It’s been said that the line between genius and madness is a very thin one. Recent psychological studies seem to support this old adage.
Highly creative people often possess what is called sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), or the inability to tune out the noise of some everyday work environments.
According to Jordan Peterson, a professor at the University of Toronto, while other people may be able to shut out environmental distractions through latent inhibition — “an animal’s unconscious capacity to ignore stimuli that experience has shown are irrelevant to its needs” — research shows that creative individuals are much more likely to have low levels of latent inhibition.
“This means that creative individuals remain in contact with the extra information constantly streaming in from the environment,” Peterson says.
So what are the implications of SPS in the workplace? It seems to me to be a double-edged sword. People who have this condition may easily become overwhelmed within an office environment that is too loud, brightly lit, or filled with constant motion.
Conversely, these same people may be the ones who are able to tune into the subtle aspects of an organizations’ culture, workflow, and businesses processes. These are the individuals who come up with the innovations and strategies that differentiate good companies from great companies.
So, it’s important to first recognize that some people are pre-disposed to SPS, and that their minds work and function differently.
From that point, leaders can put these individuals into roles and activities that leverage their unique skills. They must also be willing to acknowledge that work environments that are bright, noisy, or highly active may not promote top performance in these people.
Now that’s something to think about.
Joseph F. Bastian, president of the Human Performance Development, is a regular contributor to dbusiness.com.