Episode 102 – Unstoppable Complexity Coach with Sherry Johnson

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What do we do when we can’t make predictable or ordered decisions? What do we do when things are unordered? How do we approach those decisions in ways we haven’t in the past? These questions are just some of what you get to hear about on this episode with our guest, Sherry Johnson.
Sherry, like so many others we have had the opportunity to interview, grew up not knowing she was a person with autism. She often wondered why she felt she was an outsider in the world. It wasn’t until her 40s that she was finally diagnosed. By then, she had gone to college and became a teacher of English and the theater.
Now, she is a coach, a course creator and the founder of the company Cultivating Strategy. Our discussion ranges far beyond autism and neurodivergence. We even get into a story from Sherry about her facilitating a church discussion about gun control. Wait until you hear what happens. (Hint: no, the gun control issue is not solved, but diametrically opposed people do learn to listen to and talk with opponents.)
About the Guest:
With a background in arts education, community organizing, and volunteer coordination, Sherry likes inspiring folks to experiment with new ways of being together. Sherry enjoys bridging divides between people. She likes helping leaders and experts make complicated information more accessible, while elevating homegrown leadership and expertise. 
Sherry leverages her autistic mind to help people see their own assumptions and biases, so that everyone is freer to be seen and heard more faithfully. Sherry blends Technology of Participation, emergent strategy, Asset-Based Community Development, and current brain research—particularly the neuroscience of emotion and mindfulness—into her approach. Her North Star is interrupting linear and conventional thinking, which so often hampers care and innovation in human systems. Most of her clients are in the civic and nonprofit sectors.
Sherry’s feet touch the ground in St. Paul, Minnesota, her heart’s home. She loves her family, most cats, playful dogs, corvids, and a good windstorm.
How to connect with Sherry:
My website
My Facebook Page
My LinkedIn Profile
My December training on Adaptive Leadership
About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.
Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.
accessiBe Links
https://www.linkedin.com/company/accessibe/mycompany/ https://www.facebook.com/accessibe/
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Transcription Notes

Michael Hingson  00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i  capital B e. Visit www.accessibe.com to learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson  01:21
Well, a pleasant afternoon to you wherever you happen to be. I am Michael Hingson, your host and you are listening to unstoppable mindset. Now we get to interview lots of different people who do lots of different things, which really makes it fun, we get to inspire. And I frankly will tell you I love being inspired. We get to talk with Sherry Johnson today who has a company called cultivate strategy, and we’ll get to that but a little known fact, except for a close circle around sherry. She had a birthday yesterday. So Sherry, welcome to unstoppable mindset and happy birthday.
Sherry Johnson  01:57
Thank you so much.
Michael Hingson  02:00
We won’t we won’t give away your age. That’s entirely up to you. But I want to tell you, we’re really glad you’re here. I enjoyed chatting with you and preparing for this. So split start by telling you or asking you to tell us a little bit about your roots, you know where you came from growing up what it was like, and all that kind of stuff.
Sherry Johnson  02:22
Yeah, thanks. I’m happy to be here. And so lucky to get to do this. And so I came from southern Wisconsin and a rust belt town called Janesville, Wisconsin. And my tone really was embodied a lot of what shapes me, deep divisions, we produce Janesville, both Russ Feingold and Paul Ryan to two completely opposite politician, if you don’t say, Yes, that’s right. And even my own household was a fractal image of that my mother was a union steward and a factory. My dad retired for agent first sergeant first class in the army. And they used to joke how they canceled out one another’s boats all the time. So really grew up in a lot of tension. And also a lot of people have lost their jobs during the mid 80s, as so many did, and that rust belt town got a lot rest year, and that kind of sense of loss and some of the family traumas that compounded around that and my family’s background, shaped a lot of how I approach my work and who I become and how I relate to those routes all the time. And I think to you know, this will come up later, but I think to Mike family was also impacted, not just from, you know, caste and job loss, but also generational trauma that may have actually come from being neuro divergent in a world in which that is not really created for us to be successful. Right.
Michael Hingson  04:01
So, yeah. Where did the neuro divergence come in?
Sherry Johnson  04:06
Well, you know, it’s genetic. A lot of that I actually came had a midlife autism diagnosis. And when I looked back and kind of, you know, the crash that I had, at that time, I look back at a lot of the family trauma that I experienced and, and sort of see started seeing these signs of OCD, ADHD, autism in my family of origin, and how a lot of that sort of set up some, some difficulties and how we were able to approach live view live, get along with others, collaborate or not, and it really isolated us in our town.
Michael Hingson  04:50
So do you think or do you know, were there other people in your family who had neurodivergent kinds of things or are you the one on choosing one
Sherry Johnson  05:02
I dealt my dad was very likely OCD, autistic, possibly ADHD as well. I, my mother was most definitely autistic and really struggled with some depressive issues and that life because of that, I believe my grandfather was I think there were lots of folks on my father’s side as well. And so just kind of growing up along around that, and not really being able to trace back some roots about why is my family so different? What is it about us not being able to fit in and really find our places in society? Why are we so sort of isolated? Why do we continue to isolate ourselves? And I feel like I have a lot more answers about that example.
Michael Hingson  05:49
So how old were you when you were diagnosed?
Sherry Johnson  05:52
I was, um, sexually. So I live here in St. Paul, Minnesota now. But for a while my spouse’s job moved, and we had to move out to Seattle for a handful years. And having been sort of taken out of my context, and my community that I had built up. In my mid 30s, I had a breakdown. There were days where I was laying on the couch with a, you know, blanket over my head, and I literally could not get up. And I know that my story is not unique. You know, I had to start over that I didn’t know how, and it felt very much like a lot of you sort of go through this year or so of reinterpreting your entire life, nothing, why? Why you made certain decisions or not, and what it felt like it again, your family of origin, and all of that. And I took all of that and sort of had to rebuild who I was and how I saw myself as a disabled person in a world that was not necessarily designed for me to be successful. Right.
Michael Hingson  07:04
So when did you get diagnosed?
Sherry Johnson  07:07
That was 3030. I’ve missed a 38.
Michael Hingson  07:11
Sir. You know, I’ve talked to a number of people on this podcast, who got diagnosed with autism, or other disabilities, in their 30s ran into into their 40s. I know, several people who were diagnosed with autism and ADH D in their 30s. For her I know one person who we talked with who knew that they didn’t see well, but never really got a diagnosis until a little bit later. Wow, how how was it for you when you got a diagnosis and really understood what was going on?
Sherry Johnson  07:55
Um, well, I went again, I went through that year of just kind of reinterpreting my entire life, there was a lot of anger. I remember feeling for a long time that the whole world was hiding something from me, like, there were all these inch implicit rules, that I wasn’t in on all these shortcuts to emotions, and it
Michael Hingson  08:16
didn’t send you the memo. Right?
Sherry Johnson  08:18
Right. Like and it was entire light bulb feeling like I missed the memo. And by the way, this is part of my executive dysfunction is numbers was actually my early 40s, that I was diagnosed. And, and I remember just feeling that profound sense of grief, of loss time, of not understanding myself of not understanding that there are people like me, that there have been always fuchal, like me, you know, you go through this, you read a lot of books, if you start seeing yourself represented, we talked about representation in mass media all the time. And I’m so excited to be able to see myself and that’s what helped me kind of redefine myself from an I’m an outsider, feeling like an outsider all my life to an outlier, someone who has something different to give. And so I started creating a field with the ways that I was approaching training and consulting and facilitation and coaching and allowing my neurology to kind of shape something new.
Michael Hingson  09:24
And really, I’m not even sure I would go so far as to say outlier, because what it allowed you to do was to realize who you were, which allowed you to then move forward and become a real part of and feeling like a real part of society.
Sherry Johnson  09:43
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I always feel like I’m the sauciest one who Pena sees things a little bit differently and kind of is a lot really intense for a lot of people. I’m proud of that difference, and at the same time, it’s helped We appreciate even more other’s differences, and to try to help people collaborate in ways where we can honor those differences, lift them up, celebrate how those differences are really where innovation comes from there. Those differences are how we move forward in new ways and in healthier ways. Right?
Michael Hingson  10:21
Well, let’s go back. So when you were growing up, you went to regular public schools and all that kind of thing, I assume.
Sherry Johnson  10:27
Yeah. Yep. We were, I should say there was these gifted programs that they were experiment, experimenting with back in the 80s. And almost every two a one of us were nerve divergent at sunset. And so we, we had our own different social milieu, some of which was damaging, some of which was healthy. But we were kept together, separated and kept together from about fourth grade. So that eighth grade, and then just sort of thrown thrown out of that program in ninth grade. And so that that even added, I think, to this sense of isolation and difference and outlier ship or outsider ship at the time. Yeah. You’re just like, whoa, what just happened? And then suddenly, you’re in all these classes where you’re breaking the curve, and upsetting upper class people, because you’re the, you’re the freshman and chemistry getting a plus. Right? And nobody and you just feel you feel ostracized? ostracize, you don’t make a lot of friends? Let me tell you.
Michael Hingson  11:36
Yeah, it is tough on when I was in high school, I actually was taken out of our freshman General Science course for the last quarter of the year. Because my general science teacher said, you know, you seem pretty bored. And I said, Yeah, this is all pretty straightforward stuff. And they put me in the senior physics class. Oh, I had this experience, I had that experience, too. As a, as a blind person. I know, I wasn’t in most of the social groups, the social cliques and so on. And I was, no one was mean, it just was that I didn’t end up associating with, with people a lot directly. I’ve talked to some of my high school colleagues a whole lot more after graduation, and over the past several years, then, then in high school. But yeah, I know exactly what you’re saying. Yeah, I believe it. And at some point, you really have to decide, you can only do what you can do, and you don’t have control over how people feel.
Sherry Johnson  12:37
Yes. And, and I think, you know, speaking of how people feel, I think one of the things that’s really shaped me, post diagnosis is I got deep, deep, deep into understanding how we construct emotions. I’m a huge fan of this neuro neuroscientist cut aspect of neuroscientists and Risa Feldman Barrett, who talks about the theory of construction, emotion, and the predictive brain model and how that impacts us and impacts our relationships. And thinking about that through an autistic lens. And I’ve really brought a lot of that Affective Neuroscience work into my work. And it’s helped me also kind of reinterpret my past and see why human differences so hard for a lot of us to address in a constructive way. But once you understand it, you can kind of start piecing together some experiments to help us connect better across different.
Michael Hingson  13:36
Well, this whole concept of diversity, which everyone seems to embrace, unfortunately, when you deal with it in terms of their traditional ways today. For many of us, it never seems to affect us. For example, diversity doesn’t seem to include disabilities today. Oh, we’re a diverse society. We are diverse all the way around. We deal with race and gender and sexual orientation and culture and so on. But you never hear mentions about disabilities. And what’s really, what’s really unfortunate
Sherry Johnson  14:14
about it.
Michael Hingson  14:17
Yeah, they’re, they’re trying to get us. What’s really unfortunate is that when we when we talk about these differences, and diversity in reality, we are leaving so many people out, which is why I like the term inclusion a lot more than diversity. Because if you’re really going to take inclusion literally, you can’t say well, we were partially inclusive. No, it doesn’t work that way. You either are or you’re not. You can’t leave people out.
Sherry Johnson  14:50
Absolutely. I had the pleasure of working with the Minnesota Council of disability on disability lately, and they taught me so much about you know, I thought I was doing it pretty good job of making making my documentation accessible? No, that’s all their work with them Did I see all these different ways that what I thought was inclusive, wasn’t there it you know, it wasn’t to their standard, and they really taught me a lot. And so adding that lends to, you know, being neuro divergent as well, and having an idea about lots of different neuro types and how to be inclusive of that. And of course, I’ve also done other diversity, equity inclusion work around anti racism, and gender inclusion. And I think all of that work, you know, has a lot more commonality than then indifference. I think a lot of what makes something universally accessible, is also what makes something a place fully inclusive of all those things.
Michael Hingson  15:52
Yeah. We, we need to, we need to recognize that there’s nothing wrong with being different than everyone else around us. It doesn’t make us less or doesn’t make us more, which is the unfortunate part about the term disabilities because people just interpret that as well. You’re not able? Well. That’s why what we really need to do because I haven’t come up with a better word. We need to change the definition of disability.
Sherry Johnson  16:24
Read it. Yeah. I Yeah. And whenever I talk about my own, myself being disabled, I tried to talk about disabled in a context disabled because something was not designed for me. And there are barriers to it being designed for me to access it, you know, just the rhythms of everyday life. Honestly, a lot of the organizations I work with right now, for example, we know that there’s been this great resignation, and this passive quitting, because we’re all sort of overtaxed and traumatized by the last few years. Well, that’s how I felt most of my life. So I can kind of bring some of that feeling and some of those adaptations that I’ve made for myself, and listening to my body and self liberating my values and and being more mindful, I can bring that to groups and help them you know, even folks who’ve never experienced any kind of, quote, unquote, disability feel like there are steps that they can take to succeed more to be plugged in more, to collaborate better, in healthier ways that is honoring to themselves, their bodies, their communities, one another.
Michael Hingson  17:39
There’s an interesting book written by Henry Mayer, entitled all on fire. And it’s the story of the abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison from the 1840s. And one of the things that Mayor talks about in the book is a time when garrison was looking for more people to join the movement. And he suggested to his people that they contact two ladies, their sisters, they grim case sisters, and the sisters were very active suffragettes. And of what what happened was that the his his people said, well, we shouldn’t contact them. They’re not relevant to what we’re doing. They’re dealing with something totally different than what we’re dealing with. And that would just detract. And Garrison said something, which I think is extremely profound. He said, It’s all the same thing. And how true it is. The reality is we’re all fighting to become part of the same society. And doesn’t matter whether it’s suffrage doesn’t matter whether it’s abolition of slavery, doesn’t matter whether it’s dealing with any kind of disability or whatever, it really is all the same thing. And we need to recognize that and include everyone to deal with the issue.
Sherry Johnson  19:04
Absolutely. And, and also celebrate and lift up and represent those differences, and nonfiction and fiction media, right. Like I said, seeing myself starting to see myself represented was really important to me. And I know that that’s been really important to many other colleagues from from different backgrounds. For sure,
Michael Hingson  19:26
well, so what did you do after high school?
Sherry Johnson  19:29
I became a high school English and theater teacher, because that was the role model that I had from the cast. I was from right. As a first generation college student I the whole concept of going to grad school even though I really wanted to be a medical doctor or something like that. I just couldn’t understand the concept. And that you went to college. I did go to college. I was I was very lucky to get a full ride scholarship at UW Madison. And I studied education in theater, taught theater and English to high schoolers for about 10 years, and then transitioned into above, I had my kid, and my teenager, they’re now 15 was also autistic. Because, again, we’re genetic. And that was really tough as an autistic person who didn’t know it yet, you know, having had this autistic person with other high needs, and not really having a lot of space or help around that. And so I made some choices, right, I got into community organizing a taught yoga for a while I got into my body, I started working on my own emotional landscape. And mindfulness, started doing community organizing, which brought me into consensus processes and collaboration. And that’s why I became a technology participation certified facilitator, I still train that on a regular basis. And then it just started, it kind of led me from there. Now I do strategic planning for nonprofits, I work with local governments to improve their systems. And it’s all just sort of taken off where those last, you know, 1015 years, it’s kind of put me in a completely different spot. But then I’ve always been a bit of a polymath, I think that might come from some add tendencies as well in my brain. But I think that all of that kind of like, what you were just saying, from the quote from the book is, like, all is everything. And if you can have your hands and a lot of different things, you can bring a sense of wildlife and plant ecology, and to changing human systems, right. And it can make that process more meaningful and adaptable. So it’s stuff like that, that I live for that kind of synthesis.
Michael Hingson  21:55
You said something several times, and I’m not we’re not going to get political or anything. But we I hear a number of people say, Oh, my child is autistic, because they had vaccinations and so on, and they don’t even look at the whole genetic thing. What do you think about all that?
Sherry Johnson  22:13
It is 100% genetic? And I think that we’re gonna find that we’ve always had autistic people with us, we’ve always had add people with us. And, and, and I think, and I know that, you know, all the studies are the vaccines have nothing to do with creating, or enabling or turning on any genes when it comes to autism, you know, vaccines. And I think, for the for us in the community, the Autistic community. It’s kind of maddening to, to hear that come up again. Because it was essentially a fake study that even started that whole thing. And now that gentleman makes a lot of money selling that story to different organizations and traveling the world and writing books. And it’s really unfortunate how much damage he’s done.
Michael Hingson  23:05
Well, so you how long ago did you form creative strategy? Cultivate strategy? Yeah. polyphase strategy? Yeah, um, it’s another C word. I call it a base. All right.
Sherry Johnson  23:17
And of course, cultivation comes from ecology. But But I, you know, I started my own business when I before even left for Seattle about 1012 years ago. But it wasn’t until I came back from Seattle about 533234 years ago that I that I built, called the Bates strategy out of kind of an amalgamation of all these things that I learned. And, you know, it’s my third business and was happy to build it in a state of Minnesota. And I just felt like there was this niche I needed to fill. And I’ve grown to think of myself more and more as a complexity coach, both for individuals and organizations to help us think about just to sort out the different complexities and when we can’t make predictable decisions. When things are unordered. What do we do? How do we approach those decisions in ways that we haven’t in the past? And that’s changed the way that I approach strategic planning and students the way that I’ve approached leadership orientation, and things like that.
Michael Hingson  24:30
Will Tell me a little bit more about your approach and what you do if you would, please. Sure. So
Sherry Johnson  24:35
I come from this place where you know, it’s kind of taken me a long time to kind of define this because I was always about helping people collaborate across Denver. Well, what is that about? It can be about almost anything, but I think where I’m finding my niche is helping people understand when a linear plan a time based linear plan with goals is not always the right frame, it’s not always the right way to go. Increasingly, we know that the less predictable our world is, the less predictable the context of an organization, the more experimental we have to be, the more we have to allow things to emerge between humans and within human networks that can be sustainable. It’s through changing a system through relatively simple interactions is what one of my favorite thinkers Adrian Marie brown talks about in this changing complex adaptive systems, and thinking about ourselves more as part of nature than something that’s imposing order upon nature. And that’s, that’s what excites me and gets me out of bed every day. So I have a leadership course coming up, for example, it’s based on leadership orientations and figuring out what situations you’re most gifted to lead in. And when you should really be stepping back and recognizing the leadership orientation of others who are more able to move in that particular context, which is again, about celebrating difference, and was something that always has always bugged me is about just moving and operating in a tip in a neurotypical world is that oftentimes those things that I’ve been teased about throughout my life was overthinking, you’re overthinking. You’re anxious, you’re trying too hard. Those things have been a gift to me. That’s how my brain works. And it’s how I do what I do. And yes, I burn hot, I’m intense. But a lot of that is what allows me to lead in a different way. And more effectively in some contexts. And that’s what I’m trying to bring into the organizations I work with to
Michael Hingson  26:54
one of the things that I have found about leadership and being part of a team is the best team leaders are the ones who also know how to use your words, how to step back and let someone else take the lead to do a particular thing.
Sherry Johnson  27:10
Absolutely. Yeah. And who knows? Yeah, go ahead.
Michael Hingson  27:14
Because they don’t necessarily themselves have all the gifts or they know, who might be better gifted to do a particular thing?
Sherry Johnson  27:22
Absolutely. And we all know that, you know, information doesn’t flow through human systems unless we trust and care about one another. You don’t, you know, that’s where information hoarding happens in systems where care and trust are missing, or deficient. And we know too, that as our systems as our organizations become more and more complex information is everything. Sharing information is everything. So how do we meet this moment and figure out how to care for ourselves and one another, even as we’re working on these harder and harder problems?
Michael Hingson  27:59
Yeah. And it isn’t just information, it is absolutely sharing information. We we grow up in a world today where trust is so much under attack, which is what’s so unfortunate to me. Because in reality, we trust in so many ways, and we should be more open to trust than we tend to be.
Sherry Johnson  28:22
Yeah, in fact, I had the most one of the most beautiful situations I’ve been in in the last few years is the day after Donald Trump was elected in 2016. You know, I remembered it was one of the most divisive. It was the Sunday after rather, one of the most divisive times I can think of even even more so than now just this sort of everybody holding their breath. And I was hosting a conversation at my suburban Seattle church on gun control, can you imagine, are you and we had a very heated, we had all kinds of people in that room. There were there were 2530 people in that room. And we had a very heated, very intense high conflict, but but carrying, because we were all part of this same community carrying conversation that I was able to facilitate within some good boundaries. And that was one of the most effective situations I’ve been in because we realized, I think in that moment, that we needed to find a way to care about each other, we needed to leverage our care to have a conversation together about something that is just so high, high conflict, right. And that can be a lot of hope for even where we are now and how we can move forward with the right good boundaries around conversation and collaboration. And I want more of that.
Michael Hingson  29:56
So what was the main bone of contention or the main conflict since you all came from a church environment. You were you were all there. And as you point out, people really cared what was the main issue that was hard to address or deal with?
Sherry Johnson  30:15
It just there were, you know, again, suburban, mainline, you know, Methodist Church, about half of the folks in the room were very pro Second Amendment, NRA members, and about half of the room were very sort of liberal Moms Demand Action types of folks who were very, very frustrated with the state of gun legislation in the country. And, you know, even even in that context, those tensions exist. And in fact, I think churches, mainline churches, particularly, are one of the last places where you can find that level of difference, even in a caring community. And those differences, by the way, often are under the rug, and we’ll talk about when pretend everything is okay. Until we can.
Michael Hingson  31:11
Well, was there any room to discuss things like does the the idea of gun control? Since we’re talking about it? Is there any, was there any room to discuss? Does gun control really mean you’re gonna lose your guns? I mean, that that’s, of course, the the whole argument the NRA makes, and that people say when they talk about the Second Amendment, we ought to have the right just to have our guns. And that’s all there is to it. But there is there was there any room to say? Well, wait a minute. Is it really that black and white?
Sherry Johnson  31:47
Absolutely. I think one of the best. One of the best things about being a facilitator, and the longer you do it, is that you start to be able to ask the right question. And you notice that you’re working with the group, and they stop talking to you, the facilitator and they start talking to each other. And that doesn’t always happen. But when it does, it leads to situations in which that did happen in this group. I remember the look on there were two really passionate people, and it was toward the end of the conversation. And they just stood and faced each other they stood up. And there was people were a little bit afraid, I was feeling pretty good about it. But she just said, Look, I don’t want to take your guns, you know, and he said, You want to take my guns, I don’t want to take your guns. And it was, and I was just about to interrupt. And then there was a pause. I’m Scott Peck, one of my favorite thinkers talks about this where we’re in this sense of chaos. We live in pseudo community most of the time, and then we get this sense of chaos when we realize our differences. And it’s only after a period of emptiness that we become a community. And what I watched was this emptiness, this period where no one said anything. And then I think one of them asked the other the question, I don’t remember it. I wish I did. But she got a real answer. And then he asked her a question. And she gave him a real answer. This is the trust piece. And they never, they did not agree with one another walking out of that room. And meanwhile, everybody else is sort of watching this happen. But I think we all learn something about emptying ourselves of that need to control the situation and be right. And really just get curious and see what’s behind this. This person’s thinking.
Michael Hingson  33:34
Yeah, we, we spend so much time hearing the shallow sound bites and so on. And then we just buy that rather than thinking more about it. You know, of course, we could talk about Donald Trump. So many people say I’d vote for him again, because I trust him. And what I always wonder, and I would wonder it about any politician really is, what do you really trust? You hear words, but do you dig down to look at the actions behind the words? Do you look at all the things that they do or not? And unfortunately, we don’t tend to allow ourselves and I think we also don’t teach our children nearly enough to be curious,
Sherry Johnson  34:30
right? Yes. Yes, Curiosity is so key. And that that negative capability of being able I love this concept of negative capability, have you heard this, the neuroscientific concept where basically, you’re allowing about it? Well, sorry, you’re allowing yourself to realize that you don’t have the answer in the moment. Our society is so obsessed with having the right answer, usually a simple answer, right? And the moment that something’s needed And unless you’re in a true crisis, potentially really bad to make a decision really? Yeah, it’s really good to step back and employ this concept of negative capability. You see how long you can wait in that space of unknowing to have an answer. And you’ll find that people with a higher negative capability, make better decision? Because it allows them to consult others be curious, fill that space in their brains of even what they done that unknown unknowns like, what do I not know? Let’s find out what I don’t even know that I don’t know. And that that, that can really bring us way beyond where we’re at with our relationships. And I think too, that’s one of the strengths of being an autistic person is that I have? I think, a lot of negative capability, because I’ve spent my entire life sort of going, why did they just do it? What was the assumption behind that? I don’t have those simple rules that I think neurotypical culture has. And it’s always led me to always take a step back and ask, why did that happen and get curious. And I love sharing that, that negative capability, the father’s
Michael Hingson  36:15
interesting concept, I wasn’t really familiar with it. But the other part about it is you also said, The only really good time or the necessary time to make a fast decision is when there’s a crisis, right. But I would also add to that, that making a fast decision in a crisis also comes down to as much preparation ahead of time. So of course, for me, the example is the World Trade Center, and all the things that I did to prepare for an emergency, not necessarily ever expecting one, but at the same time, needing to know information. I had a discussion just yesterday with someone who asked me the question about, well, was it? Or could it be an advantage in a situation like the World Trade Center, not to see as opposed to being able to see? And what I pointed out was, that you’re still basing that question on having eyesight, and comparing more or less eyesight? And that’s not really the question to ask or the issue to discuss. The issue really is what do you do to prepare for different situations in your life. So for me, going out and, and exploring, learning what to do in the case of an emergency, was something that I felt really necessary and required for me to do as the leader of an office. It also prepared me for an emergency. And it gave me information that sighted people would not normally get because they just rely on the science to tell them what to do and where to go, which only works if you can see the signs. And if you have time to read the signs. So it’s it’s really not site versus not site. It’s preparation versus not preparing.
Sherry Johnson  38:21
Yes, absolutely. And in the autism community, we talk about the concept of social story that is very similar. A lot of times autistic people aren’t said like, Wow, you really know what to do in a crisis. And we can turn off all our feelings and be these heroes and crises. And we may bring that with us and a lot of PTSD, we now are much more kin kin we are much more susceptible to PST, PTSD. But with our neuro types, but we’re really good in a crisis. I think it’s exactly what you were just talking about when the world I don’t know about you, Michael, but I think when the world is sort of designed for not you, yeah. You, you have to take that extra step to get curious about your own planning, your own approach to things that the rest of the world takes for granted. And I think that that’s a richness that those of us who bring that bring these various lenses can bring into the greater world like, Hey, have you ever thought about it this way? And they were really, you know, I’m really glad that that served you well and that situation?
Michael Hingson  39:30
Well, the other part of that is the world The world may not be designed with me in mind in some way for help preparing and doing what I do. Can I help the world become a little bit more designed for more of us than less of us? And the more of us may not be the majority, but can the world be made to be more designed for more of us than less of
Sherry Johnson  40:01
us. Absolutely.
Michael Hingson  40:02
That’s great. And I think that that is an important part of it. It isn’t just learning. It’s then utilizing that information. And in reality, it is my belief that everyone should learn what to do in an emergency. And very frankly, I would say, for most people learn what to do as a blind person, because you rely way too much on your eyesight much too often. And you don’t learn nearly as much as you can learn by utilizing some other skills, which isn’t to say, don’t use your eyes. But don’t limit yourself to your eyesight.
Sherry Johnson  40:45
Yeah, I think that’s brilliant. And it forces you to just sit just regard your surroundings differently, I would imagine to this reminds me to of another of my favorite thinkers, Duncan green, has this wonderful book, how change happen. And he talks about that preparation piece. And he said, you know, working for an NGO, the idea was that if you really wanted to change systems, you would figure out your entire plan for changing something. And you would present the entire plan when the crisis happens. The moment the crisis happens, if you’re the first one to plop down the plan for moving out of that crisis, you’ve just changed the system forever. I love that concept.
Michael Hingson  41:33
And it makes perfect sense. The reality is that we should be doing more of that we shouldn’t just be moving around as robots which we do way too often.
Sherry Johnson  41:43
Absolutely. Yeah. mechanization and expertise. Have no person that points for sure. So
Michael Hingson  41:50
I, you know, I have a wife, who we’ve now been married almost 40 years, it will be 40 years next month. And I’ve had to learn what eyesight is all about. And I’ve learned to explore that and learn what she sees how she sees how other people see. And that helps me be more part of that world. But at the same time, then I can use that to say, okay, but here are the limitations of that. Now, take that another step. And really look at what if you don’t just use your eyes? And what are the advantages of expanding your horizons as it were?
Sherry Johnson  42:36
Yeah. Yeah, I like that.
Michael Hingson  42:39
So it’s a challenge. So you started your company? And what do you do? What What exactly does the company do today?
Sherry Johnson  42:50
Well, we like I said, we moved from sort of doing strategic planning into more organizational change, work, leadership work. And I spell into doing this work around looking at large systems, to now taking that into the city of St. Paul, we did a constituent services study, and we looked at equity implications around who is who can access constituent service and who can’t? And what is the quality of that service? And what’s the experience? What’s the user journey, like? And how can you improve it? And how can you improve the system, looking at all those different more and less predictable ways of working, and looking at all those different ways that people can lead from anywhere in the system and the types of things that they can do. And then I’m hoping to get some new work, knocked out of wood, where I get to do more of that, but also employ narrative ethnography. I’m very excited about this. Do you remember Cambridge Analytica in 2016? Yeah, basically, worked through Facebook to try to find the narratives that were shaping the culture and shift them so that they would get what they wanted out of the election, I kind of want to be the good guy and use that technology for good it is be able to trace the narratives that a culture is telling itself and look for narratives that are positive that would help emerging narratives that will help lead that organization in the right direction and in the direction of its values, and try to move a system by studying those things. So that’s the next horizon for me. And it’s a project I’ve been hoping and planning for for the last five years. So I’m hoping that I’m really the one that’s putting my book down full of steps and that I’m the first one. I’m not the first by far but I’m excited to do this new work at a larger scale.
Michael Hingson  44:46
You’ll be the first to do it the way you do it. I
Sherry Johnson  44:48
spa and slow state.
Michael Hingson  44:52
Tell us more about this concept of narratives.
Sherry Johnson  44:55
Yeah, um, so narratives are the stories we tell ourselves of that shape our behavior, they shape our behavior, they shape our emotions, they shape our relationships, our culture on a grander scale, right. And a culture can believe a set of narratives individuals do. And these can be good or bad working with human narratives, the stories we tell ourselves can be good or bad. Like I said, Cambridge analytic, a bad example of something where you can harness what people believe the predictions that their brains have made about the world way the world works, and make them more afraid, make them do things that are more reactive. But you can also find those hopeful narratives and a culture those narratives that will lead you toward more connection more care, and amp those up, repeat those tell those stories, and lead a culture in a different way. And this works for individuals too. There’s a lot of different facilitative frameworks where you can work with an individual or a small group to help them kind of shift their image of themselves and move them in a new direction. So it’s that level of change work that is really harnessed in this concept of narratives, because our brains literally predict every moment. And if you can help people predict differently, you can help people change.
Michael Hingson  46:19
How do you incorporate mindfulness into the things that you do? And what is mindfulness? How would you define it? That’s a broad subject, isn’t it? Yeah. No,
Sherry Johnson  46:29
I mean, that that’s about awareness and curiosity, right? That’s about, um, you know, being as much as you can be in your body, knowing what’s happening within your body, knowing what that says, for you in, in your context about how you’re feeling about things. What is your what is good for you? What is bad for you? What feels good or bad? I think a lot of us are so caught up in this sort of perfectionist gogogo culture of, you know, and even in my family of origin, how will you work your way till your next paycheck? You’re working more out of competition, fear. Sometimes perfectionism. I know, that was me before my autism diagnosis, I still struggle with it. But what mindfulness does that helps you just kind of check in with yourself and be able to read what is what do I actually need in this moment? What am I actually desiring in this moment? And it’s only then when you can help folks feel bad about their own selves that you can help a group be more mindful of one another culture, be more mindful of it. So
Michael Hingson  47:44
how do you teach people to do that?
Sherry Johnson  47:46
playfully. I used to be a theater teachers. So there’s a lot of improv involved, sometimes in a more playful sense. With more serious groups, it’s just about inviting people to close their eyes and check in with our bodies before virtual I’ll say, you know, feel free to turn off your camera, we’re just gonna take a few breaths, taking pauses when a group would normally speed ahead, you remember what I said about emptiness? Right? Yeah, we need to be able to take those moments of silence emptiness, to check in with ourselves to see where we’re really at. And that, you know, brainstorming works much better when you can take some time of pause, take a break, go on a walk, come back. That’s that net negative capability thing again, pausing before deciding, pausing before gathering, pausing to consider, those are all things that I would consider to be mindfulness. And you can do their exercises to do that. Certainly, I taught yoga for a while. And I could do that with certain groups. For the most part, it’s much simpler than that. It’s about just pausing.
Michael Hingson  48:56
It’s also about giving yourself permission, and hopefully encouraging yourself and changing your habits and mindset to doing it. So often, we we just hear excuses. I don’t have time to do that. Yeah,
Sherry Johnson  49:12
yeah. Yeah. And it doesn’t have to be meditation. Meditation doesn’t actually work for everyone. And it works for me, I love it. But I’ve know a lot of folks who really struggle with it, particularly in the ADB community, but I think it’s just about taking time. And for some people that might be taking a walk, for some people, it might be spinning something in their hand. For some people, it’s sitting and breathing and feeling the weight of gravity, right. But whatever it is, I try to help people find that. Yeah.
Michael Hingson  49:46
So when you say meditation, what do you mean by that?
Sherry Johnson  49:49
Um, I, you know, that’s a tool. That’s a highly cultural concept, right? It’s different across cultures. For me, I I think of the sort of the Desert Fathers in Christianity and just sort of being silent and sitting in the presence of God, you know, others would say, it’s about being silent and just sitting in the presence of nature, or whatever it is, or checking in with our chakras, or whatever it is. Different cultures have different definitions for what it means that it’s about taking time. And, you know, we know that some some folks believe that meditation is only just sort of freeing your mind and not thinking about anything. But I think what I’ve noticed is a pattern, at least in my own small way, is that so much of it is about self compassion. It’s like, No one starts out being able to meditate perfectly. But a lot of us can benefit from it, if we have self compassion, and just, you know, keep trying.
Michael Hingson  50:58
And, of course, the whole idea of meditation sure, is being silent, and possibly emptying your mind. But the whole idea behind mindfulness, in a sense, is meditation, it’s taking time to not just go forward and confront the day. And it doesn’t really matter how you do it. But you do need to take time mentally for yourself, or to slow down. It’s something I think that’s as much a concept of meditation as is anything else. Absolutely. There’s always transcendental meditation where you say a mantra. And that can be very helpful to people who do it. And it may help more people, then think that they could do it. But still, it’s all about taking time to slow down and disconnecting from just what goes on in the world.
Sherry Johnson  51:52
Yeah, yeah. But really just noticing more, right? Taking it more with more of your senses, what is actually happening? Yeah, because that predictive brain of ours, we actually don’t see, we don’t hear, we don’t taste we don’t smell we don’t touch most things. In the moment. We’ve already predicted those things. If we only really sense what we predicted, we would sense, we actually have to slow ourselves down to truly sense of what’s happening around.
Michael Hingson  52:25
So what’s next for you?
Sherry Johnson  52:29
Well, I’m like I had this project that hopefully, I’ll get to do some narrative ethnography and what we call sensemaking. I’ve got a course coming up on adaptive leadership on December 3, sign up for that at my website, cultivate strategy that calm slash events, be teaching today, my Two Day technology participation facilitation course, if you want to learn about how to facilitate and collaborate better, I teach that about once a quarter either in Seattle are online, hopefully will start to teach teach that in Minnesota too. And, you know, someday, you would ask me about this earlier, Michael, before the show. I am hoping to complete my musical about growing up as an autistic kid and trying to fit in. So working on that, too.
Michael Hingson  53:21
There you go. Are you going to write the lyrics? Are you going to write the songs? Or are you going to write the words around them? And let let somebody else come in and do it?
Sherry Johnson  53:30
You know, it’s going to be I think it’s going to be a jukebox musical. So it’ll be just hits from the 80s and 90s. Ah, you know, moving moving through my own experiences middle in early high school with the dialog that I’m right. Yeah. Have you
Michael Hingson  53:49
thought about taking a lot of the content of your courses, and putting them into a book? And using that as another mechanism to teach?
Sherry Johnson  54:00
Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of existing books, particularly on the technology of participation. I do write blogs pretty regularly. And I’ve started to do some video logs as well, on tic tac, and Facebook, but someday, I might start to gather some of that stuff together and make a compendium or something that makes sense, but I’m a little too random, maybe to make that full nonfiction book for resale. I’m always fine. It’s nothing new to talk about and work on instead.
Michael Hingson  54:35
And, and that’s valuable. And as you said, so your courses will be online as well. And they are online.
Sherry Johnson  54:42
Yeah, yeah. The deciding how to decide is online. And there’s both an in person and online version of that top facilitation methods which is actually through top trading dotnet you can sign up for courses in that all over even the world
Michael Hingson  54:59
top training dotnet A
Sherry Johnson  55:00
trained dotnet as the US arm of the Institute for Cultural Affairs, is the purveyor of that that particular band of training. Cool? Yeah.
Michael Hingson  55:14
Well, so you’ve sort of said it, but if people want to reach out to you and maybe learn more about you talk with you, and do you do individual coaching?
Sherry Johnson  55:23
I do. Yeah. So yeah. So
Michael Hingson  55:26
how do they reach out to you and learn, but all of that
Sherry Johnson  55:29
they there is a website, there’s a form on my website, cultivatestrategy.com. And you can also just email me at Sherry at cultivatestrategy.com S H E R R Y. I’m happy to respond.
Michael Hingson  55:41
And strategy singular, just to make sure everybody understands. Yes. Well, Sherry, this has been fun. I’ve enjoyed it. I really appreciate you coming on. And my dog has stayed awake over here, so you must be happy with it. There you go. That’s awesome. Alamo pays attention to everything I do. I can’t get away with anything. We do have the door closed. So the cat doesn’t get to come in. And I understand why cats.
Sherry Johnson  56:10
I adore cats. I have two of them, including the best get in the world and then kissick,
Michael Hingson  56:16
we have a cat we rescued seven and a half years ago. We thought we were just going to find her a home. And I learned that the cat’s name was stitch. And my wife is a quilter Do you think that cat was going to go anywhere?
Sherry Johnson  56:32
Oh, it adopted you.
Michael Hingson  56:37
Oh, it took over us? Yeah. He’s a great and and she and Alamo get along very well. So we’re happy with that. That’s great. Well, thanks again for being here. And I want to thank you for listening. And wherever you are. Please give us a five star rating. We appreciate it. That’s another thing share. You could do a podcast.
Sherry Johnson  56:57
Oh goodness, I’ve done I’ve done it. I’ve done something like it. We’ll see someday.
Michael Hingson  57:05
But wherever you are, please give us a five star rating. I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to me at Michaelhi at accessibe A C C E S S I B E.com. And Sherry will have to talk about your website and see how accessible it is.
Sherry Johnson  57:21
Oh, I’m working on it. It’s not it’s not there yet.
Michael Hingson  57:26
Checkout accessiBe it can help and it’s not expensive. It’s a way to really help. And I’ll be glad to help you with that. But we hope that wherever you are, you’ll give us a rating and you’ll reach out I’d love to hear your thoughts. And we’ll be back of course again very soon with another episode of unstoppable mindset. We’re inclusion, diversity. And my favorite part the unexpected meet and again, Sherry, thank you for being a part of this.
Sherry Johnson  57:51
Thank you for having me, Michael, this was fun.
Michael Hingson  57:58
You have been listening to the Unstoppable Mindset podcast. Thanks for dropping by. I hope that you’ll join us again next week, and in future weeks for upcoming episodes. To subscribe to our podcast and to learn about upcoming episodes, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com slash podcast. Michael Hingson is spelled m i c h a e l h i n g s o n. While you’re on the site., please use the form there to recommend people who we ought to interview in upcoming editions of the show. And also, we ask you and urge you to invite your friends to join us in the future. If you know of any one or any organization needing a speaker for an event, please email me at speaker at Michael hingson.com. I appreciate it very much. To learn more about the concept of blinded by fear, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com forward slash blinded by fear and while you’re there, feel free to pick up a copy of my free eBook entitled blinded by fear. The unstoppable mindset podcast is provided by access cast an initiative of accessiBe and is sponsored by accessiBe. Please visit www.accessibe.com. accessiBe is spelled a c c e s s i b e. There you can learn all about how you can make your website inclusive for all persons with disabilities and how you can help make the internet fully inclusive by 2025. Thanks again for listening. Please come back and visit us again next week.

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