Ed Thompson On How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Flexibility. A company now has the opportunity to have unparalleled flexibility. You’re no longer chained to an office. An organization can set up shop anywhere. It can follow clients or customers across geographies. It can hire people from any part of the world. A digital workplace allows for many possibilities that were never there before.

Digital transformation has become a crucial component for businesses striving to stay competitive and relevant in today’s rapidly evolving landscape. As technology continues to shape industries and redefine business models, companies must adapt and leverage digital tools and strategies to unlock new opportunities for growth and innovation. In this interview series, we aim to explore various aspects of digital transformation, including best practices, challenges, success stories, and expert insights. We are talking to thought leaders, industry experts, entrepreneurs, technology innovators, and executives who have firsthand experience in driving digital transformation initiatives within their organizations. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ed Thompson.

Ed Thompson is the founder and CEO of Uptimize, which has helped companies such as Google, Salesforce, IBM, Accenture and JP Morgan supercharge their teams’ performance by leveraging the talents of all neurotypes.

Thompson is an authority within the “Neurodiversity at Work” movement that has highlighted the unique skills of neurodivergent individuals, such as autistic people, ADHDers, or dyslexic people, and the fact that this talent is often unintentionally excluded in the workplace.

His book, “A Hidden Force,” provides a compelling case for how organizations gain a competitive edge by cultivating the talents of all types of thinkers in their teams.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I was born and raised in London and studied history at Oxford University.

My path took a significant turn after a serious car accident left me with a traumatic brain injury. This incident left me with memory issues and challenges in processing information.

It was hard, but I gradually reintegrated into work life. Eventually, I found myself on the leadership team of a tech company in London, where my focus shifted towards the human aspect of business.

Collaborating closely with the CEO, we delved into reshaping our workforce for the demands of the 21st century. This led me into strategic corporate diversity programs, particularly in connecting disadvantaged youth with opportunities in the tech industry. Through conversations with autistic family members and reflecting on my own experience post-injury, I became deeply invested in the concept of “Neurodiversity at Work.”

I realized that everyone’s brain works differently, and that if we could provide an environment where all types of thinkers can succeed, we could supercharge the untapped potential of any team.

That led me to found Uptimize in 2016, and we’ve been helping companies such as Google, Microsoft, Accenture, IBM and JP Morgan harness the full potential of their workforce.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Not so much a funny mistake, but one misconception we fell into in the very first iteration of our training was to encourage people to explore “suitable roles” for neurodivergent staff.

Despite the popularity at the time of autism hiring programs focused on specific roles, we quickly realized through our community focus groups the right person can suit any role.

It’s so important to avoid ableism, and also to avoid false generalizations like all autistic people enjoy repetitive work or don’t want more social roles — these just aren’t true.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are two cases I can share.

I used to work as chief of staff for the CEO of a successful venture-backed company at the heart of London’s Tech City.

My boss challenged me to think about how our company could become a truly 21st century organization.

It dawned on me that the CEO’s inquiry was primarily rooted in our workforce — specifically, the ongoing development of an innovative team capable of sustaining the company’s triumphs and confronting future obstacles.

Like a sports team manager, my boss felt the team needed to evolve to maximize its potential. That meant pursuing a diversity of thought.

Another person who influenced me greatly was my aunt by marriage, Valerie Paradiz.

She is an eminent author, educator, and neurodiversity advocate and thought leader. She eventually became one of the first autistic board members at the American nonprofit Autism Speaks.

Her encouragement drew my attention to the issue of autism underemployment, the underutilization of neurodivergent talent, and the potential for teams to embrace neurodiversity for superior results.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“The Power of Neurodiversity” by Thomas Armstrong (2011) left a lasting impression on me.

Armstrong’s advocacy for neurodiversity is compelling, as he skillfully reframes the discourse to highlight the powerful strengths inherent in neurodivergent individuals, alongside the more commonly discussed challenges.

Unlike some, Armstrong avoids oversimplifying neurodivergence as a “superpower” while also not overlooking its difficulties. His chapter titles, such as “The Joy of the Hyperactive Brain” and “The Positive Side of Being Autistic,” challenge the prevailing negative stereotypes surrounding neurodiversity up to the time it was published in 2011.

I was particularly struck by Armstrong’s rejection of the conventional brain-computer metaphor in favor of likening brains to forests — complex, living organisms teeming with diversity and potential.

His insights have remained with me, urging a shift in perspective towards embracing the richness and complexity of neurodiversity.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Yes, at Uptimize we are building out our “upskill” platform — a one-stop shop for neurodiversity at work for teams to upskill themselves around neurodiversity and see the impact.

When colleagues and managers truly appreciate the fact that we are all wired differently and what this means in practice — and know how to optimize for this — good things happen!

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. Digital transformation can mean many things to many people. From your perspective, how do you define digital transformation in your industry?

For us at Uptimize, it’s one part of a toolkit that helps us unlock human potential.

Digital transformation makes us flexible and adaptive in new ways that allows us to create work environments that suit every type of thinker.

One example of digital transformation is having an online product in the form of internet-accessible courses for certification and education.

This allows us to meet our mission of harnessing the untapped talents of people all around the globe.

Whether a client is in our home base of Denver or halfway across the world, we can help them supercharge the performance of their teams and workforce.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

Every company can benefit from digital transformation. It’s a matter of identifying where you’d like to see areas of growth, then understanding what kinds of tools are needed to make that happen.

Let’s say you want to increase productivity.

Part of how we help companies become more productive is identifying how we can make workplaces suited to all neurotypes.

One way of doing this is giving employees the flexibility to work where they want, so they can curate their sensory experiences. Some people like lively, bustling workplaces. Others like quiet, contemplative settings.

So, what tools can we use to accomplish that?

In this case, digital transformation doesn’t have to be complicated. A possible solution could be a remote work schedule that allows workers to choose a place where they feel most productive.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Figuring out what kind of direction your organization will take with digital transformation can feel overwhelming. There are many options, and there’s often pressure to use the latest technology, or risk falling behind.

One thing that I think helps businesses orient themselves in the right direction is asking the ‘what’ and letting that determine the ‘how.’

In our case, Uptimize wanted to work with companies around the world and hire the best talent. That was the ‘what.’

To work with companies across the globe, we created online courses and certifications. To staff our business with the best talent, we embraced the world of remote work.

The tool, however, should not dictate the goal. Companies should not feel obligated to embrace digital transformation simply because they don’t want to be perceived as outdated. There needs to be a clear use case for adapting new technologies to the workplace.

Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”?

1 . Accessing the best talent. With the dawn of remote work, we can take advantage of talent pools that would’ve previously been impossible. A company that would’ve had a hiring radius of maybe a few miles from their headquarters can now hire talent from literally anywhere in the world. At Uptimize, we’re a fully remote team and this has allowed us to get the best people, regardless of where they are.

2 . Sensory curation. A digital workplace allows people to curate their sensory experiences, and this allows room for all types of thinkers to thrive. For example, a company that allows for remote work options gives employees a chance to create their own ideal work environment. Some neurotypes will thrive at doing their work in a quiet library. Others will find a bustling open-floor office environment conducive to productivity. Workers can now choose the work environment where they perform best.

3 . Flexibility. A company now has the opportunity to have unparalleled flexibility. You’re no longer chained to an office. An organization can set up shop anywhere. It can follow clients or customers across geographies. It can hire people from any part of the world. A digital workplace allows for many possibilities that were never there before.

4 . Universal Design. This is one of our foundational principles at Uptimize. What we mean by it is proactively including and leveraging everybody, whatever their neurotype. Workplaces aren’t typically designed to allow all types of thinkers to flourish. For example, an office with bright fluorescent lights may be a great distraction to people with sensory sensitivities. A typical work schedule may not suit every type of thinker. I met a talented autistic banker who found commuting to the office for a typical nine to five draining, because the rush hour gave him sensory overload. When he was able to adapt his schedule to start and leave earlier, he was able to do better work without burning out. A digital transformation can help make Universal Design a reality. Remote work can allow for sensory curation or flexible scheduling. A digital workplace allows companies to create working environments accessible to all types of thinkers.

5 . Access to a worldwide clientele. Just as businesses can now hire the best talent from around the world, geographical location is no longer a limiting factor when it comes to finding a client or customer base. If you have something worthwhile to share, it’s easier than ever to find an audience for it. We’re a company based in Denver, but we have clients all over the world. We’ve worked with partners in the UK, the US and Canada, just to name a few.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

A culture of innovation naturally happens when you create an environment that enables every type of thinker to flourish. That way you can attract the kind of talent that gives you a competitive advantage.

Everyone’s brain works differently. And if you have an environment where everyone’s brain is firing on all cylinders, you will have a competitive advantage.

Many people talk about demographic diversity, but one thing that I think doesn’t get mentioned as much is diversity of thought, yet it’s a huge driver of innovation.

A team with diversity of thought will be able to come up with many different, novel solutions or approaches to a problem. That’s exactly how innovation happens.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

In my book, “A Hidden Force,” I shared the Islamic proverb: “a lot of different flowers make a bouquet.”

Human neurodiversity has been far less acknowledged and celebrated than the biodiversity of the natural world.

This simple metaphor allows us to see the importance and potential of embracing differences.

Some organizations have the tendency to think of diversity as perhaps a moral obligation, but I like how this proverb highlights that it simply makes for a better, more beautiful outcome.

How can our readers further follow your work?

I blog and participate in our virtual events series at Uptimize.com, and I’m also active within the neurodiversity at work community on LinkedIn, at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ed-uptimize/.

For more on my book, “A Hidden Force,” you can visit www.ahiddenforce.com.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.