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The story of our brand

Twenty-two years ago this business took shape in my scrambled brain.  At the time I just returned from a 3-year travel-work experience from the USA which left me hanging between two worlds. My one foot was still in Los Angeles, California, where I worked for a year, and my other foot was back in Cape Town, on home-based South African soil. I was torn between these 2 worlds and it took me quite some time to settle back into my own body and space.  Although I settled back into clinical practise as an occupational therapist working with children with learning problems, I still had itchy feet. It did not help that my first son was born: I was entering the world of parenting for the first time as a new mom (no one tells you how bloody hard it is… ), experiencing postnatal depression and re-integrating into my old South African life. In the States, I had the best and the worst time of my life. While working in Los Angeles with a fiery, red-hair Spanish born occupational therapy guru (Erna Blanche), I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone. I learned a hell of a lot, laughed, cried, had to learn to email reports for the first time (yes I am Gen X) and looking back… was preparing myself for the crazy journey of being an entrepreneur!

I learned 3 key things in difficult and changing work environments:

  1. Never ever be scared to try something new
  2. Hard work gets your everywhere
  3. If all else fails – run… (I started trail running at this stage and have loved it ever since)

So Sensory Intelligence® was born in my head in 2000. In 2002 we printed our first business cards (haven’t they become redundant… I haven’t even bothered to reprint mine lately), established our brand name and presented my first workshop for a group of parents. I discovered my passion for training and empowering others and it just made sense to start with the target group I’ve been working with for 15 years. Helping parents understand and manage their children better is ultimately the best gift you can give a child. I shifted my skills, knowledge and expertise from working with a single child in clinical practice to training groups of people around sensory integration (a specific term/field of expertise in occupational therapy work).

I learned 3 key things from working with parents:

  1. Mothers know their children best – listen to them and trust them but also help them to trust themselves. Mothers (and parents in general) run to Google and try to become better parents this way.  Although Google is my best friend too..… trust your gut – it will be more powerful and mostly correct.
  2. Human behaviour is so fascinating and interesting. The brain science that applies to children applies to adults too… their bodies are just bigger and there is more nonsense…
  3. Common sense for us as occupational therapists is not common practice. 

As Sensory Intelligence® unfolded as a business… my quest for learning and breaking new territories increased.  As I was seeing how my paediatric-practice knowledge was as powerful when adapted to the adult world of work, I had to learn more.  In 2005 I decided that further research is a must and I embarked on registering for a master’s degree through the University of Cape Town in South Africa. I was like a child with a new toy… if I knew what was ahead of me, I would have run away… far away.  During 2005-2006 I did research methodology and wrote my master’s degree proposal, had a second child, wrote a book “Sensory intelligence, why it matters more than IQ and EQ”, and my husband developed Stage 4 cancer. I know it is a mouthful but it was even worse than what it sounds. Luckily, my second son was a breeze as a baby, the book took me into an escape world to cope with my husband’s illness and the studying was ticking along…

I survived to tell the tale: my husband made a full recovery and is in remission, my second happy- and well-adapted son is now 16 years old and my book is still on the shelves. My studies took a turn for the worse in the short run – but ultimately a turn for the best in the long run. I was upgraded to a PhD as a result of my study being innovative and the amount of data I had to work with. I had to collect even more data (2008-2009) and was struggling to put my bum down on a chair to write the dissertation of my PhD research. Throughout all of this, I sensory assessed hundreds of people in order for them to share their “sensory stories” with me, started to do team- and corporate training and also put my foot in the call centre industry which is where my doctoral research was positioned. I talked to everyone and anyone about sensory intelligence – most of the time for free – and was absolutely adamant to do “market research”. The going got really tough when I had to sit my family down at the beginning of 2011 and negotiated time in order to write my doctoral thesis. It took 9 months of getting up at 4 am every day (except for Sundays) and writing every day.  It was absolute agony… I never cry but during this time I was in tears on a daily basis, checking in with my supervisor… God bless this woman.  She picked me up from the floor every day, motivated me, encouraged me and was my biggest supporter.  Ruth Watson, I still honour you and am so sad you passed away a few years ago. I graduated in 2012, got my PhD degree and had brain fog for 6 months (a well-known phenomenon following the submission of a dissertation).  I was not in academics full time, so doing this on a part-time basis was no joke. But I survived and another one dusted.

I learned 3 key things from juggling personal life, research and business:

  1. None of us are superhuman beings: it is OK to drop the ball – however drop the work-ball and not the family-ball
  2. Getting up at 4 am will make you more productive while your brain is still fresh
  3. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, encourage- and support you

Business continued to grow and expand:

In 2008 I started to automate our online assessments and moved them to online versions.

Senses on Call™ was the emergent product from my research helping call centres make better staff-, recruitment- and talent decisions.  It was recently updated.

The Sensory Matrix™, which was developed in 2005 and published in my book in 2007,  was the result of needing a tool with more detailed information to help people understand and manage their 7 senses and not just a big overview as Winnie Dunn’s adult assessment provided. I absolutely love Winnie Dunn’s work and also used her assessment for my research but the Sensory Matrix was a further development on being more specific and practical.  Our focus on growing online products has been an uphill battle but also a rewarding process.  We extracted loads of data and is currently doing analysis for further post-PhD work and publications.

Our 3-day practitioner’s course was also initiated as early as 2012 to empower other professionals to use our tools.  I just could not cope with the demand for individual work and this became a great option to be able to refer to a selected group of associates.  They were traditionally run as a 3-day face to face course in South Africa and London but moved to a fully online 12 module version since COVID-19.  Admittedly I was quite verbal and opinionated about online training and said we will never do online training. Well… COVID pushed us into it, we had no choice. And what an interesting journey that has been too. Against all my personal and preconceived ideas, online training works, and it works extremely well. We now have a global audience, work across time zones and can empower a lot more people in sensory intelligence®.

We grew our team of licensed users/associates,  got new clients, projects and speaker events;  got new team members;  lost team members;  got new IT service providers for our online platform;  lost IT service providers for our online platform… The ebb and flow of business are remarkable, tough, interesting, stimulating and definitely not for sissies…

I learned 3 key things from the ongoing business expansion:

  1. It is a jungle out there and your business goal and strategy should be clear
  2. Good service providers are very, very  hard to find because a lot of people talk a lot of rubbish
  3. You will always need a good, reliable, excellent team of people (not robots) behind you. And if you think service providers are hard to find, think again when it comes to teams…

As we enter the next phase of our business, year 22 since its inception,  year 20 part-time and year 17 full time… I am just extremely humbled and blessed by my experiences and learning.  There are no mistakes in life, only lessons to learn. While the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the world into crisis mode, we had our crisis too when all our work stopped in early 2020, it unlocked a deeper level of resilience. It was either sink or swim and chose to do the latter. We are now stronger, embraced the online world, have a global audience, and continue to improve the quality of life for people around the globe.

Please connect with us if you want to know more about how Sensory Intelligence® can help you.





7 Wellness steps to cope best in tough times

Fourteen years ago my life changed radically in one single day. My husband was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and started intensive chemotherapy. My oldest son was 5 years old and my youngest 13 months.  During the 6 months of chemotherapy that followed, not a day passed without me thinking that I might have to raise two boys on my own. And the thought provoked anxiety, disbelief and horror. If you stare death in the face your life changes irrevocably.  

Why am I telling you this? 

In trying to make sense of COVID-19, lockdown and how we are going to cope, survive and ultimately thrive, I’ve revisited this time of my life and what I did to cope during the toughest times of my life. My husband and boys needed me desperately.  I just couldn’t fall apart even though I wanted to… and silently did. I went into survival mode and just took it one day at a time. 

This is what my 7 steps are all about. 

Is it perfect? No 

Is it comprehensive? No 

Is it ideal? No 

Is it the only way to cope? No

Is it easy? Yes

Is it for everyone? Yes

Will it help? Yes

Is it science-based? Yes

Many people (including the specialists who should…) offer many solutions. They are all valuable and necessary and I support them full-heartedly. Being resilient and adaptable will be your saving grace in the next few months. But let’s look at simple-, basic-, do-able survival tips for now – for today. We can worry about thriving when we have a better idea of what the future holds and what the next phase of our world might look like. 

So here are my 7 steps to cope best in tough times:

  1. Keep a routine. As much as we’ve heard this, it is really important, critical and necessary.  Get up at the same time every morning. Make your bed. Brush your teeth. Shave. Take off your pj’s and get dressed in your day-clothes. Put on make-up. Squirt some perfume. You are worth it! And if you look good, you feel good.
  2. Check-in with your mental mind. Choose one positive affirmation for the day. Write it down.  Or better: keep a book or journal to document your self-care every day. Positive affirmation ideas are: I am smart; I am kind; I am brave; I am unstoppable; I am a great parent; I have nice hair. Whatever works for you. Choose one per day. Two is too much. One, all of us should be able to do.
  3. Check-in with your environment and ensure you are surrounded by self-care, wellness and productivity boosters instead of -busters. Tidy your workspace. Pack away clothing. Wash the dishes. Open the blinds. Declutter. This relates to your primary and most used space for the day. Please don’t try to spring clean the house in one day. Just make sure that your surrounding space for working or learning or doing is as calm and peaceful as possible. And you don’t need to do 20 tasks. Consider what is bothering you in your space and adjust that one thing… or more if you have the energy. 
  4. Check-in with your physical body. We use the concept of a robot (traffic light) to explain the alert state of your body-brain. [In South Africa we call a traffic light a robot.] When on high alert, anxious or stressed you are in red.  When your body is starting to feel stressed you are in orange. Your robot-traffic-light should be in green in order for your body and mind to go. In other words, are you feeling calm, focused and present?  You need to start your day in the best way for you in order to cope, survive and get through it. So get your body in green to start your day. If you are in orange or red, use the tips in number 5 to get to green. 
  5. Self-regulate and Take 5 to get and keep your body in a self-regulated state. This means being in the green state of the robot-traffic-light. These are simple, easy, do-able sensory snacks (not to eat, but to do) to organize your brain anytime, anywhere, for anyone.

    1. Breathe – deep breathing is the quickest way to self-calm as it activates the parasympathetic system which is literally the “brake” on stress.  I am just throwing in the big words so that you know that I know what I’m talking about. 
    2. Blow – the mouth is a powerful regulator and supports breathing. I love using balloons as it is a fun and easy way to mimic breathing if you are struggling with it.  So get some balloons and blow away. You can even sing or whistle. Not when you are in an online meeting though. Blowing smoke from a cigarette doesn’t count… it is bad for you! 
    3. Sip – if you drink water from a water bottle with a spout or a straw you will be utilizing the muscles in the jaw and further support the oral-motor structures that help us to self-regulate. Drinking water in this way will also help to hydrate your body and support the next sensory snack. Other healthy alternatives are eating crunchy apples, raw carrots, celery, cucumber, nuts, etc. in moderation. Crunchy or chewy food types can help with focus and de-stressing. The emphasis however, is on healthy, crunchy food snacks in moderation! 
    4. Move – with a full bladder (thanks to your best friend: the water bottle), you inevitably have to take more bathroom breaks which is a bonus. Stretch, move, stand whenever possible. If you have a swivel chair, that can also help you move from side-to-side while working. Just don’t swivel when you are in an online meeting as it will be a visual distraction for others. Or sit on a ball instead of a chair. Movement is critical for brain breaks and will increase your focus and lower your stress levels.
    5. Touch – the skin is filled with tiny receptors that process your world in every minuscule way. Deep touch (as opposed to a light tickle) is calming and when combined with movement, a strong regulator. Squeeze a stress ball: the deep touch and resistance will organize the brain. Doodle on a piece of paper. Rub your hands together. Put hand cream on both hands while pressing down firmly on your palms – you can even combine this with your favourite scent.  Put both your hands on top of your head and press down firmly.
  6. Check-out with your physical body.  Make sure that you clearly end your activity, learning or work-day. Being able to transition from one task or space to a next will help to prepare your mind and being mindful to do this is important. Close your computer. Close your door. Whatever physical action you need to do in order to indicate that you are done with this and ready for the next step will help. The body prepares the mind and brain to follow. Take a 10-minute quiet debrief time for yourself. You can choose any passive activity of choice. Meditate, think, power nap, pray, practise mindfulness, sit quietly with closed eyes.
  7. Check-out with your mental mind. Go back to your book or journal of self-care and document one thing that you are grateful for. Make it simple and easy. Ideas are: I am grateful for my health; I am grateful for my child’s smile; I am grateful for the nice message from my friend; I am grateful for the crispy apple I ate. It must obviously be applicable to your life, but simple and easy always does the trick.

These are seriously simple, but I firmly believe that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication in the best or in the worst of times.  Remember: it is hard for all of us, for some much more than others. Each of us has different situations, different needs and different hurdles. So we are not in the same boat. We are all in a different boat trying to steer in the same storm. You are not alone. It is OK to not be OK.

My husband fully recovered from his cancer journey. We are still happily married. My sons are healthy and now 15 and 19. I am grateful for life, health and the simple things in life.


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