The Up Side of Dyslexia

One of the more interesting connections regarding people with wiring differences is the positive impact of dyslexia. Dyslexic students may confound their teachers, and cause those teachers to pursue alternative teaching styles, but in the long run, those same students may turn out to be the more creative and entrepreneurial.

There have been a number of articles written, and research studies carried out, showing that “dyslexics are extraordinarily creative about maneuvering their way around problems.” This comes from a December 2007 article in the NY Times Tracing Business Acumen to Dyslexia.

For a more in-depth article about some well-known dyslexics who are highly successful, read Overcoming Dyslexia, an article published in May 2002 in Fortune magazine. The article discusses Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin line (records and airways), Charles Schwab, developer of the discount brokerage business, John Chambers, CEO of Cisco (a technology company), and David Boies, “a celebrated trial attorney, best known as the guy who beat Microsoft” and also for pushing Al Gore’s case in the 2002 battle between Gore and George W. Bush for President of the United States.

The author, Betsy Morris, provides the best description of dyslexia that I have yet to see, and one that most people can probably understand.

What exactly is dyslexia? The Everyman definition calls it a reading disorder in which people jumble letters, confusing dog with god, say, or box with pox. The exact cause is unclear; scientists believe it has to do with the way a developing brain is wired. Difficulty reading, spelling, and writing are typical symptoms. But dyslexia often comes with one or more other learning problems as well, including trouble with math, auditory processing, organizational skills, and memory. No two dyslexics are alike–each has his own set of weaknesses and strengths.

I found it interesting to learn more about the characters mentioned in Morris’s Fortune article. Richard Branson participated in a wonderfully entertaining and illuminating interview, Life at 30,000 feet, at the March 2007 TED. Here is the opening text lead in to his interview: “When Richard Branson was at school, his headmaster predicted he would wind up either a millionaire or in jail.”

Charles Schwab may be one of the wealthiest people in America, having amassed a fortune running a brokerage business, but he put his money where his heart was – in helping others with learning difficulties. In addition to partnering with Mel Levine to create All Kinds of Minds, his Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation has undertaken a number of initiatives, among them SchwabLearning.org – A Parent’s Guide to Helping Kids With Learning Difficulties, and SparkTop.org, “the first website created expressly for kids with learning difficulties…”

CISCO Systems is a billion dollar technology company and its CEO is John T. Chambers, noted “for his visionary strategy, his ability to drive an entrepreneurial culture, and his warm-hearted, straight-talking approach.” Not content to merely run the company, Chambers is also involved in international philanthropy.

Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP came into existence in 1997 when David Boies and Jonathan Schiller joined forces to create their own law firm and build on their expertise.

Going back to our first character, Richard Branson, and his TED interview, I recently watched The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED, a 74 minute movie about the 2007 TED conference. Since the TED talks are available online, I had already viewed many of the talks highlighted in the movie. This second time ‘round got me thinking about something else other than the content of the talks: As many of the one thousand TED attendees are entrepreneurs, how many of them have dyslexia or other learning differences? It would be an easy poll to conduct, and a fascinating topic to discuss amongst them. I’m off to send TED curator Chris Anderson an email!

p.s. R – Happy 17th Birthday on the 16th!

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