A Mother and Daughter
A mother brought her dyslexic daughter to a clinical psychologist for assessment. Sitting in her chair, sheepdog beneath the desk, the doctor explained that the young lady was like a sunflower growing up against a wall.
The growth would be painful and slow before she reached the ledge, but once she got to the sun there would be no limits.
The dyslexia of Chris Dawson
Chris Dawson is mic-ed up before he takes the stage on the back of flat-bed lorry. Surrounded by product and in front of a captive Devon audience, within moments he is selling ironing boards, curtains and other home essentials at knock-down prices. He knows his customer, knows his price and knows his product. It is a show and Dawson is ringmaster.
The thing is, the lorry is in the car park of a new multi-million Range superstore, the latest of over 150 stores Dawson has opened across the UK and Ireland. A hat-tip to humble beginnings, this high-school dropout built his £1 billion retail empire from scratch, out the back of a van.
Ask him how he did it and it will sound remarkably simple. Examine how he did it and it might change how you view academic achievement forever.
Dawson, a dyslexic, left school in his teens unable to write. He still can’t.
“I didn’t really enjoy school, it was awkward for me. I was forever in trouble silly because I didn’t have the ability to learn anything, it just went over my head, practically everything I’d done. I’m not ashamed of it but I can’t write now.” Chris Dawson, CEO The Range
He graduated to old-school market trading and learnt business from the ground up, discovering he had a knack for making money. His work ethic and vision took him to the top of discounted retail, the most competitive corner of the UK retail sector.
How does it happen? Work ethic, talent and an admitted ease with numbers all helped. But there is something more. The D factor. Dylslexia. The hidden gift.
Our industrialised school system, designed to produce workers and consumers, has failed people with dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions for decades.
Standardised testing, rote learning, written comprehension and learning standards that reduce the student to an exam number leave no place for dyslexic student. Yet what they have to offer is much more rich and diverse.
Intelligence and creativity in all its varieties can never be properly measured through test scoring. Confidence in the classroom or exam hall is no substitute for real world experience.
For Julie Logan of the Cass Business School, an individual like Dawson is also an example of what can occur if people with dyslexia harness their gifts, rather than succumb to an industrialised school system. Particularly in business.
Her research on the incidence of dyslexia amongst entrepreneurs in the UK and the USA show a marked increase against those from the general population. Around 10% of the population are dyslexic, but around 30% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic.
The Business Connection to Dyslexia
If you have dyslexia, you are more likely to run your own business.
This allows the dyslexic to create an environment where they can thrive, using the coping skills learned earlier life to build a business.
Gerry Rittenberg, PartyCity CEO, tells the story of when he knew he had trouble in school. At 8 years old, he was asked to read from the board. Sensing danger, Gerry got out of class, met the school nurse and got despatched home.
From that day on, Gerry had to manipulate his environment and accept failure over and over again, the goal being to get to the next year.
Logan’s research showed an amazing ability to delegate key tasks, largely learnt while struggling in school, enables the entrepreneur to grow teams and concentrate on the aspects of the business where they can contribute the most. Delegation equates almost directly to company growth.
For some, this leads to serial business creation and multiple ventures. Many dyslexics were largely immune to failure, growing up with academic difficulties can make fear of failure evaporate. They are also very effective at assessing the risk/reward aspect of any project.
Their ability to see the big picture is another major gift many dyslexics have. Where they struggled with detail in letters and equations, they make up for in building a vision.
“I see the big picture, I see it all. I see the company PartyCity instantly. There are 20 companies there within the one company, I can see them in my mind instantly. I can go through them in seconds. Whats going on. I know everybody in the companies. I’m lucky because I have this advantage” Gerry Rittenberg, CEO PartyCity
Outstanding individual communication skills is essential to delegation and negotiation. Being able to set a vision and share that with people in a way that brings them along and empowers them to do more, without which the business will fail to grow.
Beyond business, and beyond dyslexia, is the entire landscape of neurodiversity and its value in the world. Our brains aren’t deficient because we process information differently. They are just different.
The example of entrepreneurs and dyslexics isn’t to champion one sector or one condition, but to highlight that every form of intelligence has value.
It is this diversity that pushes change through and allows humans to evolve in many different ways. It shows how our obstacles can create opportunities in other areas of life.
Our time here is malleable, we can change it and adapt and find new ways to move forward. In the case of the dyslexic, the situation must be adapted for the condition. This creates the competitive advantage and opens up the world to the individual.Think big, take risks, don't be scared. Tell people and show them. The normies can learn a lot.