigns with you.

Luke Rigg is a junior planner at VCCP London