Monday, October 20, 2008

Article: How Far Should You Chase The "Impossible" Dream?

I was reading this article today;

How Far Should You Chase The "Impossible" Dream?
By Lynne Soraya on July 22, 2008 in Asperger's Diary

It's an interesting article about the problems aspies face when rising through the ranks (at work) to management positions.

It questions Temple Grandin's repeated statements that "people with autism or Asperger's should never allow themselves to be promoted into a management role, due to the social demands." and asks not only whether this is possible but whether or not aspies should actively pursue such careers.

The article also mentions John Elder Robison, author of "Look Me In The Eye". If you've read that book, then you'll know how John Elder had a lot of difficulties in management and that it stifled an otherwise brilliant technical career.

I think the article raises two very interesting questions;

1. Can an aspie make it to Upper Management.
The answer here is, quite obviously a resounding "Yes". As to whether or not an aspie can actually be effective in management... I'm not so sure about that. Come to think of it, I wonder if upper management itself is ever effective?

The other question is;

2. Should an Aspie try to make it to upper management?
This is a much harder question since there is pain in both approaches.

If you stay put...
It's quite painful and demeaning to be "bypassed" by younger and less effective colleagues who move to management positions while you remain as you are. Once in upper management, those same colleagues are able to impose their will upon you and may even take revenge for things which may have occurred while they were your junior. It's also quite frustrating to miss out on the salary hikes given to people who move up in the corporate world.

If you move up.
On the other hand, the route to upper management is frustrating for aspies. There's a lot more emphasis put on social skills and social situations and there's less need for technical solutions. I've found nothing to enjoy about my interactions with upper management. The positions bring considerably more stress while significantly reducing your ability to provide technical input.

I've sat in meetings steaming internally because of the mediocrity of some of the decisions being made but knowing that I'm powerless to change them. If I'd been in a lower position, I'd have been blissfully unaware of how close to "functioning", the company had become. Often, in a lower position, I'd be able to implement a change by pretending not to understand it's ramifications. In upper management however, with all of the responsibility that the positions entail, this is not usually possible.

A Happy Medium
I'm convinced that aspies should always be following their special interests. If those special interests include management, then you should move upwards. If not, then the ideal position is the last bastion of technical work and the first rung of management.

To move above this rung is to risk major job dissatisfaction which can often only be resolved by leaving the company.


John Elder Robison said...

You have, to a large extent, spelled out a good case for self employment.

While I failed as a suit in a corporate world, I have done fine in management of my own business. That's because I do what's right and there's no boss to second guess me. I may still make bad chouces but at least I don't struggle with the politics etc. that you find in a corporate environment.

Anonymous said...


I believe I may have a mild form of AS, and I wanted to ask you a quick question about resources on AS. However, I can't find your email address. If you could send it to me, I would very much appreciate it.


kip dot werking via gmail dot com

Jennifer L. Addotta said...

Your blog is really interesting. I was looking up 'stimming' in regards to a friends' son, and found out some stuff about my own ADHD. Keep up the good work.

Patricia Robinson said...

You raise an interesting point here. I remember my first engineering job after college. The large company I worked for made a big point about the "parallel ladders" - the management track and the technical track. In reality, the power, money, career security, and prestige existed on the management track. The technical track consisted of one well respected technical genius and a lot of people about to be hit with the next layoff.

I wonder if things have changed?