Neurodiversity Foundation Founder, Healthcare Entrepreneur Shawn Fry
Shawn was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 42 years old. After he got that diagnosis, he realized what was up with him, and that allowed him to achieve success in his professional life above and beyond anything he could have imagined. After completely rebuilding several hospital systems as CIO, he became an entrepreneur focusing on entrepreneurial healthcare, technology, around analytics, revenue cycle and clinical informatics. He left corporate America behind hiring nearly 150 employees to create his own neurodiverse workplace culture. He’s been granted multiple patents, created dozens of healthcare analytics platforms, is a well respected speaker and author. In 2019 he sold his company to private equity and is spending the rest of his life, embracing neurodiversity, and the powers in the logic of leadership, personal security, and self-esteem in one’s uniqueness. I love that. He’s currently CIO of Potentia and CSO/Founder of the Neurodiversity Foundation and that’s what we’re talking about today! Enjoy!
A little more about Shawn: Shawn Fry became a successful executive and entrepreneur after being diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 42. He found success in his professional career only after he was afforded the opportunity as the CIO of several hospital systems to exercise a great deal of autonomy in his role. Shawn’s propensity for detail, hard questions, and divergent solutions produced millions in both new revenue opportunities and cost savings for his employer. His innovative approach to the complexity of healthcare data laid the foundation for his entrepreneurial healthcare technology firms centered around analytics, revenue cycle, and clinical informatics. Through these ventures, he left corporate America behind, hired nearly 150 employees, and created his own “neurodiverse workplace culture. Shawn found that by cultivating an environment-dependent upon open, honest dialogue, clear communication, and vulnerability, the workplace culture was more supportive and accommodating to everyone’s needs. People were happier, more productive, and turnover rates were 0% after nearly 15 years. Shawn is a holder of multiple technology patents, which he utilized to create dozens of healthcare analytics platforms. He remains a well-respected speaker and author on critical healthcare issues. Shawn sold his company to private equity in 2019 and has dedicated the rest of his life to embracing neurodiversity and the powers it unlocks through thought leadership, personal security, and self-esteem in one’s uniqueness. As CIO of Potentia and The Neurodiversity Foundation founder, Shawn continues to build pathways for others on the spectrum to recognize their ability. He is a firm believer in “Strengths First.” During COVID-19, Shawn created the Potentia Health Registry (PHR), an information management and communications tool used to mitigate risk and provide early detection of COVID-19. He is now bringing this highly customizable solution to school systems and communities looking to reopen successfully.
***CORONA VIRUS EDITION***
In this episode Peter & Shawn discuss:
:40- Intro and welcome Shawn Fry
2:26- So what were you doing up until your diagnosis at 42, and were you happy?
5:13- On the others’ perception of Neurodiversity
6:36- Failure by assimilation. Neurodiverse “common sense” versus “we’ve never done anything that way before, are you crazy?” The highway is littered with great ideas that have been run over because managers didn’t bother to act on them for fear of what other people would think.
9:07- On educating others on how neurodiverse brains work, leveraging strengths and breaking down stereotypes.
11:11- The need to create an audience/creating the space & grace to allow us to DO what we do.
12:45- Regardless of market research money is going to move the needle; if you understand how to work that system, everyone benefits.
13:30- On using “reduction” to help neurotypical people comprehend. Ref: Cataloging research at The Neurodiverse Foundation
14:30- On growing up neuroatypical
15:11- On out-gauging IQ tests / the “show your work” mentality of testing
16:27- You have answers that people probably need to know about! But here’s the thing..
17:00- On Data Science
21:30- We’ve gotta have you back. This has been phenomenal. It’s so nice to hear what you’re doing and I love the fact that you’re doing it for all the right reasons. You guys are listening to Shawn Fry, thanks again, we’re going to have you back in the new year. I appreciate you taking the time.
21:44- Alright guys, Faster Than Normal…as always, we want to hear what you hear. Leave us a review, let us know what’s up. Talk to us about what’s happening on the street, you name it. You can always reach me via firstname.lastname@example.org or @petershankman on all of the socials. You can also find us at @FasterThanNormal on all of the socials. Drop us a review at any of the sites that you listen to podcasts on and let us know if you have any good guests. Shawn is phenomenal one, if you have any as good as Shawn, we’d love to hear about them. Have a great week. ADHD and all forms of our diversity is a gift, not a curse. We will see you next week. Stay healthy, stay safe, wear the mask, talk to you soon.
22:08- Faster Than Normal Podcast info & credits!
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Hey guys, Peter Shankman, this is Faster Than Normal, where ADHD is a gift and not a curse, and we love that you’re here. It’s been a week since our last podcast. So it’s always nice to see you guys back. We’re recording a whole bunch of them the last week of the year, and so, this is another one. It has been non-stop all day, we’ve been talking to so many brilliant people and our guest today is no exception. We’re talking to Shawn Fry, we’re going to entrepreneurship today. So Shawn was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 42 years old. After he realized that, after he got that diagnosis, he realized what was up with him, and that allowed him to achieve success in his professional life above and beyond anything he could have imagined. The CIO of several hospitals systems… completely rebuilt them, redid them, then he became an entrepreneur, focusing on entrepreneurial healthcare, technology, around analytics, revenue cycle, clinical informatics. He left corporate America behind, hired nearly 150 employees, created his own neuro diverse workplace culture. He got multiple patents under your belt, you’ve created dozens of healthcare, analytic platforms. You’re a well respected speaker and author on tons of different healthcare issues. You sold your company in 2019 to private equity. Spending the rest of his life, embracing neurodiversity, and the powers in the logics of leadership, personal security, and self-esteem in one’s uniqueness. I love that. He’s currently CEO of Potentia and the Neurodiversity Foundation. Let’s talk about that, Shawn, welcome to Faster Than Normal man.
Thanks Peter, thanks for having me.
No, it’s great to have you! So what were you doing up until 42. And were you happy?
That was a mixed bag, I wasn’t you know, I grew up…I grew up in Philly, you know, and there was no diagnosis back then, right, I was just a kid….very disruptive, uh, didn’t know how to socially integrate, uh, you know, I either had hyper-focus, or no interest whatsoever. I was voted the laziest person in my high school, which is so comical now to look back at it, you know, people have a tendency to cast dispersions on us when they don’t understand, and, uh, what’s interesting about my diagnosis with Asperger’s,I was a CIO of a hospital system. I was meeting the Chief Medical Officer, he was a close personal friend who knew me. We worked together pretty regularly, even though I’m not really good with people, I’m really good with data so I was able to, there’s a long story behind the pathway, of how I got there, uh, another person with Asperger’s interceded and got me into the hospital where I could, where I could work and shine and show the skills that we have. Uh, but I, I asked him, I said, Hey, John, can I, should I take some medicine for my ADHD? And he goes, he looks at me.. we were sitting over, lunch together, and goes, “you don’t have ADHD.” I was like, what do you mean? I said, I’m so hyper, I never slow down. He goes, Nope, you’re an Aspbe. I was like, what’s that? He goes, you have Asperger’s syndrome. I’m like, what’s that? I was like, you know any, he said, Sean, you have autism. I’d never heard it before. And I was 42 years old, gone through the school system, gone through college with, and really struggled in life. He didn’t really know that because he only ever saw me more professionally where I could mask, like I think we all do, you know, we’re always told to sit down, hold our hands together. not move around too much
Of course, we’re wearing different masks for different locations.
Different masks for different locations, right. So I went home and I looked it up. I looked it up on Wikipedia and I tell you what, if you die, if you type into Google right now, what is autism? You will not find one positive thing.
I was pissed. sorry if that’s… you know. I was upset. I was mad at him. I didn’t talk to him for two weeks until I started reading more about it. I, I, what my threshold to accept this about myself was, and then it just all started making sense.
I was like, I refuse to let the standard definition, the clinical definition, the DSM definition of either ADHD or autism define me. I knew I was a good person. I had something to contribute. I had some success at that point, but I was so afraid to put myself out there, because I knew that if people saw me for what I really was, they would diminish you. And now it was really the changing point in my life.
Well, the second you… the second you, when you, I mean, of course, if all you’re reading about is how it’s a negative, right. of course, the second that, you know, you publicize it, (indistinguishable) The whole world will think that you’re a negative because that’s what you’re seeing.
Right? There’s something wrong with me. I have, I have a learning disability, which is, which is, if you look at my history, it’s the opposite. I think all of you, if you find one of our hyper fixations, or when (indistinguishable) u know, these are, we are the ones that change the world. I mean, I did it. I started working on problems, my patents were on mathematical formulas and telecommunications. Nobody paid me to do that, nope. I just decided, you know what, this is a problem we’re solving.
And I started working on these uh, calculations and because of my, you know, my neurodiversity, I locked myself in a room for nine months and I would only leave on Wednesdays. Nine months later, I walked out of there. Uh, had solved some of these groundbreaking telecommunications issues, then submitted those for patents. When they got to the patent office, nobody in the patent office knew how to do the math, because nobody’s ever worked on the math this way before. and I was just starting to realize, well, because to me it was common sense, right? How do we structure things? But I didn’t do it because somebody paid me. I did it because it was a problem to solve, and… that’s what we do.
I think you struck on something there I’d like to touch on. You know, the premise of, to me, it was common sense, right? You know, I have everything I’ve ever done in my life, to me, it was common sense, right? But…. but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suggested something that sounds perfectly normal, and everyone’s looked at me like I told them I was a spotted owl, right? You know, it’s that… well, it makes perfect sense, why wouldn’t we do it this way? And you know, you get everything from, well, we never do it this way, that’s never the way we’ve done it, we’ve never done it that way. You know, what’s wrong with you? What do they think of us, whatever. But in our heads we’re sitting there going, but it works
Right, you are correct.
And I think that that’s, that’s difficult because that’s sort of, sort of like it’s failure by assimilation, right. And the respect that if you’re sitting there and you’re saying, okay, I know this works, but everyone’s going to call me an idiot. I don’t want to have to deal with that. I’m just not going to bring it up. The highway is littered with, with, great ideas that have been run over because people didn’t bother to act on them because they were afraid of what people would say.
Uh-huh That was it, exactly, and again, one of the advantages I have of not being, and I want to talk about how neuro people.. who are neuro-diverse are treated now and to no longer take that stigma. One of the advantages I had of growing up in Philly is you kind of get that little edge to you, right? The people in Philly are tough, the people in New York are tough. You kind of, you kind of let this stuff bounce off of you, so empowered with that and realizing that I was, you know, these ideas work. After I was diagnosed and realized that I think differently, and recognizing that had value, I started speaking up in meetings. I was afraid to do that before, because you know, first of all, a lot of people thought I was weird. I don’t go to lunches. I don’t go to happy hours. I don’t do things other people like to do, but I’m super interested in my work. So I started speaking up about some of the issues both the administration was making in the hospital, and particularly…. what just drove people crazy, I started challenging the doctors… on their, on the ways they were diagnosing patients, the way the care, the care plans, saying, listen either, there’s one of three things, happened here with this patient. You either misdiagnosed them cause they weren’t getting better, you provided the medication that can’t metabolize, or they’re not taking the medication. Who’s going to follow up with this patient and figure out why this patient’s still sick? Doctors don’t have time for that. As I started analyzing the data, I realized this is a prolific issue. These are things that are still issues in healthcare today, and if you’ve ever gone to the doctor and he’s put you on medication, you’re still six, six months later, or things get better. A lot of times people were put on medications that don’t really work. They just get better naturally, these are, these are prolific issues that there’s not a field of science because it is a neuro divergent thought process, that neuro typically, simply don’t synthesize. These are the kinds of ways that people like you and I, as you just like you, you’re challenging the way people are thinking about, So many, so many issues, and there has to be a form to bring that to the market. And you’re doing that and we need to create a louder voice. Our voices, our brains are not compromised. They do, they just run faster and they take more variables into consideration. It’s the calculus that we’re doing. Everything I do in my world. Everything is a math equation from the total number of times I brush my teeth, and in the weird pattern, which I do it, to how I organize my cereal and my closet, to how I organize my day. We’re not just random people, but other people looking at us think we look crazy, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s actually, I, I, I, I’m a strengths first, everything from my foundation to the workforce, we’re creating now is about listening. How do we leverage these strengths to people about their deficits? I talk about their strengths. And as they start to believe that, psychologically you start to see effective change.
I think there’s also a, um, a premise in there…. that… I remember everything I’ve ever started, every company I’ve ever built, and you know, people that, Oh my God, it just seems like I didn’t even hear about it yesterday and now it’s all over the place…. you might, you know, you got so lucky. Well, yeah, it was also 20 years of acting the way I act and doing the things I do and dealing with it on the says, you’re ridiculous for doing this, that brought me to this very moment. Right? And so the things that we do, you know, you wake up, every step you take, every cereal you eat… all that stuff, that’s who we are. And the benefit is there. But again, a lot of us are, are, are bogged down by the look of it. Oh, what are people going to think, right. But the fact of matter is, not that we’re changing anything, it simply works and we embrace it. (indistinguishable)
One thing I think you’re exactly right, but here’s the thing. We have to figure out a way to create an audience for it. have two children on the spectrum, so at least when they grew up, I had an idea of what kind of, what was going on and that began to manifest itself. So you start to develop and create a more creating space and grace for these people who have it, to see how they flourish. Uh, the greatest experiment that I had, that I’d never realized it was the thing after I left, after I started speaking up in the hospital, I started realizing these, these data problems that were demonstrating how hospitals didn’t click the document effectively didn’t do follow up correctly. Sometimes they had poor treatment plans, everything that carried over into the revenue cycle, which is where I really made money. When I started showing them, nobody listened to me until I showed them that these core client poor care plans cost us money. And I took the data and I showed them exactly how much money. And then all of a sudden people started to listen. It’s sad that it got down to that, that being right and being truthful was not actually got me, uh, you know, constigated, a lot of pejoratives, but but showing him where the money was is what eventually, while people to listen.
Well, actually it makes a lot of sense because, I mean, I remember even when I was working in the .com boom, right, and then the social media boom, right? We, you know, these, these, these CEOs, they hire these 20 something year old kids to handle their social media, and they convince by how many likes you have, and how many followers have you got? Okay, great, how does it translate to revenue, and they can’t answer, right, and they’re out on their ass. It doesn’t matter what industry it is. Money’s going to move the needle. And so the smart people are figuring out ways to connect the dots. I did some, some work in neuro diversity for a huge, um, uh, uh, uh, fast food restaurant. fast food chain And, you know, they realized that people were coming in and looking at the menu and leaving and they couldn’t figure out why. And I spent several days with them going to multiple restaurants. Guys, you have 200 items on the menu. it’s,, it’s digital display and ads are overlaying it, and I wanted to blow my brains out 30 seconds here. Right? Let’s go to this other place down the street. oh look, hamburger, cheeseburger, fries, shake done, you know, and all of a sudden there’s a problem that makes sense. There’s revenue, right? So the second you apply anything to money. and look, Is that right or wrong? I don’t know. But at the end of the day, if you understand how to work that system, everyone benefits.
Right. So in that process and the gap between the time I was 42, I’m currently 56, I had to come up with mental processes, mathematical formulas. And one of those is called reduction. I had to take the thoughts that we think in naturally, and you and I have zero problems thinking up, I track everything you’re saying, I track what you’re thinking behind what you’re saying, you know? So… but when we talk to a neurotypical, it’s overwhelming. They, they, they, they, they, it’s just so fast and so furious that they can’t follow. And a lot of times they don’t want to follow it’s too overwhelming. So reduction means taking these complex thoughts and reducing them down to something…. somebody, something somebody can make a decision on. It’s typically one, two or three points, that’s it. So reducing that menu down, is a perfect example of, uh, you know, allowing people to make a decision because you have to take, we have to think in the complex ways and everybody listening to this podcast does that, to translate back down to neurotypicals that you almost need a Rosetta Stone uh, breaking it back down to something they can assimilate and synthesize.
That’s actually a phenomenal, a phenomenal way to put it, exactly.
Part of my work at the Neurodiversity Foundation, is cataloging how people think, Uh, I have been a guinea pig since the time I was a child, because as a child, even though I had a really high IQ, I really struggled in school, uh, and they, you know, what’s wrong with your kid? Why isn’t he trying? And it got to …so it wasn’t a problem. I was the first person in my grade…in my school to be able to read. And then, you know, when I was reading, you know, I was reading tech manuals, military tech manuals, and they’re run, you know, I’m like, Hey, listen, let me know if you find something interesting.
I love it.
So, we want, there are people think differently and it’s never been cataloged. These IQ tests they gave me, eventually, as they did, as they started giving me these tests, I started realizing as we got to the higher range of the score, I was, I was starting to realize in these patterns how they were trying to gauge my intellect. And I was like, look, I can break it down for you that way, but I can break it down for you. these seven other ways are equally as valid, but you’re trying to compartmentalize my thoughts and…
Exactly. I call that… I call that the show your work mentality.
Oh my gosh. it’s (indistinguishable) You know, I, I don’t look at things like their grades or even their IQ. I mean, you have to look at the types of thought they’re capable of. IQ tests are not even designed to measure divergent thought. They’re designed to measure conversion/linear thought, like everybody else they’re automatically prejudiced against us. Even though we do exceptionally well, we still score higher, but it still doesn’t capture our top end. Most of the great revolutions taken on were by neuro divergent individuals for,,, whether there’s Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates. These people of course are all they’re all just like us. A perfect example was the, you know, the study on valedictorians, Valedictorians are generalists. They know a little bit about everything and they know a lot about everything, but they don’t really have a hyper fixation like we do. So if you’re sitting out there and you’re listening to this and you said, you know, whole lot about something, I don’t care if it’s logistics or supply chain or anything, you probably have answers that people need to know about., and that’s why entrepreneurship is something that I try to lead people on because… we are the great entrepreneurs, but we need help if I didn’t have, if I, you have to learn to surround yourself with people that can make a difference for you. And one thing that I didn’t realize was I (indistinguishable) Uh, and we went on and we just, you know, I never took them. I never borrowed $1. I took zero seed capital. I just started doing the math once the math was right. I knew I didn’t need money. I just wanted to start doing the math for other people. I funded the entire company, which went on to be very successful, you know, making $20 million a year, things like that. Uh, literally on, on something I wrote up in a notebook one day and just started applying it into our data When I presented it to the CEO, he literally cussed at me and threw me out of his office and told me I was crazy, and don’t meddle in that department. The chairs that originally hired me overrode it and said, Sean, go do it anyway. I’ll deal with you. You can’t be fired. I’ll go deal with it. After, when they originally filed those claims, we collected $126,000 when they filed my restructured claims, based on the math, we collected that we kept the $126,000. and got $500,000 additional revenue, and I never worked in that department, but the math led me to the truth. Right… data, data changes everything. but there are people out there, they have these degrees in data science, and then you get these certificates and things. There was no data science when we started doing it, why would I need a degree in data science? This is a field that we created the neuro divergence out there, you know, just like cloud computing, all these buzzwords. We’re usually doing it 10 years, 15 years before people ever even try, but we don’t get credit for our work simply because it’s not… categorized and cataloged by…. we are so far ahead of the curve, typically… we are entrepreneurs naturally. So, how do we parlay that into more success for individuals? And I’d love to answer any questions anybody has on how to go down that road.
I love that. I love that. Tell us how people can find you.
Uh, the easiest way to find me. I’m on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/shawnfry/ on the Linkedin…. um, my email address, if you want to reach me for work, is Shawn, Shawn.email@example.com Uh, where we’re leading a program that takes all neuro divergence, whether your autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and things like that. We’re creating, we have contracts in place, our first client was Chevron, our second client was (indistinguishable) so we, when we started telling people that neuro-divergence, this is not a nonprofit. I do have a non-profit foundation, where we do all the research, but this is a for profit, you know why? Because we make money for people. We don’t want sympathy. And there are people out there that were labeled us as abelists, and things like that. I hate that, I reject that label. I know there are, there are people out there and listen… I work with people all across the spectrum, nonverbal, nonambulatory, I love them, they’re all special people. I love them just as much, but we have, we have a resource that’s there to harness, and we become exceptional employees. Real quick… the first program we started… was my company, I had 150 employees, and when I went on to sell the company to private equity, these Wall Street, private equity firms, they look at everything. And one thing they asked me, he’s like, Hey Shawn, where’s your files? You know, the lawyers come in, where’s your files on turnover. I was like, what do you mean? He’s like, where are all the people that quit and you fired, and I was like, well, after 15 years, nobody ever quit. They’re like what? I’ve never heard of that, I didn’t even know it was a thing. So what I did though, was I created a company that worked around my proclivities and inclinations and things like that. I built a company that was designed around me… around my neuro-diversity and my sensory issues. In fact, I don’t like to be overwhelmed in meetings and I don’t want meetings to last more than 30 minutes unless they absolutely have to. And it turns out that that actually was conducive, not just for the neuro-diverse employees. And I include people in there with, uh, PTSD. There are other things that make you neuro-diverse people, even people with personality disorders, that don’t have integrated brains, still qualify under neurodiversity the way I define it. I’m creating an environment that’s safe for them, psychological safety being the first thing. And the first thing I tell people, I invert every equation mathematically, and I reward people for telling me what’s wrong for complaining or, you know, the faster you told me that you made a mistake, the more praise you get. And people started having psychological safety. What I recognized, is that their productivity multiplied. Having that ability, because most of us have been told, slow down, shut up, sit still, you know, Shawn, this is a listen-meeting, not a talk meeting.
Oh, yeah. I’ve heard that one too. I heard that one too. Awesome, we gotta have you back. This has been phenomenal. It’s so nice to,… to hear what you’re doing and I love the fact that you’re doing it for all the right reasons. You guys are listening to Shawn Fry, Shawn. really, thanks again, man. We’re going to have you back in the new year. I appreciate you taking the time.
Thanks for having me Peter.
All right guys, Faster Than Normal…as always, we want to hear what you hear. Leave us a review, let us know what’s up. Talk to us about what’s happening on the street, you name it. Peter Shankman (@petershankman) |Drop us a review at any of the sites that you listen to podcasts on and let us know if you have any good guests. Sean is a phenomenal one, if you have any as good as Sean, we’d love to hear about them. Have a great week. ADHD and all forms of our diversity is a gift, not a curse. We will see you next week. Stay healthy, stay safe, wear the mask, talk to you soon.
Credits: You’ve been listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher and Google play and of course at www.FasterThanNormal.com I’m your host, Peter Shankman and you can find me at petershankman.com and @petershankman on all of the socials. If you like what you’ve heard, why not head over to your favorite podcast platform of choice and leave us a review, come more people who leave positive reviews, the more the podcast has shown, and the more people we can help understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Opening and closing themes were performed by Steven Byrom and the opening introduction was recorded by Bernie Wagenblast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week.