Hi! I’m Margie Meacham – The Brain Lady

It’s funny how we arrive at our calling in life, isn’t it? In my case, my unique brain has been leading me along my current path for quite a long time, although I didn’t always realize what was happening.

That’s me on the left. The little blond in front is the sister who taught me how to read.

Why work with me?

When I was in first grade, I couldn’t read. My handwriting was terrible, and my teachers were frustrated with the many “careless” mistakes I made in math and spelling. At the end of the term, I found myself sitting outside the principal’s office and heard her tell my parents that I was “slow” and needed to take first grade over again. My father’s reply changed my life. “Our daughter is not stupid. If she’s having trouble in school, it’s your job to help her.” Now, the good Sisters of St. Agnes were aware that my father had six children, and that it might be a good idea to keep him happy so that he continued sending his kids to their private school. So, a deal was struck between my family and my teachers. If I could catch up with my classmates, I could continue to the second grade in the Fall. If not, I would be relegated to a “remedial” group to prepare for a future of limited options.

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC

I spent that summer learning to read. While I remember everyone in the family helping me, one of my younger sisters finally broke through, by reading her Dr. Suess books to me. Once I figured out how my brain worked, I was on my way. I not only caught up with my classmates, I also developed into an enthusiastic learner and passionate note-taker, graduating magna cum laude from high school and college.

Still with the love of my life. Different hair, same smile.

But I fell in love and got married, and income was suddenly a pressing need, so I took a part-time job in my junior year to make ends meet. My mother had insisted that I take secretarial training in high school, “just in case” the whole going to college thing didn’t work out. I was taking a typing test when a recruiter in the next room heard my flying fingers on the typewriter. She rushed me across town to be trained to work as a word processor. Within a month I was working extra hours performing backups on huge floppy disks and automating little processes.

I found out that I love technology and what it can do for us.

For me, selling technology to big businesses was always about teaching customers the value of my products.

When I got the chance to be a “junior” sales representative for a major telecom company, I jumped at the chance to make some real money over the summer, fully expecting to teach high school English in the Fall. I soon discovered that effective selling is a lot like teaching – you must educate the customer first, before they will make the decision to buy your product. I was supposed to be digging up leads for the “real” salesperson to handle, but I kept closing the deals myself. It seemed easy to me – I just talked about their business and my product.

After being the top salesperson in the region for five years in a row, I was invited to start a sales training program. At the time, it never occurred to me that I was putting my education into practice. It was just a nice, new job with steadier hours. And when I took advantage of the company tuition assistance program to earn a master’s degree in adult education, I never thought I’d be writing about neuroscience and artificial intelligence 10 years later.

I played the corporate America game for a while, moving into roles of increasing responsibility, until I realized that I was getting too far away from what I loved – helping people learn. When I left my corporate training leader job to start my own consulting business, my former bosses hired me as their newly-minted learning consultant, and I was on my way.

A few years into a successful consulting career, I wrote a blog post about intelligence and the emerging connections between neuroscience and artificial intelligence. A neuroscientist noticed that post and shared it around. Then someone invited me to speak at an industry conference, and another and another. After I wrote my first book, more speaking opportunities followed. I designed a course on “Brain-Based Learning,” and started talking about the AI-neuroscience connection in my webinars and public appearances.

One day, I was talking to a friend at ATD about an idea for a book, and he encouraged me to pursue it. The result was AI in Talent Development: Capitalize on the AI Revolution to Transform the Way You Work, Learn, and Live. Today I’m helping organizations deploy AI to build truly personalized coaching tools and design any learning experience with the brain in mind, using models that come directly from the latest discoveries in cognitive science and machine learning.

This is me, dressing up as a neuron for one of my classes.

It may seem that I was just bouncing from job to job, and it certainly felt that way sometimes. But now I look back and see that I wasn’t taking random sideways steps; I was following a path—my path. A meandering, leisurely journey toward my realization that I have something unique to offer. Something born of my own struggles in school and my passion for helping others learn through the application of science and technology.

What’s next for me? I’m not quite sure, but I’m enjoying the journey – and I hope you’ll join me and follow your own calling.

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