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There are 3 Types of Thinkers. Which One Are You? With Dr. Temple Grandin (Episode #137)

Temple Grandin is a renowned innovator whose lifelong work and advocacy have shed light on the beauty and potential of every brain, regardless of neurological differences. Her insights into animal behavior, autism, and education have had a profound impact on many industries and have opened doors for countless individuals who may have otherwise gone unrecognized. Her new book applies to 40% of our population: people whose creative minds are going unsupported. Listen in and see if you may be one of those folks.

Episode Highlights


About Our Guest:

Dr. Grandin was named One of the Top 10 College Professors in the U.S. in 2020 and there’s a reason for that… she has spent the last 5 decades demonstrating through her own life’s work—and teaching others—that every brain is beautiful.  

Her latest book is called Visual Thinking : The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns and Abstractions.

Temple is perhaps the longest celebrated, most impactful Autistic person on the planet. 

  • For 50 years, she’s been opening people’s eyes with her groundbreaking insights on both livestock handling and animal welfare. Today, half the cattle in the United States are handled in facilities she has designed because of her understanding and then communication to the rest of us about how animals think.
  • She’s been written about in TIME Magazine, the New York Times, Discover Magazine, Forbes and USA Today. 
  • HBO made an Emmy Award winning movie—simply called Temple Grandin—about her life. It is an engaging portrait of a stigmatized, misunderstood young woman who learned to channel her unique gifts into a brilliant career as a scientist, author and groundbreaking animal advocate. 

All that amazing work in the world, all that intellectual rigor, attention, countless awards and influence. And yet… Dr. Grandin did not talk until she was three and a half years old.  

In fact, when she was young, she was given the designation of “minimal brain damage”, and most kids like her at the time would have been diagnosed as “mentally retarded” and institutionalized. 

She was considered very weird, and teased and bullied in high school. The only places she had friends were in activities where there was a shared interest such as horses, electronics, or model rockets.

Nevertheless, she went to gain her PhD and become so influential in agriculture, animal behavior and as an advocate for the potential of Autistic thinking, that she has been featured on NPR, the BBC, and national TV shows like 20/20, Sixty Minutes, Fox, and Friends.

I could go on and on.

And today, Temple Grandin is here to chat about a new way of thinking about human potential that may have some connection to all our lives.

Fortunately, our way of thinking about this diagnosis has expanded by leaps in recent years. But Temple puts forward that if you’ve known someone (or been someone) who was geeky and socially awkward but very smart, then you may have known someone on the Autism spectrum that was never diagnosed. And most importantly, they may have had hidden talents that were never discovered or nurtured. 

Temple likes to speak plainly, and often says, “When do geekiness and the way of nerds become autism? That’s a gray area. Half the people in Silicon Valley may have autism. Steve Jobs was probably mildly on the autistic spectrum.”  

So, she says, are many electricians, inventors, mechanics, architects, builders, plumbers, welders, artists, and industrial designers.

She is now talking to the world about how we are failing to nurture the minds of children who show aptitudes for all those valuable professions.

Today, she is taking up a problem that may be relevant to an enormous group of people in our world, challenging us to change an education system that is not nurturing minds that are “visual thinkers:” people outside a singular way of linear thinking.

Listen in for a conversation that will revolutionize the way we think about the wonderful variety in how we all think….

Resources Mentioned:

Show Notes

00:00 Preview

50:23 Intro & Welcome

03:51 People Think in Different Ways

  • Brains can either be more cognitive / thinking or social / emotional
  • Autism diagnoses range from someone like Einstein who couldn’t speak till age 3 to someone who is epileptic and can’t dress themselves but they’re all labelled autistic—this affects the perception of autistic people and their ability to contribute to society
  • Autistic minds can be seen as visual thinkers
  • Standard requirements such as algebra may inadvertently screen visual thinkers out as object visualizers may not be able to do abstract math 
  • Abstract math may not be as important in disciplines such as designing mechanical equipment

06:15  Education

  • Education seems to favour one way of thinking and not nurture the others
  • Some people think in words (verbally) some think in patterns and are visual spatial such as mathematicians, some are object visualizers and think in pictures, and some people are a mixture 
  • The education system is being taken over by verbal thinkers and this affects the opportunities for other types of minds
  • Temple is an extreme object visualizer as are many of her peers who build equipment
  • Draconian alpha requirements in education will screen out visual thinkers
  • Because different minds have complimentary skills, pairing different minds on work teams will create better outcomes

08:40  Autistic Success

  • Steve Jobs may have been mildly autistic and it shows in the simplicity of the user experience in the iPhone’s design
  • Algebra requirements in education in some states work against visual minds and can negatively affect industrial design
  • Some of the best and most successful equipment inventors & manufacturers did not graduate college or high school
  • College graduates who are not visual thinkers may miss important details in design and need the input of different minds
  • Mathematicians calculate risk but visual thinkers can see risk

15:07 Cattle Industry

  • Visual thinkers have the ability to ‘snap pictures’ and ‘take video clips’ in their mind and this helps them make sense of complicated systems such as factory floors, beef plants and cattle farms
  • Visual thinkers also notice what might seem to be minor details that other minds may miss

16:55 Break

18:42 Dr. Grandin

  • PhD in animal science 
  • First research she did was looking at what cattle are seeing. If you think verbally you won’t think about what cattle are seeing. 
  • Looked at providing pigs with things to enrich their environment. Pigs prefer soft objects that they can destroy—this has been replicated in may pig farming
  • When Temple looked at cattle she started by identifying what the cattle would see. Verbal thinkers wouldn’t take this approach
  • Good handling of animals leads to better quality meat so designing systems that are best for animals matters

27:08 Autism in Society

  • How did society get to the point of screening out visual thinkers?
  • This may have been inadvertent as verbal & logical thinkers may not have known that visual thinkers existed
  • This has led to several manufacturing and design jobs moving to countries such as Holland & Dubai
  • “Special ed” kids are not allowed to take shop in some schools which further screens them out from opportunities
  • Several clever engineers grew up without access to tools because of this
  • Shop might be the best class for them to take as car mechanics are one of the best ways to get kids off of video games 
  • Temple did not speak until she was 3-4 years old. She loved art and making things.
  • Never got bullied in elementary school but got teased a lot in high school
  • Spent lots of time make schools
  • Object thinkers build the trains & spatial thinkers run them 
  • There are also things that visual thinkers may not do well. For example, Temple has little working memory and may not be able to retain a sequence unless it’s written down

33:10 Corporate Keynotes 

  • First step is to realise that different types of thinking exist, and there are complementary skills
  • Understanding the different minds leads to better management, communication & leadership in organizations

35:08 Parents

  • Books  – “The Way I See It” & “Navigating Autism” with Debra Moore
  • Parents get locked into the label of “autistic child”
  • Fully verbal kids are not learning basic skills such as shopping in a store
  • Social skills are not taught in the same structured way as in the 50s
  • Some basics are needed to be able to function in a society

36:55 Animals & Visual Thinkers

  • Because animals are non-verbal, if we focus on them we can understand visual thinkers better
  • Objects look different from different angles for animals and cause them to react differently—this can explain how visual thinkers see the world
  • An autistic child may have a medical issue that is causing pain that they may not be able to verbalize and it will affect their behaviour—observing animals can help us understand this

41:07 Exposure & Mentorship

  • Temple was exposed to cattle as a teenager and it helped jumpstart her interest in her career
  • Michelangelo was also exposed to churches seeing great art and studios doing stonework before he went into an art internship
  • Try out different careers through internships and research programs to find out what you like
  • Mentors also greatly help to shape and influence young minds
  • Dr. Lynda does art using welding because of exposure to farms in her early life
  • Tradesmen and people that fix things are becoming in short supply because visual thinking isn’t recognized

47:15 Mechanical Mindset

  • Creating opportunities for hands on work through Legos
  • Tools aren’t introduced early enough to children
  • Cooking, sewing, home economics being removed from school curriculum
  • Expose kids to as much areas of interest as possible and see what they gravitate toward

49:35 Avoid the Disability Trap

  • Don’t embrace the labels
  • Especially in the milder forms of autism that are just a different way of thinking
  • We need them in the working world
  • Allow for backdoor opportunities and don’t just focus on college degrees as the entry point into the working world
  • If you don’t have the label you can’t get social services
  • Kids are also to protected and not learning social skills 
  • The focus ends up being too much on academics and not enough on general life skills
  • Accommodations can be made for autistic people
  • Flickering fluorescent bulbs need to be changed
  • Long verbal instructions need to be written down
  • Starting off at fast paced chaotic tasks may not be the best idea
  • Too much fast multitasking is challenging

1:02:06 Different Minds

  • Visual thinking is common sense!
  • Seeing risk is different than calculating risk
  • Different minds exist—realize that we need all the different minds and work together in a complementary way.

1:04:07 Closing

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