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.
There 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