In this episode, we sit with Gil Gershoni, a leader in the world of brand design, and talk about how his journey as a dyslexia designer has led him to unlock new futures, new realities, and new ways of thinking for brands. Gil is also the founder of Dyslexic Design Thinking, an initiative that explores how the dyslexic mindset can help improve the way we think, create and relate to one another. He hosts the Dyslexic Design Thinking podcast featuring dyslexic creators, entrepreneurs and thought-leaders.
PI: Gil, thank you for making time for us. We’ve been eager to talk to you for a while. Let’s start with what’s been on your mind lately and what you’ve been working on.
GG: Well, as someone with dyslexia, what’s been on my mind lately is turning our differences into strengths. I’ve been focusing on shifting from viewing dyslexia as a disability to embracing it as a hyper ability, a strength-based approach that rejuvenates everything I do. Practicing this mindset leads to collecting beautiful moments throughout the day, making even the mundane moments inspiring.
In our work at the agency, diversity has been a significant focus. We recently launched the Schwab Learning Center and worked on reimagining innovation with diversity. Over the past six months, we’ve partnered with various national and international foundations to promote human flourishing, a cause close to my heart. We’re investing in creating equality, fostering dialogue, and bringing people closer together by highlighting our similarities.
We’ve also enjoyed working with brands like Spotify, exploring cutting-edge music and content. As I grow wiser, I appreciate clients introducing me to emerging music, content, and ideas.
On the foundation side, Dyslexic Design Thinking, we’re gearing up for an exciting campaign in October, Dyslexia Awareness Month. We’re launching the “Dear Dyslexia, the Postcard Project” and collaborating with students of all ages, from six years old to 82. Participants share what dyslexia means to them in a single word and express it through art, poetry, doodles, or any creative medium they prefer. We’ve already received over a thousand postcards from around the world, involving nearly 30 schools from various states. In October, we’re heading to Washington, D.C., for an event on Capitol Hill, celebrating awareness and the incredible contributions of these individuals. I’m incredibly excited about it, and a lot is happening.
GG: The postcard project surprised me. When we first started the Dear Dyslexia project, I thought like half a dozen, two dozen, maybe kids would participate. And it started an exhibition at the end of 2022, going into 2023, which was another art installation we did, called Dyslexia Dictionary. And for that, we had nine individuals in different industries, from the governor of California, Governor Newsom, to fashion designers from London to poets and writers to scientists, all redefining what dyslexia is to them in a paragraph like a dictionary and then creating an art piece. A medium, whatever it is, to reflect that. And we invited students to that installation. What surprised me is that the nine artists globally are at the peak of their careers. They are amazing and thoughtful; their mediums are top of the game. But what surprised me was the children, we’ve got hundreds of postcards for that installation. And as you see, we had over a thousand guests in the gallery for the show. And these postcards mesmerized the audience that came through the gallery. And they almost didn’t overshadow the other artists, but it just created a completion of a show. And we say that we have nine artists, but the 10th artist was the kids. And we made the kids’ postcards in a mix of all the other robust physical installations.
So they were tying it all together. Some of the postcards were very telling, and I remember one was about resilience. It was a word by a ten-year-old from Sebastopol, California. We had one that said beautiful chaos by a 14-year-old with a beautiful drawing. Obviously, there were some things like somebody said, dyslexia to me is hard. And that was from Portland, Oregon, a 14-year-old child. So it was really to see the range of emotion, to see where they were based on their time, their day, their age — but the collective was what just surprised me and moved me, and when we went to the gallery at the time, you would see individuals standing by them, tearing both from joy as well as compassion. I mean, it was like it was moving. Um, and then what was surprising is that the schools and the kids did not want to stop. When the show was over, they kept sending me postcards. So then that’s what kind of catalyzed it to become its own exhibition. And, having it in Washington DC, we have about 4 or 5 events in October.
We were going to bring it to New York. We’re working on bringing it to California, and of course, we will have a beautiful exhibition online. That’s just been so joyful, insightful, and just so tremendously meaningful.
The second part of your question about what surprised me about the other work I do, working in branding and identity it’s that I’m a graduate of Pratt Institute, and, I had a major in computer graphics, a major in graphic design and communication arts, illustration and art history. And I was obsessed with education. And I just got so curious about the idea of learning. When I work with clients around branding, strategy, and identity, what surprises me is how that process is self-transforming for them individually as leaders and for their organization and, hopefully creating a long-lasting relationship between internal culture and their customers and their communities. And that’s always greater than the visual objects or the iconic campaigns that we do. Those are the last steps, the signifiers of the real pursuit of clarity and communication.
PI: I’d like to hear your example about how you’ve harnessed your dyslexia, typically seen as a disability, and turned it into a strength. Could you share a client-related experience illustrating how your unique problem-solving approach has led to better results?
GG: First and foremost, I’d like to clarify that I’m not an expert on dyslexia; I live with it. Over the last 30 years, my focus has been improving communication between people, whether within the neurodivergent community, education, art, or other fields.
Dyslexia, like many conditions, exists on a spectrum, and it’s essential to recognize its diversity. When I bring my dyslexic perspective into my professional work, I don’t always explicitly disclose it because sometimes our collaboration flows naturally, and that’s enough. What’s crucial is that we work together effectively.
One of my techniques, drawn from dyslexic design thinking, combines design thinking and dyslexic thinking. Design thinking is a problem-solving approach rooted in empathy, where you start by understanding the perspective of others, defining the problem, generating ideas, prototyping solutions, and testing them. Dyslexic thinking often involves strong visualization skills – if I can think it, I can see it, and if I can see it, I can bring it to life. This ability to visualize is a gift of dyslexia and has allowed me to generate new ideas constantly.
I’ve also learned to adapt my communication and reasoning skills, which helps me connect seemingly unrelated ideas. Curiosity and exploration are essential aspects of this process. Dyslexic design thinking combines these two modalities to create a collaborative approach to problem-solving that I can apply in various contexts.
Some key principles I use include seeing everything as negotiable, which stems from my dyslexic perspective of viewing language as flexible and changeable. This mindset is a valuable problem-solving skill.
Embracing a beginner’s mind is another principle; my mind tends to jump around, allowing me to approach problems with fresh perspectives consistently. In my agency, we practice techniques to cultivate a beginner’s mindset across our team, whether they are neurodivergent or neurotypical.
Lastly, I focus on unleashing the power of spinning. Dyslexics often experience mental stimulation, but learning to regulate it allows us to harness its potential. I can choose when to see things from multiple angles and when to focus.
These three principles—seeing everything as negotiable, embracing the beginner’s mind, and unleashing the power of spinning—provide a unique set of tools that can be applied to various situations, from problem-solving to collaboration.
So, these are some of the ideas and principles we embrace as we integrate dyslexic design thinking into our creative process.
GG: Certainly. Let me tell you about a project we undertook with Patron Spirits. Many in our audience are likely familiar with Patron Tequila and its various flavors and brands. We were the first agency to collaborate with Patron when they entered the market. At that time, despite our appreciation for tequila, we needed to gain in-depth knowledge about it. So, we began with the “beginner’s mind” approach. We flew to Jalisco, Mexico, and met with Francisco Alcaraz, the master distiller. We listened, eager to learn about his background, family, the land’s history, and the agave plant itself. Surprisingly, we discovered that the agave plant, the key ingredient in tequila, is not a cactus but a lily. This innocent curiosity led us to uncover astonishing details.
As we delved deeper, from examining the soil to meeting the farmers, we realized that more than 60 individuals were involved in crafting this product. This starkly contrasted with the tequila we knew in the United States, often consumed with salt and lime to mask its sharpness. In Mexico, we witnessed a beautiful, nuanced, and meticulously distilled product steeped in heritage and care for the agave plant, Mexican culture, and the community. When we shared this with Francisco, and Ed Brown, the CEO, their initial instinct was to optimize production. However, we insisted that the true story be told because this product was unique. This wouldn’t have been possible without approaching it with a beginner’s mind, without making assumptions.
The journey continued as we learned that “Patron” in Spanish means someone who cares for the land, farmers, family, and community. This philosophy was evident in every aspect of their operations. The brand was sitting atop a remarkable story that had been overlooked. By embracing the idea that “everything is negotiable” and crafting a new narrative, we began to unleash the brand’s potential from every angle. However, one final puzzle piece shaped our branding efforts and market expansion.
I took the iconic, short Patron Tequila bottle to a restaurant and asked the bartender for his opinion. He noted that the small bottle meant it didn’t fit well in the standard bar, but this forced it to be placed on the counter, making it the only bottle there. We saw this as a positive differentiator. When I inquired about putting it on the top shelf with other tall, glamorous bottles, the bartender explained that top-shelf products compete for visibility. In contrast, Patron’s short, distinctive bottle created a unique conversation. As I continued learning and discussing, a patron at the bar even asked about the bottle on the shelf, confirming our approach had potential. We shared these insights with Ed and the team, emphasizing the need to change the conversation and highlight the brand’s uniqueness. The rest, as they say, is history. These key elements formed our roadmap, allowing our agency and this fantastic brand to expand nationally and eventually internationally.
PI: Design thinking may not be a novel concept for some of your colleagues, and adding dyslexic design thinking on top of that might seem unfamiliar to them. However, beyond simply thinking or approaching tasks differently, I’ve observed that it enables you to delve deeper into conversations and perceive things in new ways. I’m particularly interested in how this shift in listening has opened up new perspectives and storytelling opportunities for you.
GG: That’s a profound question. We often take Listening and breathing for granted because they occur naturally. However, what if we intentionally practiced them? We discussed earlier the importance of practicing breathing and meditation. When it comes to listening, I aim to engage all my senses, to be fully present in the moment, and to see the person I’m listening to genuinely. This entails paying attention to words and gestures, eye expressions, body language, and the underlying intentions behind what is said.
PI: They’re all so relevant and so clever. Give us an example. Can you share an example of a project or client and how you implement all these different principles?
GG: We were the first agency on board with Patron Spirits. Most of our audience would recognize patron tequila with all these various sorts of flavors and brands and things. So we were one of the first agencies aboard when the product came to market. Um. One of the first things that we’ve done is that even though we love tequila at the agency, we didn’t know much about it. So, the first thing we did was embrace the beginner’s mind. We flew to Jalisco, Mexico, sat down with Francisco Alcaraz, the master distiller, and listened. And we wanted to know his background, his family, his history, the history of the land, you know, the history of the plant. I was surprised to learn that the agave plant, which is the plant that you make, distilled to tequila, it’s not a cactus; it’s a lily. And as we asked this question with a very innocent mind, with a very open heart, we just took the obvious or the thing that must be astonishing, like, wow, that is a fantastic thing. And as we went through from looking at the soil and meeting the farmers to how they, you know, cultivate the plant, it takes over seven years for it to mature.
The relationship between the distillation process and the plant, the fermentation of it, you know, I started to see that there were so many hands touching the product, and I started to count, you know, I had the little sketchbook, and I was, wow, just like. And by the time I finished for the week, we were there to get immersed. I clocked over 60 hands, and it blew me away that it’s something that in the U.S. at the time we were talking about 20-plus years ago, tequila was not a top-shelf product. It was something that most of us did with salt and lime to disguise the aggressiveness of the product. And the best thing was the following day, we would call each other and reminisce over the idea that we’re both hung over. But when I was in Mexico, I saw how they did that. It was a different product than I saw in the U.S. It was beautiful, It was sensitive, it was massively distilled. It was brought with heritage and carriage and, you know, and sensitivity to the process and to the history of the agave plant, to the Mexican culture, you know, and I remember I was telling Francisco. Then Ed Brown, the CEO, you know, over 60 hands are touching the product. And their first reaction was we had to optimize our operation.
And I was like, no, we have to tell the truth of the story because it’s a different type of product. And that would never have occurred to us if we hadn’t come to it. With that idea of the beginner’s mind to learn what is behind it without assumptions, you know? And from there, it only continues. You know, because I was talking to Francisco and said, what is a patron, the name of the product? And he says, well, in Spanish, a patron is somebody that takes care of the land, of the farmers, of their family, of their community. And I saw it in spades when I was there in Mexico. You know, everything had to be part of the ecosystem of taking care of each other, you know. And he said that’s why it’s patron. It’s, and I was like, wow, I never knew that. So then the stories start to emerge where everything was right in front of us, but it was literally that the brand was sitting on top of the story, and it was so obvious you couldn’t see it. So, as we start to use the idea that everything is negotiable, tell a new story and reinvent the category.
Unleashing the power, spinning, singing from every perspective, we start to sort of really see the uniqueness of the product and the last part of the equation; I think that shaped how we, you know, work with them to brand and to continue to bring the product to market.
I remember taking the bottle. It is very iconic, a short kind of bottle to a restaurant, to a bar, to a mixologist. And I said to the bartender, “What do you think about this product?” And he says, “Well, first off, the bottle is small. It doesn’t offend the well.” I wrote it down, but it doesn’t fit on the wall. I said, “What do you do with it if it doesn’t fit?” “Well, I will have to put it on the counter.” I wrote down the bottle on the counter. There was no other bottle on the counter. So that was a positive, not a negative. And then I said, “what do you think if this is a top-shelf product?” I said, “Well, tequila is not a top-shelf product.” “Do me a favor. Put it on the shelf next to all these very fancy, tall, shiny, you know, alluring, sexy bottles. And he says, Well, it’s not a top shelf product because top shelf water really fights for catching your eye.
This bottle is short and stodgy and creates this negative space on the shelf. And for me, I was like, okay, everybody’s going up. We’re going to go down. And I wrote that down as well. It says, You know, that created a new conversation. And remember as we were chatting and I was learning, and he was sharing stories, you know, there was a patron next to me at the bar. And she said, “Do you know what is that bottle?” Pointing to the Patron bottle on the shelf. And I thought we’re on to something.
When we got back to talk with Ed and the team, we highlighted all these moments that were going back to the idea that we were looking at how to change a conversation, how to find the truth and uniqueness of the brand that really can stand for what is about and change the story. And the rest was history.
Those are just a few of the things that became the roadmap, the action plan that allowed us as one of the agencies and them as an amazing brand to embrace it and continue to take the brand nationally and eventually internationally.
PI: Design thinking can be new for some of your collaborators. Layering on dyslexic design thinking on top of that could be a little bit unfamiliar to them. But on top of that, allowing you to not only think differently and maybe do things differently to unlock, you know, greater levels and layers of conversations, I’m also seeing that you’re listening differently. And how has listening differently also opened new perspectives for you and ways to tell stories about brands?
GG: What a beautiful question. Listening and breathing. It’s two things that we often take for granted. Because it happens and we can, you know, the ones that can’t hear, see, whatever, you know, it’s like one of those things that you don’t practice it. But what if you did? For me, when I come to listen, I want to listen with all my senses. You know, I want to listen with my whole body. I want to be fully present in myself so I can fully see you. Your gestures, your eyes, your body temperature, what you’re saying and why you’re saying it, and what’s underneath; what are your intentions? What is the intention that you can see, what is the intention that we can see, and how do you move around? How do you see others? And over time, as I spend a lot of time practicing this, you really can sense. The slightest of gestures, you know, the single word, the single lean, the moment that the person said something that you can see in their eyes, that was about their ancestors. I remember when we were sitting with Francisco Alcaraz in Mexico. It moved me so much the care and responsibility that he was carrying because of the heritage of the land and his people.
PI: Is there any piece of advice that you heard that resonates and that you feel has had a long-term effect that stuck with you?
GG: It’s a great question but also a tricky one because, as a dyslexic, there’s never one thing. There are always many things. So, it’s hard to pick the one piece of advice that sticks with me, but a few pieces of advice over the years have stuck with me. One piece of advice that was very, very close to my heart. You know, I was very, very close with my grandfather when I was a child. He’s originally from Argentina, and he migrated to Israel. And as a little boy, I loved hanging out with him. He was an old school. Well, he was an entrepreneur. But back in the day, we didn’t call it that. It was more of a hustler, you know, And he was good at making relationships. And he was good at negotiating. Again, that was not the term. It was more like haggling and more like getting the best price, but not because he was trying to get one over the merchant or the partner or the customer. He was trying to create a relationship. And what I’ve learned being with him is that a good relationship is one in which we both walk away feeling that it was a mutual moment. If it’s collaboration, it’s not about compromise. It’s about being together. It’s better if it’s about making a deal. If the deal is equal for both of us, we both succeed.
We’re going to have a long-term relationship. We’re going to support each other is what we do. So it’s always about learning. Is the other person? What matters to them? Before I put my own needs into the configuration or the exercise or into the negotiation or the haggling, you know. So it’s investing in the other person first because then the results for me is always been that not only do I understand them, I know them, I know their family, I know what matters to them that only can help get a good deal for me. But I can go deal for both of us, and we can build, you know, a future together. So I love that. And I think about my grandfather every day, and I use a lot of the sort of wisdom that I got from hanging out with him as a little boy in everything I do. You know, um, another piece of advice that my grandmother always taught me is that she was so talented. She was a piano player and an excellent cook and, you know, a seamstress, and I mean, she was just so creative in so many different, different ways. And I remember one time I saw she was sewing a pillow. And she was sewing the inside of the pillow with so much care. Then she took the little scissors, and she cut the string, and she tied it and was like, Grandma, like, nobody’s going to see the inside. And she said it’s not about seeing the inside. It’s like the inside is as beautiful as the outside. The pillow is going to glow. And it brings me to tears to think about it, because it’s a practice I do every day with my practice. When you take care of your inner world, the outer world shines even more when you take care of the work you do in any way with the same respect and quality on the smallest of gestures.
PI: So we talked about haggling versus negotiating negotiation. We talked about being an entrepreneur versus a hustler: just the same thing, but a different frame of reference or vantage point. I’m curious if there’s something you wish more people talked about, acted on or were mindful of, but from a different vantage point.
PI: October is here! You had a lot going on for the month of October?
GG: Like as I said at the top of the hour, so we have our exhibition that’s coming up. And if you are dyslexic and proud and want to participate, please join us. You can download our postcards from our website, and fill it out. You can take a picture and email it to us or mail it to us. We will include every postcard that comes to us both on our online gallery and our physical exhibitions around the country. So we invite everybody to be a part of that. Our podcast is on fire right now. We’ve had so many amazing dyslexics, and the focus of the podcast Dyslexic Design Thinking is that you can get it anywhere you get. The podcast is really around the idea of dyslexia, innovation and creativity. So we’re talking to people from all over the world, from every industry, about how they transform what they do and how they apply their dyslexia thinking into the work they do. So we have artists, surgeons, filmmakers, philosophers, entrepreneurs, community leaders. The list goes on and on of individuals just are phenomenally inspiring. So that’s an ongoing series we’re doing and we’re just coming to the end of season two this year and we’re already like full, full steam ahead on season three, which will start next year.
As far as the work we’re doing at the agency, I’m just so moved right now. Our team is phenomenal. Everybody on the Gershoni agency team comes from a multidisciplinary perspective. They are self-starters, very coachable, open, even though they’ve been in the industry for 20 years. So, every day, the playoff collaboration just moves me to no end. Then we use that synergy in that play to apply it to all the work we do, you know, from local, goat cheese brand that we just relaunched here in California. Delicious. Laura Chanel Goat cheese. The best, Just can’t get enough of it. And working right now on amazing body creams and cosmetics and all sorts of different products that not only good for the whole body but also good for the earth and bringing humanity together through taking care of your largest organ, which is your skin, um, working with foundations around the world or human flourishing. So I’m really excited. We’re in a great space right now.
PI: It sounds like you’re going to be very busy in the next few months and we’ll make sure to share, of course, all the links to all these different initiatives that you have so that people can get in touch with you. Tell us, what’s your preferred way of people getting in touch with you both for the Dear Dyslexia Initiative and for your agency and the podcast?
GG: The best way to reach us is through for the agency itself: gershony.com and the dyslexicdesignthinking.com. You can check out the exhibitions, our podcasts or books, our other involvement talks and the Dear Dyslexia postcard. You can go there and download the postcard template. You can also find us on Instagram for both of those handles, dyslexicdesignthinking and dearDyslexiapostcards.
PI: Thank you for joining Fanny and I, in this conversation with Gil Gershoni about how seeing the world differently is just what we need to usher in new ways of doing and thinking.
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