Dyslexia – the invisible fuel of entrepreneurs?

Once again, Malcolm Gladwell offers us many “flipped perspectives” in David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.  For those of you who like oral story telling you can find Malcolm telling the story (Ted – Ideas worth spreading) of David and Goliath reinterpreted that capture his imagination.

As I devoured the book upon release, I was stunned to come across the following:

“Can dyslexia turn out to be a desirable difficulty? It is hard to believe that it can, given how many people struggle with the disorder throughout their lives— except for a strange fact. An extraordinarily high number of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic. A recent study by Julie Logan at City University London puts the number somewhere around a third. The list includes many of the most famous innovators of the past few decades. Richard Branson, the British billionaire entrepreneur, is dyslexic. Charles Schwab, the founder of the discount brokerage that bears his name, is dyslexic, as are the cell phone pioneer Craig McCaw; David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue; John Chambers, the CEO of the technology giant Cisco; Paul Orfalea, the founder of Kinko’s— to name just a few. The neuroscientist Sharon Thompson-Schill remembers speaking at a meeting of prominent university donors— virtually all of them successful business people— and on a whim asking how many of them had ever been diagnosed with a learning disorder. “Half the hands went up,” she said. “It was unbelievable.”

“There are two possible interpretations for this fact. One is that this remarkable group of people triumphed in spite of their disability: they are so smart and so creative that nothing— not even a lifetime of struggling with reading— could stop them. The second, more intriguing, possibility is that they succeeded, in part, because of their disorder— that they learned something in their struggle that proved to be of enormous advantage. Would you wish dyslexia on your child? If the second of these possibilities is true, you just might.”

In the middle of a longitudinal research study on what are the factors leading to new venture success, it never occurred to me to survey the participants for the presence of learning difficulties. If true, this research would explain so much of the observations of the nature of entrepreneurs and their apparent lack of interest in reading anything or studying anything in a traditional book learning manner.

Sally Ann Clarke sheds light on dyslexic entrepreneurs in her presentation:

dyslexic entrepreneurs

It’s not that the participants are disinterested, it’s that reading is so hard and a dyslexic entrepreneur has to be very parsimonious with what they read. They’d much rather spend their time doing, making or selling, rather than traditional learning.

Stay tuned.

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, checkout Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

This entry was posted in Entrepreneuring, Flipped Perspective. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dyslexia – the invisible fuel of entrepreneurs?

  1. skmurphy says:

    In my experience dyslexia is common among engineers and entrepreneurs (1/6 to 1/4 against a baseline rate may be 1/20 to 1/10 of general population). I think successful dyslexics (and many are not successful due to educational deficits caused by a lack of appropriate instruction–based on Orton Gillingham methods for example) learn early that many things that come easily to their peers require hard work, and this habit of hard work and perseverance serves them well when they start their own firms.

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