AGP Ep 12: John Smilek—Getting the best from ASD in IT, both challenges and superpowers

by | Dec 20, 2016

John Smilek had a difficult childhood, and Aspergers on top of that. But John’s eye-opening experiences early in life lead to a positive outlook and a passion for personal development. John is now the CIO of Streamline Products and an active champion for the development of young people in the community.


What did you think?

Thumbs up
Thumbs down
Close podcast feedback section

Spread the love!

Close show some love section

If you enjoyed the episode, you can help us by doing one or more of the following...

Subscribe via email

Give us feedback

Close feedback form section

Thank you for your honesty. How can we improve?

4 + 1 =

“People probably are the most complex thing that I have to understand” —John Smilek
"To be a leader is to be an engine of change" —John Smilek
“A CIO needs to be the bridge that brings all different departments" —John Smilek

Show notes


John is very passionate about dynamic and flexible workplaces, referencing:

  •  Ricardo Semler and Semco Partners
    •  Semler (CEO) spends time lifting up and empowering staff personally.
    •  Staff run the business how they want to. Very flexible.
    •  Staff feel a strong sense of purpose. They feel like they’re contributing to a vision.
    •  Staff have been offered up to 400% more money elsewhere. But they don’t leave.
    •  Semler received a plaque from his staff for: 10 years without making a decision. He was very proud.
  • More information on the leadership style of SemCo
  • Please subscribe, comment, share and review the episodes, it will make a big difference to our ability to continue with these. Thank you!



Topics discussed

  • Learning how to lead despite limitations
  • Balancing ego and humility
  • The importance of self-awareness and self-reflection
  • Dealing with difficult people and rising above
  • The importance of empowering your staff to make decisions

Questions asked

  • 0:34 Would you say you have a passion for learning? Or technology? Or both?
  • 1:49 What drew you to leadership?
  • 10:52 What do you see the role of a leader is, specially in technology?
  • 13:29 Could you tell us an example of when you guided a business towards the future?
  • 18:31 Is that a conscious decision to work with SMEs instead of larger organizations?
  • 19:50 Do you think you learned about leadership through your teaching or you taught what you learned in business?
  • 24:05 Do you think you felt supported while teaching leadership to young people to make mistakes and learn
  • 33:13 How do you deal with people when you argue on a logical level but they don’t?
  • 41:06 How do you think about autism?
  • 58:40 How do you think about motivating people?
  • 1:00:58 Has that bigger purpose been with you all your life? Or is it something you had to develop?
  • 1:07:11 How important is connecting people to the role of a CIO?
  • 1:17:45 Do you see your role as a storyteller


  • 1:20 “People probably are the most complex thing that I have to understand” —John Smilek
  • 11:15 “To be a leader is to be an engine of change” —John Smilek
  • 11:32 “There is a mistake that a lot of boards in a lot of companies make: they do not perceive technology as part of the business, but they see it as an independent unit outside of the business” —John Smilek
  • 25:10 “I was willing to change and grow and be the person I needed to be for the organizations I was part of to succeed” —John Smilek
  • 54:05 “You need the ego to lead, but you need the humility to back out, go behind the scenes and let others run the company” —John Smilek
  • 54:32 “The more control we have the more we feel we mitigated risk, but often time we increase risk because we stifle innovation and creativity” —Andrew Ramsden
  • 1:00:4 “You don’t have to be a ‘Martin Luther King’, but you can do small things with the people you deal with everyday and that will impact their lives” —John Smilek
  • 1:02:13 “I don’t treat management any different from how I treat house staff. I see them equally” —John Smilek
  • 1:07:30 “a CIO needs to be the bridge that brings all different departments together and bring clarity and transparency about what he does” —John Smilek
  • 1:10:22 “A good CIO would understand the business better than any other department head, because technology affects everyone in the company, even customers!” —John Smilek

[et_bloom_inline optin_id="optin_2"]

How do your leadership skills stack up?

Take the 6 minute test