Dolf DeJong is the CEO of The Toronto Zoo, home of more than 4,000 animals spanning across a property of 710 acres. In his childhood, Dolf visited the zoo often and developed a strong passion and connection to wildlife. An educator by training, Dolf was sure he would end up in the classroom, but stumbled into the path of management and tapped into his passion for wildlife he developed years ago. Today, Dolf leads the Toronto Zoo team in their mission to connect guests to wildlife and create the core link between connection and caring in order to fight the growing risk of extinction worldwide. In this interview, Dolf shares his insights on the power of ruthless optimism, separating music from the noise, and scarring people in positive ways.
“The spirit of ruthless optimism is required.”
Dolf doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that the environment isn’t getting better. To combat the constant stress and fatigue caused by the negative news we are always surrounded by, Dolf has found serenity through the power of ruthless optimism. By constantly seeing the good in things, we can still feel encouraged to make a difference and fight through the negatives to see the light in the dark tunnel.
The power of ruthless optimism spans further than just the environment. In the operations world, overcoming challenges that linger from the pandemic in addition to other common issues like understaffing can create stress and fatigue and cause burnout. By applying these same concepts, the spirit of ruthless optimism will help you through the challenges and allow you to keep making strides day by day.
Separating Music from the Noise
“We want to respect tradition, but we don’t want to fall to toxic nostalgia.”
Within the Toronto Zoo operation, Dolf is faced with the challenge of taking care of his frontline team members as well as over 4,000 animals. Every day, Dolf meets with team members and animals to find where the pulse is to separate the music from the noise and turn that into meaningful action to evolve the operation.
Dolf stresses the importance of having a diversity of voices around you to not get lost in the noise. In addition, having the ability to talk to anyone at any time can help you turn your plan into action after finding the music. Knowing that you have weight and that your conversation can be treated as direction drastically impacts team members and allows for you to create meaningful changes within your operation.
Scarring People in Positive Ways
“Human interaction improves retention of information.”
By running a massive operation responsible for sending a message to guests, Dolf is faced with challenges like balancing entertainment and education, but primarily making a lasting impact on guests. By creating moments for human interaction, guests will feel more connected to the experience and develop a lasting imprint. However, the major challenge of making a lasting impact is the sheer diversity of the audience.
One in every five people read signs. Dolf knows that to cater to a larger audience, there needs to be several ways to send a message to the guests. By giving guests tangible action to take, such as eating one less course of meat every week, guests can see that their actions have an impact, and assists in developing that lasting imprint. The information and connections that are created at experiences like the Toronto Zoo can change the trajectory of lives, and Dolf knows that we need to focus on what will come back with the guest tomorrow if we truly want to make change.
This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the incredible work of our amazing team:
- Summary by Mason Nichols
- Video editing by Abigail Giganan
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