Multitasking workWork of a multitasker. Photo by totalAldo/Flickr, cc by 2.0

To be effective workers, many of us use learned principles of best workplace practices, even though they may counter our natural instincts. But this goes against a common sense idea that your personal tendencies could help you at work. In “Autism and Humanity” this week, Paul Collins cites psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen’s research correlating autism with certain professions:

“There’s been really fascinating research on this done by Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge University. And what he noticed essentially was that there seemed to be a lot of autistic siblings, in particular, of students of his who were in science-related majors and, you know, math students as well, and engineering students, and that kind of thing. And so initially, he simply looked at, just sort of did an informal study comparing English majors and the rates of autism in their families with a number of science majors. And the science majors that he was looking at had rates that were like five and six times that of autism in their families. Interestingly enough, the English majors had much, much higher rates of manic depression in their families…

Which is suddenly all makes sense. So, and then when he expanded to studying the broader population, he found that this held up. That actually, when you looked at the professions that family members of people with autism were in, they tended to be in things like accounting, engineering, computer programming, and had very low rates of employment in fields like sales, for instance.”

Harvard Business Review recently made a similar point with seven personality traits of successful salespeople. The research took an organic approach to understanding what personality traits top salespeople happened to have in common, and in what ways it served them in their sales roles.

Many of us may have struggled less on the career ladder by choosing a career more suited to our personalities. But would you trade in the unexpected skills or experiences picked up along the way?


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Great article, great food for thought.  I am a chef, by profession (a writer/photographer/filmmaker otherwise).  Got into cooking/food because of my sensual nature: anything sensual attracted me.  Cooking for me is the most sensual art there is, involving as it does the ears, eyes, nose, touch . . . but also, I'm someone who can't (though is learning:) sit still; and in the kitchen there is ALWAYS something to do.  I am also gregarious, a showman at times, which has opened doors in the kitchen and cooking world not available to those who can simply "cook."  

I have noticed this as well in my work in the Schools.

How so? I'd love to hear more about what you find works and how you help in a student's identity and understanding of oneself in order to go forward.

I often joke about having career ADD, because I am addicted to constantly learning new things and finding creative ways to change things that bother me.  Too bad for my husband who thought my law degree meant life on easy street.  Don't think I'm autistic but definitely an introvert who finds herself in extroverted situations (and frustrated/exhausted) more than ever dreamed possible.

I remember friends ribbing me in 9th grade because on a basic skills test I scored highest in verbal skills and mechanical skills... " so how ya gonna use those mechanical skills as an English teacher?"  (1959 was not a time when kids imagined a girl would study engineering.)  And I did the expected thing -- became a jr high English teacher (and felt pretty hemmed in) -- until I became a mom.  Then, when my husband was laid off from teaching we bought the neighborhood hardware store.  After 4 years he returned to teaching, and I ran the hardware store for 27 years.  Those proclivities shown on the 9th grade test came together when we decided that producing a newsletter would best meet the advertising/educating needs of the hardware business.  I was never bored, and eventually realized that I had never stopped teaching and learning, because nearly all hardware customers are on a problem-solving mission.  I had a rewarding working life that I could never have envisioned or planned, all at the crossroads of a neighborhood full of fascinating folks whom I never would have come to know in any other way.  I love the way that just being open to the unknown makes way for things to happen that we couldn't possibly foresee or plan for ourselves.  
An observation parallel to the premise of this article is that people seem to end up in the neighborhood that fits them best... and often not because of conscious self-knowledge.  I enjoy the distinct personalities of city neighborhoods.

Personality and Professions are both an equal race in life.

 I love the way that just being open to the unknown makes way for things to happen that we couldn't possibly foresee or plan for ourselves.  

apples