Success tip: Think like a dyslexic

Fiona Smith Columnist

Success tip: Think like a dyslexic

Published 26 November 2013 12:10, Updated 27 November 2013 16:39

Jonathan Ive, chief designer for Apple, is dyslexic – just like Apple founder Steve Jobs. The inability to decipher text is a curse for most people with dyslexia. It makes them outsiders in a world where everything is written. But for some, the condition has become a strength. The way their brains compensate has been a defining element of their outrageous success.Looking at a list of famous people who have dyslexia, it is tempting to conclude that a dyslexic style of thinking is necessary to become someone – such as Virgin entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, inventors Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, actor Tom Cruise, artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Apple powerhouses, founder Steve Jobs and designer Jony Ive, architect Lord Richard Rogers, and Australian billionaires, Kerry Stokes and the late Kerry Packer.

However, it should be remembered that most people with the condition do not become rich and famous. Dyslexia is thought to affect up to 10 per cent of the population and many of them have a miserable time at school.

According to a UK study, dyslexics make up more than half of the children failing standard assessment tests. If it is undiagnosed, they often become adults who struggle to fulfil their potential.

Where they excel

However, it is worth looking at why dyslexics make up a disproportionate number of successful entrepreneurs. In Britain, 40 per cent of millionairespolled by the BBC

were dyslexic thinkers and, in the US, there was a 35 per cent correlation between dyslexia and entrepreneurialism, according to the Cass Business School.

Dyslexic thinkers are said to excel in visual-spatial tasks involving whole-picture thinking and finding original and creative solutions to things. They also have less neural activity in parts of the brain that are vital to reading (in the temporal lobe).

While dyslexics tend not to be good at details, it is believed they learn to excel by grasping the bigger picture and producing original ideas. Social exclusion may also be a factor in making them more motivated.

According to the author of The Gift of Dyslexia, Ron Davis, people with the condition share certain mental functions:

1. They can use the brain’s ability to alter and create perceptions (the primary ability).

2. They are highly aware of the environment.

3. They are more curious than average.

4. They think mainly in pictures instead of words.

5. They are highly intuitive and insightful.

6. They think and perceive multi-dimensionally (using all the senses).

7. They can experience thought as reality.

8. They have vivid imaginations.

Davis was functionally illiterate until age 38, but is a successful engineer, businessman and artist.

“These eight basic abilities, if not suppressed, invalidated or destroyed by parents or the educational process, will result in two characteristics: higher than normal intelligence, and extraordinary creative abilities,” he writes in his book.

The bigger picture

Sir Richard Branson made his first million by the age of 18, after founding a record label, and is now a billionaire. However, he says he did not understand the difference between net and gross profit until it was explained to him three years ago.

“One of the problems about being dyslexic is that you don’t perform well at school and I knew I wasn’t going to pass my exams so I did other things,”Branson said. “Being dyslexic means I am good at delegation and the bigger picture.”

Professor Julie Logan, of the Cass Business School in London, (who did the entrepreneurship study) says dyslexics who face problems at school often develop just the kind of skills they’ll eventually need to launch and grow their own businesses.

These skills include the ability to delegate, excellent oral communication, problem-solving skills, and perseverance.

“The ability to attack problems and solve them is essential when one is creating a new venture, so the dyslexic who has had to overcome problems to survive at school has much experience in this area,” says Logan.

“[People who are dyslexic] are also already used to persevering in the face of difficulty.”

Beaten for ‘failing’

Architect Lord Richard Rogers was reportedly regularly beaten as a schoolboy because of his poor academic results.

“I found school very difficult,’’ he told BRW when in Australia in 2010.

He was sent to a school for “backward’’ children and then spent two years in Italy doing military service, where he could appreciate the buildings designed by his father’s cousin Ernesto Rogers, one of Italy’s prominent architects.

“I couldn’t get into the Architectural Association School of Architecture before, but when I got back, they gave me a chance because of my military service,’’ he said.

Rogers graduated from the Yale School of Architecture in 1962.

His dyslexia meant he didn’t learn to read until he was 11 years old. “My spelling is bad and I have a terrible problem with names. When I write, I am pretty slow but my concentration is good.” Rogers said he relies on his team to fill in gaps.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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