Small selection of excerpts taken from the original post – Please read the full article or listen to the interview at “Thinking Like the Herd“, USPTO Journeys of Innovation Series, accessed August 15, 2019.
“Each month, our Journeys of Innovation series tells the stories of inventors or entrepreneurs whose groundbreaking innovations have made a positive difference in the world. Hear it in their own words or read the transcript below.
LINDA HOSLER: The world needs all types of minds. Unconventional thinkers bring unique perspectives to innovation, perceiving details that others often overlook. I’m Linda Hosler from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. I recently interviewed Temple Grandin, an inventor, professor, author, inspirational speaker, and a leading advocate for the humane treatment of livestock. Grandin is one of the world’s most well-known autistic individuals and proponents of neurodiversity. She also holds a U.S. patent for her farm animal handling system. Her journey as an inventor began as a young girl experimenting with flying objects and continued as a teenager at her aunt’s cattle ranch in Arizona. That experience was life-changing. It set her on a path to improve conditions in the livestock industry and to advocate for people with autism. Here is a bit of our conversation.
LINDA HOSLER: Could you talk a bit about the problems that you wanted to solve?
TEMPLE GRANDIN: I originally came from non-cattle background, and I got interested in the cattle industry because I was exposed to it as a teenager. This brings up a really important thing about careers. Students get interested in things they get exposed to. Or they might find out that they don’t like something they’re exposed to. That’s equally important to learn.
LINDA HOSLER: What were the problems that you saw in the cattle industry that you wanted to solve?
TEMPLE GRANDIN: When I first started in the cattle industry, I had no idea that I was a visual thinker, and the first thing I noticed—and I went around to every feed yard in Arizona to help them vaccinate the cattle—is that sometimes the animals would refuse to go up the chute and one place it might be orientation to the sun’s, staring right into the rising sun, or a vehicle parked next to a fence, or rope across the chute, a change in the flooring. And it was obvious to me to look at what the cattle were seeing. And at the time I thought everybody’s a visual thinker. I didn’t realize that my thinking was different, and I couldn’t understand why other people weren’t seeing this. And then I learned later on in life that some people are visual thinkers thinking photo realistic pictures like me or an object visualizer. Then you have the more mathematical type of person who is a pattern visualizer.
Steve Jobs, an artist, designed the really easy-to-use interface on the iPhone, and the engineers had to make it work. That’s the two different kinds of minds working together. And I found similar things in the meat industry. I would design cattle-handling facilities. I worked on a lot of different kinds of equipment, worked with many different steelworkers, and the visual thinkers invent all of the clever mechanical equipment, and the more mathematically inclined engineers will do things like boilers, refrigeration, stresses on pre-stressed concrete, [the] kind of stuff the visual thinkers don’t understand, but you need the whole team working together. You need both kinds of minds.
I designed a piece of equipment called the double rail center track restrainer system, which I’m kicking myself I didn’t get some patents on. I could have—highly patentable—but the problem was at the same time I was going to the University of Illinois working on my Ph.D. This was the mid-‘80s, and there was no patent attorney in Champagne-Urbana, or if there was I didn’t know how to find them, and I was too busy to get on a plane and fly someplace to see a patent attorney, so I put the whole thing into the public domain deliberately on purpose. But now I am kicking myself.”
LINDA HOSLER: Looking back at the impact of your inventions and your career, what are you most proud of?
TEMPLE GRANDIN: Probably the most important piece of equipment I developed was center track restrainer system—it’s in all the big beef plants. In the literature it’s called the double rail restrainer system, but the thing that probably changed the animal handling at the large meat plants the most was a very simple scoring system I developed, for assessing how well a meat plant does things. I didn’t tell them how to build one. What I told them [was] what outcomes they have to have.
So they had five simple outcome measures that I measure. And then we had six acts of abuse that were automatic failures. And it was very clear, like traffic rules. And I do an exercise lots of times with different audiences to see how good they are at the critical control point approach. And I say, let’s take traffic rules. If you could only have the police enforce three traffic rules, which three traffic rules would you have them enforce? And usually when I ask the audience to answer, I’ll get speeding and I’ll get the stopping violations, but sometimes they’ll get off on turn signals and things that are definitely not critical control points, and on most audiences I have to cue them to get the drunk driving. That’s number one.
I use that as an exercise of the critical control point approach and you look at stuff that police actually enforce. Those top three are the main things that they enforce, and you’re probably getting 90% of your public safety.
I’ve been thinking about education a lot. I was a severely autistic kid, and I’m seeing some kids with autism and with other labels do extremely well in college and then not make it in the workplace because they never learned how to work. Kids have got to learn how to work.
I mean, Thomas Edison had a paper route at age 11. He was a telegraph operator at 14. I’ve read biographies on Thomas Edison. He would be autistic today. And so would Tesla, and so would Einstein. Einstein had no speech until age three. What would happen to these big innovators like Tesla, Einstein, and Edison in today’s educational system?