In the conclusion of my first book on synesthesia, I dreamed of a day when cross-sensory experiences would have resume value. Privately, it seemed a pipe dream when I wrote it. In fact, I wondered if a time when employers valued the enhanced memories, profound empathy and creativity of synesthetes would ever arrive.
But that day has come!
Bloomberg BusinessWeek's headline last week said it loud and clear: "The Mind's Eye: Synesthesia Has Business Benefits." The article featured prominent synesthetes like Michael Havercamp, an engineer for Ford Motor and Patricia Lynne Duffy, an instructor with the United Nations Language and Communications Programme. Mr. Havercamp explained how he optimizes car design by using the synesthetic reactions he gets touching automobile features. Ms. Duffy pointed out how easy it is for her to remember people's names (the ultimate act of diplomacy) given the added synesthetic colors she sees for the letters. Even Samantha Goldworm, featured in this space recently, shared the benefits of her trait (not mental condition or hallucination, two unfortunate mistakes in the language chosen by the writer) in creating olfactive landscapes for major designers.
And I found my quote gathered from superstar music producer Pharrell Williams included -- he says he couldn't make music if synesthesia were taken from him. "It's my only reference for understanding."
Leading synesthesia researcher Dr. Ed Hubbard provided historical context in the piece:
"the business community is just starting to wake up to the possibilities,” he said. “Ten years ago … even the scientific community thought [synesthesia] was just vivid imagination, or made-up stories.”
The article got the synnie community buzzing. Curator of the Facebook page "I Have Synesthesia: I'm Not a Freak, I'm a Synesthete," Syed Jaffery was particularly pleased and said he found it very encouraging.
"After reading the article, I felt a sense of excitement, and inclusiveness," he wrote me. "I found myself going back to my synesthesia group and reading the community posts, which led me to read several articles about spatial synesthesia, the type that I have. All the while, in the back of my mind I started thinking about an old project I have been meaning to develop in which I want to devise a way to represent the spatial synesthesia calendar in a physical form, much like a regular calendar but one that can morph to fit any synnie’s particular calendar view."
Mr. Jaffery says he was inspired to spend several hours the day he read the piece writing notes and reading about spatial synesthesia and how it might impact approaches to mathematics, memory, and creativity. "The Bloomberg article, in my opinion, is a form of acceptance, or perhaps a harnessed and be treated like a talent rather than just as a harmless quirk. In recent weeks on the radio, I have listened to stories about several synesthetes, such as Pharrell, and other successful synnies doing great things. I was surprised to hear of so many of these synesthesia reports within a span of just a few weeks, which until now I had rarely heard of any in the span of a few years."
Synesthete Carrie Barcomb commented happily that "very cool people are recognizing this as something useful and productive."
And Kat Smith also had a positive reaction to the well-respected magazine's story. "Well now I have to figure out how to actually to describe my synesthesias on my resume. I can imagine the questions from that one."
René D. Quiñones Molina said synesthesia has now entered the post-modern era. "One of the ideas of post-modernism is that everyone has his or her perspective on things, while synesthesia portrays the exact opposite. While it is true that synesthete have different reactions to the same thing, it is a contradiction because it is both random (in the sense that we synesthetes cannot choose how we will react to anything) and at the same time consistent (in the sense that we cannot change our reaction). On a business side of the spectrum, therefore, it's not how the synesthete reacts to the object, but what the object tells us, and that's what makes a synesthete so useful: that the object speaks to him and through him."
Central to the piece's thesis is a creativity study from the University of California at San Diego. A small group of college students -- some with and some without synesthesia -- took the standardized Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. The tests evaluate skills like idea generation and originality, among other traits conducive to being a valuable employee. "The synesthetes scored more than twice as high in every category," the article stated. It was done in 2004, so it has taken 10 years for the news to filter out and be applied in any sort of human resources response.
The story can be read online and make sure to check out the accompanying video: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-01-09/the-minds-eye-synesthesi...
Update those resumes and business cards, synnies!