Interview with Dr Annemarie Lombard (Part 2)

Posted: 20 May, 2016

By: Annabella Sequeira

Section: Corporate

AL2-2

We had a chat with Annemarie about the Sensory Intelligence® journey and how it came into existence. In part one, we looked at the differences between Sensory Intelligence®, EQ and IQ; how Sensory Intelligence® relates to Autism; and a peek   into Annemarie’s own sensory assess.

Part two takes a look at the journey to here and how the Sensory Intelligence® brand has grown and evolved since its inception in 2003.

You founded Sensory Intelligence® in 2003. Tell us a bit about the journey leading up to the birth of this brainchild?

I worked in clinical practice for 15 years, spent time overseas and when I got back in 2000 I had itchy feet and just could not really get my groove back with clinical work.

Having done a huge amount of continuing education, I loved sensory integration, the theory and the application, and really felt that I was an expert in my field. I however felt the application to children only limited the box for me, I needed a different challenge. I worked with world-renowned therapists in the US and once back home, I was asked to train other therapists. When I stepped into the training role I had a light bulb moment.

I started training parents – that led to corporate teams, my research and the book (and the rest is history). In the beginning it was very hard and I had to pioneer the way. People had no clue what I was talking about. Today the “sensory world” is exploding. I spent years behind my computer thinking and writing with the concepts and applications evolving as time passed. I knew from day one it had to be big, it had to be applicable across industries and it had to be easy, simple and user friendly. I feel as excited and passionate today about it as I was at its inception. Maybe wiser and more tired, but still loving the journey. I climbed out of the box, challenged old paradigms and created something that that simplifies and truly adds value to people’s lives.

Did you realise from the onset that there was a gap in the market for Sensory Intelligence® and that it would therefore be a unique offering?

No, I did not. I shifted because I had to. I was stuck and needed a different challenge. It was really hard though and I literally spent years and years creating awareness about it. I particularly worked hard at the unique offering and I am extremely brand protective and specific. I hate mediocrity, jargon and people talking rubbish. It needs to be easy, simple and practical – taking it back to basics. People too often want highly complex solutions when it is often the simple, easy and straightforward stuff that makes the biggest impact with the least amount of effort.

• Our unique brand proposition is also that we do not see sensory processing as a “problem” which is typical what occupational therapists do.
• We see it as part of daily function and how people respond as a result of their assess and thresholds.
• There is no right or wrong – it is about understanding your sensory drivers and triggers.
• It is a universal process that does not distinguish between age, gender, race, culture, etc.
• It is like temperament – part of your genetic coding and your intuitive responses.
• But we are different yet again to therapists conducting temperament and character work.

Once you know your assess you:
1. Understand your habits and behaviours so much better; and
2. you can make adaptations to reduce overload or arrange your environment to fit your needs. It will make life easier, more stress-free and give you more time and energy.

E.g.:  If you have a low auditory threshold, change the ringtone on your cell phone to be softer/gentler or just work on vibrate.

The Sensory Intelligence® offering has grown significantly since 2003. Tell us a bit more about this and subsequent industries the offering is aimed at?

Senses in Education
For me, the obvious start was in education, empowering parents and teachers as I worked with children in clinical practice. Parents and teachers constantly shared their “aha moments” and insights and often could immediately understand why certain environments did not work for them. A lot of referencing was done to open plan office designs and why it is too noisy, too smelly, some people talked too loud or too much, etc. Expanding insights into the workplace became so obvious and natural. I then got a break to work with a small corporate team who really could relate to the information, assessment and results.

Senses in Business
The first group allowed me to do some easy, simple strategic implementation with one of their managers and her performance shot through the roof as a direct result. I then also started to work with corporate teams.  We have been focusing on how teams can use their senses to understand their diversity, strengths and weaknesses and how they fit together.  It allows for such unique, different and non-threatening methods to understand different behaviours in teams and is particularly useful where teams share space (such as open plan offices) or have to work closely on the same projects.  If team dynamics are good things get done, if not it is usually a disaster.

Senses on Call
The contact centre industry I stumbled on by accident.  I needed to prove that your assess will determine your success and depends on the type of work environment that you work in daily.  I was looking for the noisiest, craziest, smelliest, most stressed and target driven workplace to prove this.  Contact centres were the resulting conclusion.

The first day when I walked into a contact centre and saw it looking, sounding and functioning like a bee hive, I knew I had my work cut out for me.  So my PhD was done in contact centres and I used a correlation study to compare sensory assess with absenteeism, attrition and performance.  Obviously I managed to prove my hypothesis.  While contact centres work really well for a certain group of people (28%) and are energised by it, – 34% of people will die a slow death – they hate it, can’t function, get stressed, anxious and eventually drop out.

My commitment lies herein – to change the industry one person, one day at a time. I sometimes question my involvement in this world but know that making a dent in this industry is part of my calling.  I will keep on trying.

You completed your PhD in Occupational Therapy while building a relatively new, but very niche business and seeing to your family. What did you learn about yourself during this time?

My PhD was the most difficult thing I ever did. Doing the research was fun and interesting and as correlations and results unfolded I was happy and elated at times. Unpacking the puzzle proved that my thinking was right. But the difficult part came when I had to write the thesis. My laptop was stolen after three months of writing (and my hard drive with the backups) and I actually gave up. I just could not face the process and actually experienced a mental block. I then went for three hypnotherapy sessions, which was immensely helpful. I got up at 4am every morning six days a week and wrote for nine months. On a good day I was writing for 12 hours. On a bad day (when I had to work and generate income for the business) I was writing 2 to 3 hours (and this did not happen that often). I had the most amazing supervisor and mentor, Dr Ruth Watson who passed away in the interim, she helped me to stay on track and keep going.

I said no to everything and my husband (bless his heart – he is an amazing man) would take the boys (at that stage 6 and 11) on outings and socials. I did do the mommy things (lunch boxes, breakfasts, lunch and dinner – I love cooking) and the hugs and cuddles, but apart from that very little. My life was totally unbalanced and I was doing my thesis 90% of the time. But we survived and when I handed it in during February 2012, I was over the moon with elation! But weirdly – I hit a major low afterwards and felt I knew nothing and could do nothing.

When complaining to my supervisors they were very blasé about it and said: “It is common and called post-doc brain fog – it takes six to nine months to recover”. I felt disorientated and clueless – but thankfully it did subside after six months. In hindsight – although the most difficult thing – it really did elevate my business and gave me a renewed level of credibility. It also taught me a huge lesson on a personal level – there is nothing in life that I can’t achieve, so amen to that! It also confirmed my hard-working and resilient nature.
And there you have it – a tiny glimpse into the brilliant brain of the passionate and energetic Dr Annemarie Lombard. A woman that has made it her life’s work to get people to rethink the way they live, learn and work in order to cut through the sensory clutter – thereby increasing productivity and understanding the impact of Sensory Intelligence® in the South African business and educational spheres, and even in our personal lives.