There can be no question that today’s’ business environment is characterized by speed – in communications, in business velocity and the pace of staying ahead of the competition with the innovation curve.
There can be also no question that today many more kids are diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficient Disorder) than ever before. The sharp increase has been attributed to better diagnostic tools, more media exposure and more observant teachers ready to intervene with special compensatory educational measures. Sometimes, drugs are prescribed to help kids better acclimate to the class environment so they can better stay focused.
Now, at first blush, these ideas seem totally unrelated (or at least I would have never connected these dots). But then, the CEO of our company, Melih Abdulhayoglu one night presented me with an unconventional thought; “maybe ADD is not really a disorder at all but an evolutionary “adjustment” kids are making to manage the exponential increase in stimulus and information inputs that exists today and that will certainly operate in the business world of tomorrow.” I admit for a moment I taken aback but then I was deeply intrigued. Never has anyone positioned ADD to me as anything but a disability – mild in some kids and severe in others. I also admit that while I am no educational expert, the possibility that ADD might not be a disorder but a way to better manage our “sped up” world, opened up new possibilities for how we think about learning, how kids need to be trained to function in their future world and what defines a “normal” kid.
I could hear in my head educational experts’ outcry. What nonsense they would proclaim. After all, they see lots of kids and they experience first hand how some kids simply have more difficulty absorbing information than the “normal” range.
Yet, the idea once uttered seemed to explain a lot and it seemed unwise to dismiss the idea out of hand simply because it contradicted conventional thinking. So I posed the question to a friend of mine who has impeccable educational credentials (25 years, Phd et al) as a special ed instructor. What would she say I wondered? Would she be offended at the idea? Would she dismiss the idea out of hand? I gently posed the question to her so as not to offend her lifetime of work (after all if ADD is not really a “disorder” then what the heck has she been doing with her time these past 25 years J). I probed her on the apparent dissonance between kids who are labeled as ADD yet who could text message with more speed and agility than I thought possible, or who could master the latest version of a WII or other xBox game and could rattle off sports statistics that would be the envy any insurance actuary. She was silent for quite a while and I knew she was giving it serious thought. Then I cautiously continued. “Maybe ADD is not a disorder at all but a way for kids to better prepare themselves for their world as it will be. And maybe our educational system is based on “technologies” woefully out of date. Maybe kids are training themselves and we “adults” are diagnosing something we don’t understand. Maybe that explains why recent studies indicate that most ADD kids do grow out of it – and are able to catch up to their non ADD peers later on in their lives.”
OK – at this point I had pushed my luck too far and she politely but firmly cited medical studies that describe the physiology of the brain of ADD kids and how they are different from non ADD kids. “OK” - I say, “but surely maybe some percentage of kids are not really ADD but just hyper active and that could be in response to how we stimulate them with all the stuff they interact with everyday…” I trail off eager not to put her off again but to get her to think about it. She slowly nodded her head and I could see she was considering the idea.
I recognize how this idea might smack of heresy. At first I was too was skeptical. Heck, I know parents who struggle to get their kids to complete a simple page of homework that most others kids finish in 10 minutes. These parents might even need a medical label to make them feel that their kids’ struggle is not their fault – but some “disorder”.
But I could not ignore Melih’s notion. Maybe, just maybe the experts are looking at the situation all wrong. While I’ll say it again – I claim no expertise in how kids learn, just maybe, he was onto something. Perhaps if we update our thinking and consider the possibility that some (or maybe even many) of these so called ADD kids are responding to the new models for how information is being disseminated, we can help them more effectively than we are now (too often with drugs unfortunately, which raises the whole other question of who has a stake in the current model of ADD being a disorder – but that’s for another blog entry.) Maybe our kids are trying to adjust and we as parents are just behind the curve. Maybe instead of labeling our kids we should accept that kids might be giving themselves the training they need to function in the world they will in habit. Maybe we would serve our kids well if we could adjust our thinking and train our kids to be ADD – “Active Data Directors” as the new “norm”.
I couldn’t say for sure – but maybe today’s “ADD” labeled kids are the ones that will be well prepared to function in the high speed world of tomorrow where ability to respond quickly will be a business imperative. Just maybe…
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