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Dyslexia: barrier or bonus in business?

As a researcher and consultant on dyslexia and entrepreneurial behaviour, I read articles telling me that successful entrepreneurs have ‘overcome’ their dyslexia in order to become successful. Two examples are articles about serial entrepreneur and Dragon Theo Paphitis and distinguished architect Sir Richard Rogers. The implication from the language used is that dyslexia has to be controlled - wrestled to the ground - for success to come.  

A busy function roomThere is no doubt that you must have a plan of action if you are dyslexic and want to be successful in business. You must be equipped and ready with a way to get round processing difficulties that may arise in any given moment. For example, a client was asked to make a speech at a busy business function without prior warning; he had five minutes to prepare in a noisy room full of his prospects. The expectations of the host and the environment in which he was asked to prepare contrived to make a 'dyslexic hell', where effective processing can be clouded by time pressure and noise. 

Strategies are needed

There are strategies to soften the impact of environments such as the busy function room which can make a positive difference to the outcome for the dyslexic person. And the good news is that these strategies can be learned. They help to bring about more effective functioning, but in the case above it was the environment that was the challenge to be overcome, not dyslexia. Similarly, maybe what should be said is that Theo Paphitis and Sir Richard Rogers have overcome their environment in order to become successful. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why so many dyslexics set up their own businesses – it enables them to better control the business environment they have to work within.

A Dragon’s view

In his autobiography Enter the Dragon, Theo Paphitis describes how he started to ‘recognise’ his dyslexia and cites this process as an important lesson which has stood him in good stead ever since. So perhaps ‘recognition’ might be a more accurate term to use than 'overcoming'.

A shifting paradigm

The idea of ‘overcoming’ dyslexia in order to be successful also fails to take into account the benefits that dyslexic-style thinking can bring to business. Their talents in creative and innovative problem-solving, team-building and ‘big-picture’ thinking make dyslexic thinkers valuable assets to entrepreneurial ventures. This is becoming an established area of interest to researchers and writers, with books such as In The Mind’s Eye by Tom West and The Dyslexic Advantage by Eide and Eide calling for a paradigm shift in the way dyslexia is viewed.  

Changes in perception of dyslexia are not confined to researchers and academics. The views of Sir Richard Branson on his dyslexia are well known, and inspiring a new generation of young entrepreneurs. Sites such as Dyslexic Power  feature interviews with successful dyslexic entrepreneurs who want to share the bonuses that their dyslexia gives them.  Far from being something that has to be ‘overcome’ for success to follow, the entrepreneurs interviewed by Dyslexic Power’s Marcus Rowntree know that it is something to be embraced and recognised as a bonus and not a barrier in business.

Jan Halfpenny writes, conducts research and trains organisations and individuals on dyslexia and business.  

Recent research on dyslexic entrepreneurs: In Their Element: The Case for Investing in Dyslexic Entrepreneurs

Comments

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Mike F. says:

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Many a dyslexic seem to stand out in areas of creativity requiring excellent spatial awareness; notably, Architecture. Why is this?

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Read it - love it! I completely agree that we need to provide strategies to minimise the negatives, PLUS give encouragement to emphasise the positives of being Dyslexic. www.fightforyourchild.com

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I find your article really insightful and it echoes the experiences of several people I have met while working as a coach on the topic of career confidence. A viewpoint which acknowledges the differences which dyslexia may bring, rather than judging these as deficiencies seems beneficial for all - not least the businesses that benefit from the talents of those in their workforce who happen also to be dyslexic.

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There is similar language used when there are articles about dyspraxia and AD(H)D.
As a person who has dyspraxia and has a child who has dyspraxia I am constantly disappointed by the language used when reporting
success and interest stories.
The charities associated with dyslexia and dyspraxia raise awareness by reporting "success" stories but often use language :suffered and overcome, in the reporting of these positive stories.
It is the negative connotation of such language that reinforces a paternal and somewhat condescending attitude. It is often dyslexia or dyspraxia that is mentioned first rather than the success in whatever field it may be. It irritates me making me feel I am being told "the rest of you could suceed if only you tried hard enough." I think we have all heard that too many times before.

I understand why the stories are publicised showing role models are a recognised way of inspiring and reassuring people BUT I would like a change in the language and reporting style.

says:

on

There is similar language used when there are articles about dyspraxia and AD(H)D.
As a person who has dyspraxia and has a child who has dyspraxia I am constantly disappointed by the language used when reporting
success and interest stories.
The charities associated with dyslexia and dyspraxia raise awareness by reporting "success" stories but often use language :suffered and overcome, in the reporting of these positive stories.
It is the negative connotation of such language that reinforces a paternal and somewhat condescending attitude. It is often dyslexia or dyspraxia that is mentioned first rather than the success in whatever field it may be. It irritates me making me feel I am being told "the rest of you could suceed if only you tried hard enough." I think we have all heard that too many times before.

I understand why the stories are publicised showing role models are a recognised way of inspiring and reassuring people BUT I would like a change in the language and reporting style.

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