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#041 – Neurodiversity in learning, leadership, and business (with Dr. Jason Rogers)

Podcast Summary

 It’s no secret that we’re all unique. With over 85 billion neurons and over 600 trillion synaptic connections. Connections that are constantly adapting to our internal and external environments. Neurodiversity and uniqueness are baked into our brains and evolution. So why do so many of our education and work environments fail to recognize and harness this diversity?


That’s at the heart of today’s episode. With the help of Dr. Jason Rogers, an expert on neurodiversity and learning, we look at what the current changes in science, perception, and application of neurodiversity can be. I mean for education, business, and leadership.


Welcome to episode 41 of the Working Well podcast, the show that explores the rapidly changing landscape of work and well being. Each episode, we dive into the hottest topics in leadership, employee well being, and the future of work. I’m your host, Tim Borris. Now, before we dive in, let’s learn a bit more about Jason.


Dr. Jason Rogers is a passionate advocate for education and neurodiversity. With a doctorate in education, he understands the science of learning and as a dyslexic, he has firsthand experiences with the challenges and opportunities of neurodiversity in school, business, and life. Jason is head of school at Rundle College Society.


An innovative K to 12 independent academic co educational day school in Calgary with approximately 1200 students. During his time at Rundle, Jason has spearheaded the Rundle Academy Redesign, a project aiming to create a bespoke facility for students with learning disabilities, the construction of the state of the art Collette School, and developed the Learning Studio at Rundle, an innovative incubator empowering teachers to create and study their dream teaching spaces.


Episode Links & Resources

Connect with Jason  here:

Jason’s Website:

Rundle College: 

TEDx Talk: 

LinkedIn (Jason): 

LinkedIN (Rundle College Society):

Podcast Transcript

Jason, so great to have you on the show. Thank you for joining me today. And it’s great to be here. You’ve had a, you’ve had a interesting journey to get where you are today. Tell me a little bit more about that journey and how you got to. What are you doing now? 

That’s a big, wide open question. I’ll try to try to keep it condensed, but I have to start at the beginning.

Honestly, Tim, you know, I’m in education. Well, I’ll start at the end. I’m in education right now. I’m you know, privileged and to serve as the head of school here at Rundle for all of our schools. And I think I’m a pretty unlikely head of school given my background. And so to take you right back to the beginning I am not a confident or a strong learner.

By nature you know, as a young person, I always struggled with learning. Came to find much later that it was dyslexia that was holding me back. Cause generally unable to read until well forever, generally didn’t finish a novel or a book in my K to 12 experience and, you know, really leverage the strengths of others to get me through school.

And so, you know, my background in learning is that of struggle. Frankly, you know, I really spent a lot of my life feeling like I wasn’t able to learn, wasn’t capable of learning that the education system generally wasn’t for me. You know, in good fortune, I suppose, both my parents are educators and they worked tirelessly to help support me through those formative years and those years of deep, deep challenge and misunderstanding of my own neural diversity, if you will.

And, you know, through that support and the support of a lot of other people, I managed to get my way into. University. When I was in university, I tried a couple of degrees. I tried a chemistry degree because I was pretty good at that in high school. That didn’t work out. Tried a business degree because I was pretty entrepreneurial in my whole life.

That didn’t work out. And then I stumbled into a course called education for exceptional learners at the University of Saskatchewan about 1997. And it was in that moment where I realized, first of all, that my learning. was diverse and the fact that, you know, I was, I had severe and profound challenges with reading written text.

And secondly, that there were a lot of ways to support learners like me and other students who had had challenges and that became my true passion in life. So I became a educator middle years specializing, but Did additional specialties in special education went on to work in the inner city of Saskatoon at a, at a beautiful school called Princess Alexandra Community School, where I had the privilege of working, you know in grade three to five, then grade six to eight, and then in a resource room, and then came out to a school in Calgary called Rundle Academy.

And Rundle Academy specialize in students who have learning disabilities, grade four to grade 12. And I spent 15 years teaching and leading there. And then in 2014, I was able to take on the headship of all of Rundle and oversee all three programs here. So kind of gives you a snapshot of, you know, I think what is a fairly un, you know, unlikely journey to becoming, you know, head of a, of an independent school here in Calgary.

Your background and experience set you up perfectly for, for what you’re doing. And, you know, I, while I’m we’ll call it neuro normative in learning I have a close personal friend who was one of my best friends through high school and university who had dyslexia or has dyslexia and. She’s one of the most brilliant people I know, and I talked to her a lot about her experience when she was growing up in the school system, and just like you, you had parents who were educators and were able to get you to help her her family had the resources to hire tutors and look into What was happening and, and, you know, she’s got a PhD now and done her MBA and she’s just brilliant and she always has been, but in this traditional school system that wasn’t set up for her.

And as you experienced, that’s not how most traditional education, particularly. 20, 30, 40 years ago, it if you didn’t fit the mold, you got spit out pretty quickly. 

Neurodiversity Challenges

Yeah, I think that I think it’s a very big risk that we still face today, but we certainly faced, you know, back in the day in the eighties when I was in, you know, K to 12 education, but I think, you know, the gifts that came from.

from having a disability, you know, and having a disability still is it, you know, the work ethic had to be there. You know, I, I think I probably worked as hard or harder than anybody I knew. And secondly I learned how to network really early, you know you can think of that traditional group project in grade six, where you’ve got five or six students in that group.

Well, if you’re the kid in that group who can’t. Read or follow directions. You got to find a way to get the project done on your own terms. So you got to find somebody who can read and follow directions. You got to find somebody else who can do different things inside that project. And then you’re able to bring that network ability and that, you know, probably a pretty divergent way of thinking into the project, which will allow, you know, probably extraordinary outcomes that aren’t realized when everybody’s thinking in the same way.

And so I think that was a true benefit of You know, struggling with reading and struggling with learning the way I did all the way through school, and I think truly it helps me in today’s workplace. It allows me to, you know, be much more empathetic towards, you know, workers who think differently or employees or friends or colleagues and, and students, you know, and helping them reach their potential in spite of whatever challenge they, they might face.

Yeah. And you, you brought up a couple good points there, and the, the power that comes from being able to approach problems and solutions from a different perspective. We’re, we’re seeing that a lot in, in the workplace today on, you know, D E I B diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging). And people are talking a lot more about the power of that in the workforce.

Neurodiversity in Education and Industry

But I think I’d say education is a lot further ahead of the curve than it’s like the workforce lags behind because as people get out into the workforce. And they’ve had a certain educational experience. They will be able to bring that hopefully to the workforce. What are you seeing in education right now that is, I guess, shaping the workforce of the future?

Yeah, well I think it’s, I think it’s really interesting because Tim, I think it goes both ways, honestly. I mean some places, some work environments I think are far more advanced than education are. You know far more accepting of, Different ways of working, different ways of thinking, you know, you think about the tech sector, for instance, and, you know, I’ve spent some time in San Francisco and Vancouver visiting, you know, technology offices and viewing how they work with their workforces and what kind of accommodations they have and how they’re building, you know, spaces where people can embrace wellness and productivity and purpose all at the same time and spend some time in those spaces and then try to bring that back To a K to 12 education.

So not only our teachers, but our students can benefit from some of that flexibility, you know, everything from mobile seating to, you know, I’m at a standing desk here today to, you know, more flexible schedules. All of those things can be taken from what I think are innovative and advanced. Work forces.

Then you look at education and obviously some of the things happening in education, be it around, you know, purpose driven lives, you know, and we’re seeing that more and more with our students wanting to live lives of purpose over profit. I think our students are really valuing things like their personal wellness over, you know, maybe corporate success.

Now, it’s not to say that they are. Exclusive of each other because I think one benefits the other as much as anything, but I think students are looking to the space of, you know, what is my mental well being look like? How do I support myself in that? What’s my understanding my own mental wellness?

And, and how do I articulate that and advocate for myself and the things that I need? So I think we’re seeing, you know, a bit of give and take from the workforce to K to 12 education. I think we’re potentially the largest challenges. Is that in between stage? And I think post secondary education is the slowest to change.

The Post Secondary  Education (and Large Corporation) Lag

I think it’s like the biggest, most unmovable beast in all of this. The bureaucracy is larger and it’s more entrenched. And so you see fewer accommodations. You see less understanding of, you know learning diversity. You’re seeing less adaptability when it comes to. Innovation and workplace and advancement in that space.

And I think some of the largest work needs to happen in that kind of in between bit. And I think there was a nice give and take honestly, between the corporate world and K to 12 and, and I think, you know, we could see a little bit more movement in post secondary. We might all, all benefit. 

I would agree that post secondary could use use a change.

And I, I think it does very dramatically between. Institutions programs. I have to say I’ve just last year I went back and did a graduate certificate in executive coaching and I was really impressed with the Royal Roads experience and how they particularly that CEC program was structured very much based on adult learning and divergent learning styles and interactive and collaborative.

I thought it was fantastic. You know, again, tied to the program the content of the program, whether it was, you know executive accounting program, I don’t know if it would be that, that changed that different, but I can’t speak to that, but I did see that I can say from, as a consultant going into organizations, you’re right.

It does vary widely. The tech sector tends to lead the way, however, there are still a lot of companies out there that. I think are starting to talk about talk a good game or speak differently about what’s happening, but when you really just even scratch barely below the surface, it’s still the same same mindset.

And I think that’s in a good way, creating some conflict in the workplace because. Companies are marketing this, but the day to day reality of the organization is quite different. And I still think people with a neurodivergent way of thinking or perspective are not as celebrated as you would like to think.

Particularly in more under more traditional leadership styles. 

So, you know, to me, bring up an interesting point. I’d like to just maybe put back to you a little bit. I mean, I wonder if it’s both size, you know, size of organizations, size of structures, size of systems you talk about railroads and we talk about Royal Roads.

I think of Huron University in in Ontario as well. And there’s, there’s smaller systems, right? We’re able to, you know, really hone in on the individual the personalization. And, and we certainly see that at the school, Rundle here. I mean, our class sizes are 14 students at the very, very largest. And even though, you know, we’ve got 12 or 1300 students in our entire system, We pride ourselves on being small and thinking small, thinking down to the individual and trying to understand who that person is, what they need, how we can support them, how to, how do they reach their potential?

But perhaps the, the real challenge, like, as we’re talking about with, you know, traditional post secondary education, as you’re looking at lectures of. 600 students in an intro psychology course how do you, how could you, you know, in any way recognize a diversity in that room and, and address it through through you know, pedagogical approach.

I don’t think it’s possible. And I think size might be one of the biggest barriers that the universities face and maybe corporations as well. And you know, you do see it in, in larger education systems too, that size seems to be a barrier to. You know, being empathetic and addressing neural diversity in the workplace or in education.

Access & Flexibility in Learning Options

Yes, I, I would agree with you. Size does make it more challenging, especially when there’s a, the further the disconnect from senior leadership to. Call it line level employees or students or the general consumers of the product or information that does make it harder. I still think there’s a way though.

And I, you know, I’m, I’m going back, I’m going back to 91 to 96 when I was in university the first time. And. I know in your TED talk, you talked about listening to audio cassettes in the truck when you were driving around and I was at Simon Fraser. And yeah, my psychology lectures were a couple hundred students in the lecture hall.

And I was playing sports at the time. So I missed a lot of lectures. So they did record them. And I went, I would have to go to the library and listen to the cassettes, but I found that super helpful. And, you know, obviously now with. Online and recordings in a, you know, cloud server, you can go do that.

And then we had meetings with our TA to go sit and talk through the lecture material. And that again, was super helpful for me because I found that I had trouble concentrating. I remember particularly I, as a young athlete, I probably stayed up later than I wanted. Some of the classes were 8 AM. And I, I guarantee I learned about 5% of what I could have learned in those morning lectures.

And I actually stopped going after a while because I knew I wasn’t learning anything. I just listened to the cassettes and talked to the TA and I still ended up getting good marks, but it was ability to adapt to that. And I think organizations that can provide that will, will really, as you said, help grow the superpowers in people.

Yeah, and I think, you know, and that’s the primary challenge that we’ve been trying to solve at our newest program called Rundle Studio, Tim. And I think, you know, the Rundle Academy program has about 250 students in it, and they all have learning disabilities. They all 100% graduate, 100% go on to post secondary.

But what we know is that in the population, there’s between 15 and 20% of people who would, you know, qualify as having a diagnosed learning disability, which is like you know, not extreme, but it, but it’s a, it’s profound neural diversity. So if we have 15 to 20% of people in the population who could benefit from a program like Rundle Academy, how can we scale that effectively?

And if you’re going to scale it, you have to scale it by having the same tenants in place being, you know, trust, personalization, care, empathy and, and great. Universally designed instruction. And so we’ve been working hard on that in the Rundle Studio program, which is a virtualized school for students who are nearly diverse from grade seven to grade 10 right now and eventually be grade seven to grade 12.

And what we found is, you know, if we have one instructor who’s a content expert, so think of the best teacher you’ve ever had. We take that best teacher and they provide the content in bite size Information packets similar to what, what you’re talking about and then we’re able to take other teacher advisors and have them personalize that information and deeply connected to the way that the narrowly divergent student learns, then we’re able to get the one, two punch of best instruction, best personalization, and and hopefully we’re setting those students up for success, you know, well beyond the confines of brick and mortar school like Rumble Academy that has a limitation of having 250 students when we know, you know, there’s, you know, 100 times that in in the province of Alberta who, who could use that support.

So yeah, exactly. I think it comes back to, we’re trying to crack that code is how do we create opportunity and access to students who are nearly divergent in a, in a scalable way. That’s not, you know, confined by bricks and mortar.

I love that you brought that up. It’s, you know, it obviously is very timely with what’s gone on the last few years and remote work and so many leaders thought, Oh, people can’t work remotely and people won’t like it.

And there’s been a huge shift in how people see that and what work they do at certain times versus others. And I guess how to scale that. So what, what are the biggest learnings that have come out for you over the past while working through Render Studio with the virtualized program that you think would apply to the future of education, but also the workforce?

Yeah, thank you. I think, you know, first is is not for everybody. Okay. So like, yeah, I think, I think it’ll work for 50% of people, but I think 50% of people just never, never work for, I think for the 50% it works for. So once you get down to that I think having personal human connection is really important on a regular. 

So, you know, whether it’s, you know, a 15 minute check in at the start of the lesson or, you know, check in at the end of the day and that translates to the corporate workplace just as well as it does to education as a fact that working in total isolation, I don’t think is a solution to, to many, many of our kind of corporate or educational challenges.

Universal Design in Neurodiversity and Learning

So that’s the first thing. Second thing, we come back to universal design for learning at the studio and allowing students to access material when and how, however they need it. So, you know, like you said about your psychology class, you know, having some of that information captured so that they can get it when they’re best ready to accept it is really helpful.

So we know that, you know, Dan Pink wrote a great book a couple of years ago called when, and he talks about, you know, our, the cycles of our conscious, basically, you know, when we’re at our peak efficacy, whether it’s in the morning, during the day or night, and all of us have different biometric cycles like that.

So if a student is best able to learn at night, then having that information available to them at night, when they’re best able to learn is, is really valuable. And there are some students who are, you know, morning birds to who like to be up first thing in the morning and having access when and how they need it is really important.

Second to that is, you know, inside the universe. Universal design is allowing things to be available in text in audio having both varieties. So for students who are able to read really well, maybe that’s their their choice way of taking it in. Whereas students like me who are better listeners than we’re readers, having that ability to listen to material has, has been really beneficial as well.

I think, you know, having that regular access, that human connection is, is the center points of what we’re doing at the studio that allow students to remain engaged, remain connected. And remain learning throughout their their time online. And, you know, beyond that, Tim, as you know, like in inside the corporate world or education, the benefits that come from working remotely sometimes.

Outweigh, you know, the drawbacks and I’ll use examples like the faculty that we have at the studio program. Enjoy a lot more flexibility in their life than teachers who work in a brick and mortar school. You know, they’re able to go to their kitchen and make their lunch. They’re able to drop their kids off at.

School in the morning and show up to work it a little bit later in the day, as long as their lessons are pre recorded and they’ve got those check ins booked for their students, they’ve got more flexibility. So we’re finding that for some professionals, the flexibility has been really, really beneficial.

And I think we don’t see that in the education sector all that often and and it’s becoming more and more prevalent post COVID. So I think that’s been a big benefit as well. 

Well, I like that you said the, you know. Personal connection with the students. What does that typically look like? Can you map that out?

Yeah, yeah. So effectively, you know, okay, over the course of a year, what teachers are doing is they’re working with students to first help them understand where their learning challenge or difference is. So, and how it manifests inside each of their subject areas, because it can manifest differently in math and from social studies than from art class.

The Power of Advocacy

So over the course of the year, first is understanding and awareness, and secondly, it’s advocacy. So, I think this pivot from understanding awareness to advocacy is really important in education and the workforce, because. You’re not able to advocate for yourself unless you have a deep understanding of who you are as, as a, as a learner.

And that advocacy can become really powerful in the workplace and in education if you’re coming from a place of good information and you know, predictable, positive results. So over the course of the whole year, that’s, that’s the goal of our teachers is to, you know, build that trust, build that understanding and then lead it to advocacy, which will happen inside the classroom.

Then we’ll further happen when they move on to post secondary and they’re able to advocate for themselves and say, here’s what I need. I need, you know, isolation when I’m doing an exam. I need a little bit of extra time. I need. Things in audio format, or I need the notes in advance, you know, these are all really simple accommodations that will support deeper cognition and overall retention, honestly of information the day over day approach.

Is, is pretty systematic. I mean we have things called TA meetings. So, and, and we do this in the workplace as well, particularly when we’re remote, like in the summer and in, in our business office is you have a daily meeting starting at eight 30 it’s generally a catch up time. You know, you spend a little time socializing, but there is there’s a structure to it.

So it’s about deeper connection, trust. All those things. And then setting up the day. So here are the tasks you need to complete throughout the day. Here’s where you find them. Here’s where I’m at. If you need a little bit of support. So there’s that opportunity to connect person to person throughout the day.

And then again, at the end of the day, catching up and just asking those questions, you know, what did you accomplish? You know, what do you wish you had done better? How can I support you in getting there? And I think those connections are enough to keep students, you know, connected and moving forward.

Leadership Strategies for Success

And I think similarly for corporations and for workforces, you know, I think one thing I picked up and I think it was from Simon Sinek or one of those writers was, you know, the magic questions that I ask my direct reports once a week, and I send it out on Sunday is what’s your priority this week and how can I support you?

And it comes out in an email Sunday or Monday morning, I suppose. And they just respond and I know exactly where they’re at and what they need from me. And then, then we go ahead. We’ve now. Eliminated, you know, probably 80% of our meetings that would just be information sharing meetings. And we’ve moved into a more generative space where we don’t have to get caught up on what you’re working on and how I can support you.

Instead, we’re talking about ideas and how do we advance our organization or education as a whole.

Yeah, I, I love that. And I, I see that in pockets throughout the industry. And I think it comes from a different mindset. Is educators have the mindset of learning, helping people learn, grow and improve. And I think in the corporate world, a lot of leaders are so focused on outcomes and delivering quarterly numbers or reaching an objective that they forget.

And they might understand it intuitively, but they forget that it’s helping people learn and grow. That’s going to help do that. And, and so what you’re talking about is very straightforward and simple from an education standpoint, but I think corporate leadership is sometimes forgets that and great leaders.

I wouldn’t say do it intuitively, but they’ve learned that that’s maybe their superpower and that’s how they help have progressed, but or help people progress. Yeah. I, I just struck out when you were saying that about how I think coming from an education background. It seems straightforward and natural to you and, and to your team.

Well, I think, you know, some of the reading or research I’ve done over the years in leadership, whether it’s education or corporate comes back to, you know, first defining your positive. You’ve talked about this on your podcast before, but I mean, defining organizational culture out of the gates, you know, what kind of culture do you want to, to have?

Leadership & Corporate Culture

I think, you know, culture will lead. Strategy, which will lead results. So ultimately, if you start with culture and ask yourself, you know, do you want to have a culture of learning? Do you want to have a culture of results, authority, safety purpose? What is it you’re striving for? I think being explicit in that culture.

To the people you work with. So your leadership team and your employees brings a better awareness and a congruence between, you know, the organizational objectives. And again, the objectives just where I come from, I think have to be, be rooted in, in culture and then outcome and, you know, results come, come from that.

And once you’ve got that culture nailed down and everybody understands it, then you can hire with purpose. And when you hire with purpose. You get purposeful employees who really buy into that cultural objective and ultimately have more, you know, have more buy in to the overall organization.

However, back to education, one of the biggest challenges there is sometimes I don’t think people have personal awareness, deep enough personal awareness as to who they are in their own learning or their own work to fully realize, you know, what kind of culture is going to work for them. You know, so if you have employees who are results oriented and are focused in on that.

And your results oriented culture, you’ve got great congruence. And I think you’re going to see at the end of the day, a pretty healthy workplace. But if you have, you know, employees who are interested in learning first, but your organization is all about, you know, safety. You’re probably going to have an incongruence, which is going to create an overall conflict in your workplace.

So I think, you know, start with organizational culture. Secondly, move to personal awareness of your employees, but also having them buy in on that cultural underpinning as to what you’re working on, keeping open dialogue around, you know, where that congruence lies. And finally, just like regular, regular, regular check ins with.

Every, every employee that, that you work with, I think are, are keys to, you know, leading organizations in, in that cultural way. 

And I love that. And you, you said, if we’ve talked about it on previous podcasts about culture. Yeah, absolutely. And mm-hmm. , I think we could talk about it on every single episode.

Fixing Corporate Culture & Company Values

Yeah. Because it’s so important. And yet so many organizations lose the, that vision. They’ve some corporate plaque up on the wall that’s got dust on it and you’ve. Survey 100 people in the organization and none of them can tell you the core values And none of them can give you an example of how those core values are Being expressed by employees on a day to day basis.

And in fact, a lot of the conflict in companies comes from the values mean nothing. Talk about this, but people act in a completely different way. And it was one of the things that struck me about Rundle. When I was looking on the website is the R plus and the pathway to learning. It’s it’s clear. It’s right there.

Here’s how we do what we do. And here’s why we do what we do. That’s not rocket science, but living it and breathing it on a day to day basis is what creates the change. And as you said, higher based on values, higher based on the desired culture that you want to create. And while that every business coach and business training program out there talks about that.

Once you get into the day to day, it’s much harder to live by that. And especially. When people are so busy that they can’t even know which way is up trying to think about, Oh, does this fit with the values? Gets so lost. So how do you, how do you see being able to keep that in the front of mind? 

Well, I think, you know, it comes back to book written by Tony Shea, who’s, who’s now passed, but delivering happiness is founder of Zappos, right?

And he, he’s, I remember him talking in that book about paying people to quit before they start. And so, you know, they do the, You know, two week training process. And if they didn’t like it, he would give them, I can’t remember, 10, 000, 15, 000 not to take the job and walk away. And ultimately, 15% of people would walk away and 85% would stay.

And that’s the way it was. But, you know, I think it’s got to be the same in every one of our pre employment Communication opportunities, frankly. And so, you know, we spend a lot of time in pre employment talking about our values, talking about, you know, here’s who Rundle is, kind, curious, well you know, academic integrity is really important.

That’s at the core of what we do character, but. But character comes first and co curriculars are the balance and co curriculars, here’s what we expect of you as an employee, X, Y, and Z, and then put it back to them, say, you know, do you think you can live inside these values and these constructs seriously?

Because the organization is not going to change and you’re probably not going to change dramatically. And if there’s an incongruence between the organization and you, then your, you know, work life balance is going to be. Off, you know, because you’re not going to be satisfied. You’re not going to enjoy the work and we need you to enjoy the work.

Cause it’s not easy, right? Like working in education anywhere is tough, tough work. So value congruence is essential. If you’re going to be. Healthy and and I think that upfront work is so important, but also so undervalued. So often we’re in such a rush to get somebody in who can do the job. But can we get somebody in who’s going to do the job in a way that’s value congruent and, you know, full of purpose?

And that’s the real question we have to ask ourself pre employment. And and I think we do that well. I think, you know, oftentimes we get asked, you know. How do you hire the teachers that you have? Cause that certainly seems to be part of the secret sauce over here at Rundle. And I think it just comes back to value of congruence and being crystal clear with people, pre employment.

Absolutely. Yeah. It’s and again, leaders that do that well, build great, great teams. And I think there’s still so much that gets lost in larger organizations where perhaps. There’s been a gap between conveying the mission, vision, values of the organization, or at least in a way that is compelling for people to buy into if they’re not excited about it outside of a paycheck, that it’s going to be a challenge longterm.

And while organizations do, especially these days, sometimes just need bodies to fill a spot, that’s never a good strategy for longterm success. 

Yeah, and I, you know, I was thinking back to a conversation I heard you having once about, you know, I think it was about chief performance officers and HR being at the table at the, you know, I think, you know, the big people table.

And I think that’s absolutely critical is having that voice. Sitting at the C suite table and having equal representation I think can drive culture, can drive purpose, can drive, you know, overall organizational well being. And I think having somebody in charge of that and looking out for it, you know can help, you know, shrink the organization.

I think, you know, some of what we’ve been talking about today is how do you, how do you take a big… Biggish organization and shrink it so that people see feel seen, heard, valued, understood. And I think you do that by having the right people at the table. And I think ultimately, you know, having human resources at that decision making table with a.

With equal opportunity, I think is a great first start when we’re looking at creating great organizations. 

Corporate Culture and Dunbar’s Number

Yeah. And, and being able to strategically plan for that. I figured it was, I think it was Bo Burlingham or whatever Small Giants is the book. And he talks about companies that. Choose to be great, not necessarily big.

And he talks about I think it’s WL Gore, the company that makes Gore techs and things like that. And their strategy was, I think they broke, broke the company up into multiple units of 150 people because 150 people is sort of the average that you can know everyone’s name and sort of know personal things about them.

So every time the company grew above 150, he would split it and it kept going. And so he has all these business units that are essentially small little companies within the larger organization that still live by the values, but the, the leaders and teams within those. Units all have these personal connections with each other, which has kept retention through the roof and has, they’re one of the most their private company, so they don’t know the profitability, but they’ve been around for a lot of years and they’re doing quite well and they’ve grown dramatically yet still have maintained a culture that is enviable across.

All kinds of aspects of the industry.

Well, I think, you know, I think he’s referring to Dunbar’s number and you’re right. I think that like 150 is a really important number. We try to at Rundle, we continue to break this school into smaller schools. And so there are seven principals at Rundle and all of them have schools around that, you know, 150 to 200 student number to keep it.

Close, keep it connected, and you know, one of the greatest compliments that anybody ever provides us, like, they always come up and say, like, Rundle’s really small, and that’s why we love it but the fact of the matter is, you know, Rundle’s inside the top 1% of largest private schools in Canada, and so, you know, the fact that people perceive us as being small means we’re, you know, achieving that objective of staying connected, staying personalized and we do it through, you know, following exactly that kind of Dunbar’s number logic in the other one.

This is really interesting. That same vein of thinking is you know, there’s a study done, I think it was in the seventies and it’s basically, it’s called the Allen curve. And the Allen curve says, you know, if you’re more than eight meters away from any individual, your level of impact on them diminishes exponentially every meter.

Your way. So I think we think about designing workspaces. Not only do they have to be small, but they have to be connected. So, you know, how closely is your team actually working to you where this is a giant challenge is back to the virtual space is how do you shrink the virtual distance? To reach that objective of the Allen curve, which is eight meters.

And I think that’s the biggest challenge inside virtual workspaces is how, how do you shrink the space? And so, you know, we look at that one curve all the time here. So for instance, when we do mentors and we want to have somebody inducted into our program and, and have a successful induction, we make sure the classroom is no more than eight meters from their mentors.

Mentees classroom. You know, and same thing with our internal teams. I can tell you that, you know, effectively my CFO, my CEO sit within eight meters of where I’m standing right now. And it’s all very intentional in our design. So, you know, balancing Dunbar and Allen, I think are really important for developing strong and connected workplace cultures.

Yeah. And, and how far is eight virtual meters? That’s the real question. I mean, if you figure that one out, Timmy, you’re on something. Well, and, and, and yeah, the, I, I don’t see remote work going away anytime soon and how do we best curate that environment to create personalized connections? And I know even just through doing this podcast, I started it during COVID as a way to just have great conversations with people and you know, we’re not, we’re further than eight meters, eight actual meters away.

But we can still create a great connection. I’ve had so many incredible conversations, but it’s taking the time to sit there and ask questions and learn and, and, and have great dialogue back and forth. And that’s, that’s always been the case, whether we’re in person or virtual. 

Yeah, yeah, I agree. I think there’s a, that’s a question, Tim.

I don’t like, I don’t know if it’s teachable or not, but there’s an art to it. Right. And I think in your background of coaching that art of conversation and extracting the best from the person you’re working with. There’s an art to it. So maybe there’s a place in corporate virtual corporate workspace where that art is explicitly taught to people to try to, you know, create that eight meter distance virtually, that’d be an interesting thing to think about kind of as you, as you build you know, effective distant workspaces post COVID.

Yeah. And I think there’s huge potential for that. Like people are. Having virtual meetings all day, every day, but it’s approaching it from a different mindset when you’re so focused on that outcome or the, Hey, here’s what we need to chat about this meeting, being able to schedule those one on ones, even when you’re, you’re, you know, calendar is just so packed to be able to consciously carve out 15 minutes.

30 minutes to meet with a direct report and not talk about work to just ask questions and really engage with them in a conversation goes so far. And I, I know from coaching clients that I’ve talked to and consulting clients that I’ve talked to. That’s not the norm. It’s not happening on a consistent basis to build those relationships, whether in person or virtually.

A Simple Leadership Lesson from Barack Obama & Joe Biden

Yeah. Well, there’s two things that jumped to mind there, Tim. When you say that, I don’t know if you ever heard the story about president Obama and Joe Biden when they’re in the Oval Office for eight years together. Effectively, the way the story goes is that every two weeks in the Oval Office Obama and Biden would meet.

For lunch. And there are two rules. One was they wouldn’t discuss work and two, there were no outcomes that would come from it, there’d be no takeaway work. They just effectively sit and have lunch and connect. And it always struck me that if Biden, Obama, you know, the two busiest. Most powerful people, maybe in the world, could take, you know, a lunch together and just connect every two weeks.

Why can’t we, in our workplaces, do the same thing? And so we start to do a thing called Trail Snacks around here. Rundle is named after mountains, so almost everything is mountain metaphor here, so that’s why we call it Trail Snacks. But Trail Snacks is a rotating meeting that I have with about ten people in our organization, and it’s got the same two rules.

You know, we’re not going to talk about work. And we’re not going to have any takeaways now, invariably, you know, we talk about work because that’s, you know, how we connect, but at the end of the day, that’s not the focus. And we usually do it, you know, we’ll do it walking or do it over lunch. We’ll do it over coffee.

And at first it’s a little bit awkward, honestly, because, you know, when you’re at work, you’re kind of, you’re, you’re programmed to work. You want to get down to. What’s on the agenda? What’s deliverable? What do we have to do today? What are we going to tick off? But these have been been really, really great moments for connection and for understanding and building trust and deepening our empathy with one another.

So that’s really the biggest one that comes to mind when, when we talk about how do we connect with individuals at work. So yeah, that I think is a really powerful. The second thing that I was thinking about there is I’ve got a guy in my office who’s, you know, my deputy head of school and he’s not much on small talk.

And so when we, we get into meetings, you just like show up and get to work. And I remember saying to him, you know Gary, does it bother you? And like I asked about what you did on the weekend or your family or those sorts of things. And he’s, no, it doesn’t bother me, but I’m, but I’m focused on getting the work done, so I feel better if we just get to work and get some of the work done.

And what came from that was he ended up sending out a survey to all of his direct reports and saying, how do you want to meet? I’m flexible, but I want to hear how you, do you like small talk? Do you like talking about your family? Do you want to connect on X, Y, and Z? Do you music in the background? Is that okay?

You know, all of these things. People sent back all of their requests for like how we like to meet and all of a sudden, you know I think people are showing up a little bit more regularly. They’re a little bit more engaged They’re more looking forward to it because he’d come to them and said exactly how do you want to meet and I think building that That understanding and back to like the neural diversity all of us work differently whether we identify as being normally diverse or not My brain is different than your brain is different than my CFO’s brain and I think you know asking Asking what is going on in our brains or what works for our brains is the best way to getting to that space of like awareness and empathy and understanding that that I think is so critical in today’s day and age.

And you know, so I think those are a couple of takeaways as well. 

I love that. And it comes back to, it’s the heart of wellbeing. In personally and professionally is knowing yourself, first of all. And you mentioned it earlier. Not a lot of people have been taught how to do that. They haven’t been taught to hold that mirror up and look and, you know, contemplate internally.

How do I show up best in the world? What do I really want? How do I, what do I need to perform at my optimal level? And, you know, coming from the athletics background, that, that was something that was. Drilled into us from a young age from the performance side, but I never got that from the personal side as much and until much later in my career, and I that became when I figured that out, it became one of the things that I really worked with clients on, and I still see that is probably one of the biggest gaps in the corporate world right now is that there’s this mindset of you show up to work.

From nine to five or whatever the hours are and you’re focused, you go the whole time and it’s like saying to someone, Hey you’ve got a marathon here. I want you to sprint as fast as you can for that entire marathon, knowing that it’s okay to stop and take a breath that if you go out and walk around the block or go stand in the sun and take a few deep breaths and come back in, you’re probably going to be more efficient and effective doing that. And I think I’m just happy to hear you saying that the students these days are much more focused on well being and caring for their, their health and minds and physical and mental health. I see that as a huge opportunity for the corporate world at this point.

The End of Average. Embracing Diversity in Work, Life, and Design

Well, and I think, you know so you’re reminding me, there’s a book called the end of average. I don’t know if you’ve come across by a guy named Todd Rose, and he’s a professor at the Harvard school of education, graduate school of education. And he wrote this book probably five or six years ago now.

And the, the premise is really powerful. Started off with in 1920 They created cockpits for fighter pilots based on the average size of a, of a man. And in 1950s they started to note there’s a lot more crashes, fatal incidents. And they decided that, you know, maybe the cock or maybe the average size of the man had changed.

And so they want to redesign the cockpit for the new average. So they went out and they did extensive, extensive study of 4, 000 pilots and came up with the average, you know, height, weight, arm length, neck size, everything. And said, okay, we’re going to design for this average person in the cockpit. Well, they designed for that average, but guess how many people out of 4, 000, it actually fit zero, not a single pilot of the 4, 000 that were sampled was the average.

It was a summary of all these people and and it didn’t work. So what they decided they had to do after much trial and tribulation was they had to create a cockpit that would adapt to the differences for every pilot that was out there. So how did they do that? They created a seat that went backwards and forwards, up and down.

They created instruments that came to the pilot or went away from the pilot. They created different equipment for the pilot to wear. You know, based on their individual size and all of a sudden the safety rating started to improve again. But what they found was the average isn’t useful when we talk about how do we, you know, Work with people or how do people work best and so thinking about that average is is really challenging And I think that’s one of the biggest problems we face is there’s a certain shame That we carry around when we don’t think we’re part of the average when we don’t think we’re part of the norm Right.

And I think that’s one of the biggest challenges we have is if we, you know, as soon as you’re outside that norm, particularly as an adolescent, you start to feel shamed and you start to feel embarrassed and you start to, you know, act out or you know, turn inward. None of these are really positive in the, in the wellbeing space.

And so I think by embracing the fact that, you know, the end of averages as Todd Rose says, you know, is really empowering for students. In adolescence, but also for employees saying, you know what, just like you said about the, the marathon example is like, if you need to get up and take a walk and come back and be better that way, or if you need to meet in a certain way, or what do you need within, you know, obviously corporate boundaries, which would fall into what we were talking about earlier around cultural, cultural expectations then go for it, do what you need to do, but you gotta have that self awareness before you do it.

And you can’t aspire to be the average or the norm because that’s, yeah. An illusion, frankly, and, and doesn’t exist. And so the end of average is just a really enlightening, quite empowering book for this day and age. 

I will have to check that out. That’s great. I’ve heard the cockpit story before, but I haven’t heard that that book.

So I’ll have to, yeah, I’ll have to look at that. What you’re saying about embracing not being the norm, I guess goes back to what you talked about in your Ted, Ted X talk was the, your superpowers and. How do you become aware of it and embrace it? And what teachers roles, and I guess leaders roles in general is to help people bring those superpowers out more. 

So what do you see as, you know, I know we can talk for a long time. But what, what do you see as the, the next step in education?

Yeah, I think, you know, the reason I pause on that, Tim is like, we’ve got a, we have a bit of a conflict in education. I think curriculum is antiquated as moving too slowly for the kind of change curve we’re on. In society, you know, professions are changing more quickly than curriculum can keep up with knowledge is changing more quickly than curriculum can keep up with.

So I think, you know, for me, what it comes back to is an agility of thought and agility of mind. That is truly the superpower that we can provide to our students and. To our workforce, frankly, is this ability to be agile in our thinking and in the way that we approach problems, we approach our life, we approach living frankly.

And so, you know, this coming year in our rental programs, we’re, we’re starting a new. Initiative called ideas and ideas is effectively, you know, saying like, okay, the curriculum is there. It’s not going to change. There are some things we’ve got to get done. And I mean, you could easily transpose this onto your KPIs or your objectives in a, in a corporate organization, but ideas is layering on top of it, trying to inspire that idea of curiosity.

That’s so central to our values. And what ideas stands for is innovation, design entrepreneurial spirit. and skills. So that’s ideas, design, entrepreneurial spirit, and skills. And we’re looking to layer that on top of the curriculum to create an agility of thinking that’s going to allow our students to solve, you know, as cliche as it sounds, those problems that we don’t even know Exist right.

And several of them we know exist. We just don’t know how to solve them. And I think we’re going to need some really intuitive, agile, outside the box thinkers to, to help unwind some of the, the challenges that we face in today’s, you know, society, economy, environment. You name it. So I think, you know, just generally agility of thought is, is, is what’s going to be required and the best gift we can give to, to students moving ahead.

I love that. Yeah. And that speaks to some of the key challenges that the traditional education system has is memorizing certain facts and not teaching people how to think. And, you know, the best gift we can give someone is to teach them how to think and learn. And when you do that. Everything.

Everything’s possible.

Totally. Totally. I, I agree entirely, Tim. I think, you know, thinking and learning that seems so simple, but that, that should be, that should be the outcome of all education. 

Totally. Yeah. Well, and then you get into the corporate world and the mindset is often don’t think just do. Yeah.

Yeah. Yeah. That’s pretty industrial. Really? I mean, and I think. You know, a lot of, from what I understand, corporations are looking to move past, but I agree there’s a lot that are absolutely stuck in that space. And, you know, I I’m optimistic though. I think everything’s moving in the right direction when it comes to education and leadership, I hope.

Final Thoughts

Yeah. And leaders that don’t adapt and organizations that don’t adapt will be left behind. Yeah. The dodo birds. You got it. You got it. Awesome. Well, it’s been wonderful to chat. I look forward to reconnecting again and continuing the conversation, but thank you so much, Jason. And where can people find you?

You can just find me on, you know, Twitter, most social media at just at Jason B. Rogers is the easiest way. It’s X now. Oh, yeah, he changed the name of Twitter to X. Okay, you can find me there. And I’ve got a website, and you can find some of my writing and thinking on research and leadership there as well.

So anytime. And yeah, just reach out in those mediums. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here today with you, Tim. Thanks for having me as a guest. 

My pleasure. And I will make sure I put those links on the show notes and we will chat again soon. 

Thank you very much. Take care.

That wraps up another episode of the Working Well podcast. If you enjoyed the show, please rate, review and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Which guests or topics would you like to see featured on the show? Message me through LinkedIn or on the contact page of timboris. com. Thank you for tuning in.

I’m Tim Borris with Fresh Group and look forward to seeing you on the next episode.

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