A view from Dave Trott: Diversity of thinking
A view from Dave Trott

Diversity of thinking

When Temple Grandin was born, in 1947, she was severely autistic.

But they didn’t have that term in those days so she was considered mentally disabled.

She didn’t talk until she was four years old – even then, it was nonsense.

She tore the wallpaper off the walls and ate it.

When anyone tried to touch her, she screamed.

The doctors said the only solution was to put her in an institution for life.

But her mother wouldn’t do that.

Against all advice, she insisted on teaching her – and it slowly became clear that Temple lived in a different world to ours.

She lived in a world of pictures, not words.

Consequently, conventional communication with other humans was difficult.

But two things happened.

First, she met a teacher who was an ex-Nasa scientist and who showed her how to use her unusual mind to investigate problems in a different way.

Second, she spent the summer on a ranch, and found she could understand how animals think.

Animals didn’t have words, just senses like vision and sound.

She could empathise with them, something ordinary verbal thinkers couldn’t do.

As Temple later said: "Fear is the main emotion in autism or any prey-species animal, always looking for something that might be a threat."

So she decided to study animal husbandry.

She went to university and got a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree, then a PhD.

She is now Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University.

Her studies led her to the cattle stockyards and slaughterhouses across the US.

But cattlemen didn’t want to listen to a woman, especially not an autistic one.

So Temple did what no-one else would do.

She got down on all fours and went through the cattle processing facilities exactly the way the cows did.

And she found things that no-one else could see.

And, importantly, she found the reasons why the owners of the plants should care.

Keeping cows calm was not something that interested cattlemen, but running an efficient money-making plant was.

She was able to explain why terrified cows tried to escape and died, halting the entire line.

Why being scared filled the cows with adrenaline making their meat tougher.

Why treating the cows more humanely was good business.

She has subsequently written 400 articles that have become influential worldwide.

Her motto is: "Animals are not things."

She says: "We’ve got to give them a decent life. We’ve got to give them a painless death. We owe those animals respect."

She has designed, or redesigned, half of the entire cattle processing facilities in the US.

McDonald’s now requires all its meat suppliers to conform to her standards.

Time magazine rated her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Temple Grandin is an example of why different ways of thinking should be embraced.

Why advertising shouldn’t be marching in lockstep, looking for one-size-fits-all solutions.

Why we should welcome what challenges our conventional thinking.

Instead of demanding everyone stick to the same approved and accepted criteria.

We should be looking for diversity, not just in gender and race but in all forms.

We should learn to celebrate and enjoy differences.

As Bill Bernbach said: "Principles endure, formulas don’t."

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.