When I was 10 years old, I started a childcare business in my basement with my best friend.  We would plan half day camps on the weekend with books, games, art projects, recess, snack time, and free play.  I learned so much as an entrepreneur. I learned leadership skills like how to create a vision, communicate it with my partner, listen to her ideas, create a plan, and meet deadlines.  I learned about marketing and sales.  We would walk around the neighborhood giving out flyers to the families with kids. I learned about managing money.  We would figure out what materials we needed and when our parents took us shopping, we stuck to the budget based on revenue predictions from charging 50 cents per child, per hour.  I learned skills to create a safe, positive, and inclusive environment for group activities. 


But I haven’t always flourished in a work environment.  As I began my career, I read books or attended conferences and got so excited about the new ideas that I discovered, especially related to celebrating diversity and including everyone.  I would passionately share ideas with anyone who would listen to me.  Some people would try them, but I envisioned the change happening quickly throughout the entire organization and couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t jumping on board immediately with changes that would foster inclusion.  Leaders would tell me to slow down, and be patient but I couldn’t.  I questioned the values of leaders when I would share ideas that aligned with the values of the organization, but I didn’t feel supported in leading change.  I started to shrink and fade away.  Every few years I would look for a new job.  Maybe I just needed a different environment to grow.  Maybe another role or location would have the right type of soil and the right amount of water and sunlight for me to blossom. While it was exciting going through the process to figure out my next adventure because I loved new challenges, I also felt ashamed about switching from job to job looking for the right fit. My resume was a mile long.  Maybe I was a bad seed.  


A few years ago, something amazing happened.  I discovered that I was neurodivergent.  I learned differently than what was considered typical in our culture.  I describe myself as having a rainforest mind, a term coined by Paula Prober.  I realized that there was nothing wrong with my intense passion for learning about complex topics in my areas of interest, my justice sensitivity, my strong need for variety, or my idealistic thinking.  I needed to remember the quote by Thich (Tick) Nhat (Not) Hanh (Hon), “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce.”  Understanding my unique learning needs was essential to advocate for what I needed to grow and thrive at work.    


Gathering information from the annual culture survey, an exit interview, brief check ins, or relying on neurodivergent people to figure out and advocate for our development needs alone, won’t provide leaders with rainforest minds the development support they need.  We need systems designed to build self awareness in how we learn and share our needs. We need leaders to ask questions that invite critical thinking about our learning and development.  We need someone to  uncover what we like to learn about, how we learn, and the environment that helps us learn best, even if we don’t quite know how to explain it.   Our rainforest minds need the right conditions so that we can grow into top talent.  We need Grow interviews. 


The questions in a Grow interview were developed from interviewing diverse learners for years as a leader.  Questions in a Grow interview go beyond asking someone how everything is going in passing or asking if they need anything at a weekly meeting.  They invite depth, complexity, self-reflection, and critical thinking.  The process is transformational for both the person answering the questions, and the person asking them. Grow interviews quickly and easily reveal people’s invisible strengths, needs, and barriers to learning and growth.  Using the information gathered to identify the roots of what is needed and collaboratively making adjustments, people can shift quickly from disengaged and decaying to maturing and blossoming in their organization.  


An essential part of Grow interviews is to avoid problem solving until the interview is complete.  Just listen.  When we feel validated about our experience, we open up and share more.  We come to our own insights about what we need.  We build confidence and a sense of agency.  Our creativity is unlocked and we bloom.


When leaders use Grow interviews, they will uncover the invisible learning and development needs of those that they lead.  Asking powerful questions cultivates an inclusive learning culture in which Neurodivergent people grow and thrive.  Teams and organizations harvest the benefits accelerate their success and innovation when everyone flourishes.


In the next week, I invite you  to take a moment to respond to one of the questions in the Grow interview for yourself: What lights you up in your role?  When we deeply understand what energizes us, we can uncover the needs that are being met and be intentional about seeking growth opportunities that replicate that feeling and energy.  


When I could learn in a way that aligned with my strengths, interests, and needs, through entrepreneurship as a child, I grew in ways that no one imagined.  It fostered innovation and improved my community.  Imagine what is possible if we create the conditions for everyone to grow into top talent and thrive as leaders.