Tag Archives: people

Learning from Autistic Persons

Articles about autism and Asperger’s always catch my eye since my middle child (son, Dallas) was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was 19.  It is important, in my opinion, to help others understand as best we all can about this challenging character trait.

This one is from the February 20, 2018 issue of Wall Street Journal.

What My Son With Autism Taught Me About Managing People

Recognizing and working with colleagues’ different cognitive styles helps get the most out of everyone

Individuals in the workplace have their own distinctive cognitive wiring that shapes how they approach the world.
Individuals in the workplace have their own distinctive cognitive wiring that shapes how they approach the world. ILLUSTRATION: JOHN HERSEY FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I like to think I was a considerate colleague when I worked in an office. I paid attention to cultural and gender differences. I made an effort to run inclusive meetings and write inclusive articles.

But for all my attention to diversity, I didn’t pay attention to one crucial form of difference: the way people think.

It took my autistic son to wake me up to the truth. For many years, I struggled with my son, who had been variously labeled “oppositional,” “difficult” or…well, there are words that we can’t put in a newspaper. We had hourly conflicts, and he had near-daily meltdowns.

It wasn’t until he received his first formal diagnosis—initially for ADHD, rather than autism—that I realized his brain was just wired differently from mine. I was able to recognize how often I was asking him to do something he couldn’t do, rather than something he wouldn’tdo. Even more important, I started to see the connection between his wiring and his talents, like his mathematical ability and his extraordinary vocabulary.

Once I recognized those distinctions as a mom, I started seeing them in my professional relationships, too. Just as my son had a learning and communications style of his own—and strengths that came along with it—my colleagues and I each had our own distinctive wiring that shaped how we approached the world. Recognizing that, and learning to deal with each other’s ways of thinking, makes for stronger understanding and smoother communication. And better business.

These different styles of thinking showed themselves most clearly in meetings. After my son’s diagnosis, I started to pay attention to how different members of the team did or didn’t participate in our regular sit-downs.

For instance, my own wiring pushes me to jump in, get as many of my ideas on the table as possible, and then push toward a decision. But one smart young man, who was absolutely brimming with ideas, wasn’t apt to speak during meetings. He once explained to me, “I need time to reflect before I’m ready to share my ideas.”

After that, I started breaking our meetings into two parts: part one to lay out our goals and any relevant background, plus invite ideas from people whose wiring was set up to present ideas the way I did. In part two, I’d invite input from those who needed time. Our meetings became much tighter and more effective, and we started to tap into the wisdom of our whole team.

Then there were those people—kinetic learners—who I realized aren’t built to sit still. To think or learn to their full ability, they need to move around, such as pacing or jiggling their knee or leaving the office at lunch to do a thousand-calorie workout.

I used to treat those colleagues like caged border collies who could wait until the weekend to run off all their energy. You could say I wasn’t the most understanding colleague, and sometimes manager.

 Looked at Differently

About one-quarter of adults surveyed said they had at least one neurodiverse condition. Among those, the percentage saying that at their most recent employer they experienced:

*Multiple responses allowed.

Source: Wilder Research online survey of 437 adults, 2016

But with my new mind-set, I started to schedule walking meetings whenever I was huddling one-on-one and didn’t need to take a lot of notes; I used voice dictation on my phone to capture key takeaways as we walked.

Getting outside and moving around not only helped my kinetic colleagues think more clearly and creatively, but also helped me discover that moving around gets me thinking differently, too.

Another area helped by my new way of thinking involves nonverbal cues. It never dawned on me that many people’s wiring isn’t set up to read throat clearing or glances at a phone as signs that it’s time to wrap up a chat, so they need more direct signals. But now if I find someone isn’t picking up on my cues, I say explicitly, for instance, “I need to end our conversation now so that I can get back to work.”

Such a simple thing—but I was totally blind to it before my son opened my eyes.

Making things concrete

Turning this new lens on others inevitably led to turning it back on myself. In what ways was my wiring getting in the way? How was my way of thinking and relating to people keeping me from being as creative and productive as I could be?

I have always been someone who remembers ideas and theories more than facts and anecdotes, but I had never thought about how that affects my professional relationships. I just noticed that I often had to repeat an idea three or four times before my colleagues finally understood or retained it. “Why can’t they understand the idea of aggregating and tagging social-media content?” I might fret.

Once I started peppering my conversations with specific, concrete examples for each of my abstract ideas, I found my colleagues were much faster to embrace my ideas on everything from software projects to marketing campaigns.

Soon, it took fewer repetitions for me to get my ideas across—but I also became more patient with the repetition, because I realized that I wasn’t speaking their language.

What My Son With Autism Taught Me About Managing People
PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

As I became more conscientious about working with my colleagues’ diverse thinking styles, I also learned to acknowledge and ask for help with my own style—even when that help involved admitting a weakness. I have long realized that I have challenges with what psychologists call “executive function”—namely, the ability to break a project apart into component tasks and organize those tasks so that they can be completed on time. I’m the kind of person who has a messy desk and can easily miss deadlines, so I’ve gradually built up a set of digital tools and habits that mostly compensate for my state of mental disorganization.

Remind me

Once I embraced my new perspective, however, I stopped feeling like my executive-function issues were something to apologize for—just as I no longer expect my colleagues to apologize because they don’t speak quickly at meetings or prefer to walk and meet. I’m just wired differently. I still make an effort to keep myself organized by paying careful attention to my digital tool kit, but I supplement that with an additional strategy: openly acknowledging my limitations. When I start working with someone new, I let them know that I am not great at keeping track of tasks and details, so I invite them to remind me if anything slips.

Recognizing all these variations hasn’t crowded out my concern for other kinds of diversity in the workplace. I don’t have a whole lot of patience for using differences in thinking as an excuse for gender bias or cultural insensitivity.

If anything, noticing different thinking styles has helped me become more effective in working across a wide range of differences within the workplace. The more I acknowledge and embrace my colleagues’ quirks—not to mention my own—the more I’m able to tap into their unique strengths.

Ms. Samuel is a technology researcher and the author of “Work Smarter With Social Media.” Email her at reports@wsj.com.

Appeared in the February 20, 2018, print edition.

Ultimate Test of Sustainability?

Will Your Operation Succeed to the Next Generation?

It’s been said that a farm or ranch is not truly sustainable unless it employs at least two generations. I believe it’s imperative that as producers we recognize that even if we become both ecologically and economically sustainable, but fail to pass our mission and work on to the next generation then we’ve failed the ultimate test of sustainability.

According to the most recent census of agriculture: from 2007 to 2012 there was a decline of over 95,000 farms in America. A quick look at the current trends tell us that most of today’s family farms and ranches will not succeed to the next generation.

I believe there is hope for a bright future.

This hope is not based on wishful thinking but rather a ground swelling of innovative farmers that are indeed beating the odds and are building thriving operations. A few names you may recognize are operations like Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms in Virginia, Gabe & Paul Brown of Nourished By Nature in North Dakota, as well as Will Harris’s White Oak Pastures in Southern Georgia. These are just a few of the many operations that are shining a bright beacon of hope to the greater agricultural community.

If you visit any of these operations there is a very obvious, but all too often overlooked, common thread of success. Each of these operations spring forth with a multigenerational team of people that bring intellectual diversity to each acre of their land.

Most of us in agriculture are at a road block because we’re too narrowly focused on a production mindset and we’ve lost sight of people and relationships. We must make the critical distinction that people create profits – profits don’t create people.

Those of us pursuing regenerative agriculture understand the value that biological diversity brings to our land, but we often forget about the value that human creativity and diverse intellectual capital can bring to our land.

At Seven Sons Farms we’ve stacked multiple enterprises on only 550 acres. By creating synergistic relations between our land, livestock and people, we are able to employee over 10 full time people as well as several part-time positions. We refer to our team as our intellectual human polyculture:

Human Pollyculture

Any successful leader knows that their organization’s most valuable asset is having the right people in the right place.

Zig Ziglar offered this belief: “You don’t build a business – you build people – and then people build your business.”

If the above statement is true then it begs the question – how is agriculture as a whole doing at building people? The graph below shows a plummeting decline in the number of human minds in agriculture.

The erosion of human capital:

1482013689_5855bbf99fc0d.jpg

SOURCES: Agriculture in the Classroom, 2014; BLS, 2014; NASS, 2014a,b; U.S. Census Bureau, 2014a,b; USDA, 2012

Over the course of time we have eroded much of our land’s precious resources in the form of minerals and soil organic matter. But no greater erosion has taken place than the depletion of human minds from each acre of our land. In the early 1970s we reached a critical point – for the first time in the history of American agriculture the number of human minds per acre involved in agriculture fell to a negative ratio.

Interestingly, it was around this same time period that the farmer’s share of the food dollar began to plummet as well.

The erosion of the food dollar:

There are many factors at play but it only stands to reason that if we want to capture a wider diversity of the food dollar, it requires wider diversity of intellectual talents. This is exactly why at Seven Sons Farms we have sought to foster synergistic relationships with people that enable us to capture a greater diversity of the food dollar.

To sum up the past half century of agriculture, one could say that in pursuit of production, we’ve attempted to trade people for profit. In the end we’ve yielded neither profit nor people.

At Seven Sons we believe that the people connected to the land represent the most valuable asset a farm could ever possess. To illustrate this point, imagine for just a moment if you were to remove Joel Salatin, Gabe Brown, or Will Harris from their respective farms. These farms would look nothing like what they do today without the creativity and vision that each of these leaders bring to the land that they are called to steward. The same holds true for your farm as well. The beliefs you operate from, the vision you put forth and the people you inspire to join you – these are the game changers that will empower your operation to beat the odds and succeed to the next generation.

There are unprecedented opportunities ahead of us…

I believe we have unprecedented opportunities ahead of us when you consider many of the recent breakthroughs in regenerative agriculture as well as the rapid shifts we’re seeing in our food culture.

So if you’re looking to exchange new ideas and be challenged to think outside old paradigms then I encourage you to join myself and hundreds of likeminded people at this year’s Grassfed Exchange in Albany New York.

The very mission of the Grassfed Exchange is to catalyze the exchange of practical knowledge, ideas, and strategies that you can take home and begin applying on your operation. Bring a family member, friend or budding young agripreneur who is looking for their way forward in agriculture.

What The Grassfed Exchange Is About:
Click here to register for the 2017 Grassfed Exchange

Reprinted from Grassfed Exchange

Continuing Rain!

Here in north-central Missouri we’ve continued to stay rainy and muddy since winter.  However, we cannot complain compared to the horrific flooding, damaging thunderstorms, tornadoes, tropical storms, and continuing droughts and wildfires other parts of the country and world are receiving.  It’s been hard on equipment, livestock, and people, but maybe someday it’ll change and become ‘normal.’  We wear mud boots everyday all day despite 107ºF heat indices on some days and terrific humidity even when it’s in the 80s and pretty sure i’m starting to get foot rot!  Gonna switch to 100% wool socks pretty quick if we don’t get relief soon.  Any socks with nylon or such in them cause my feet to sweat and peel – kind of gross for sure.

We keep a good supply of coconut water in the cupboard and frig for rehydrating when water just won’t quite supply enough minerals.  Bananas and buffered salt are on hand as well to help with muscle cramping at night.

We’ve weaned the fall calves, doctored a good number for bad eyes (pinkeye) already, and sorted off two loads of calves to sell at North Missouri Livestock Auction the 6th of July.  The mud and rain has prevented us from establishing summer annual pastures that we had planned to graze and grow out some of yearlings this year.  Since we didn’t get that done, we are running out of grass, so the calves need to go where ever grass is available.

Tough on calving, but the cows and calves are really doing quite well despite the heat and rain.  A couple of calves lost due to navel ill because of them lying in a muddy spot and allowing infection to develop.  There is little help for a calf once it gets navel ill.  We always lose some baby calves and this year really hasn’t been any worse in that regard.  However, what I call ‘jungle rot‘ is on the increase.  It is likely more calves will not survive if we don’t get some dry weather soon.

The ewes are pretty much done lambing and in the timber now which not only helps keep them cool and not sunburnt, but, by their grazing choices, they are helping control the brush which needs taming!  Pretty hard on wool sheep all this rain and mud.  Constantly wet wool on a live animal can be conducive to parasites that can kill the sheep.  Usually not, but any animal with a compromised immune system is susceptible.

Shabbat Shalom!

tauna