The world has come a long way in how it views dyslexia, no longer seeing it as an impairment but instead recognizing it as a different way of thinking, which has proven to be an asset in the business world.
“Dyslexic thinking has been driving businesses for decades,” says Kate Griggs, CEO and founder of global charity Made By Dyslexia. “Dyslexic thinkers have soft or power skills like creative thinking, problem-solving, communication, people and team building, all of which are vital for building and running successful businesses.”
Research carried out by Julie Logan, professor of entrepreneurship at Cass Business School, found that 35% of U.S. company founders identified themselves as dyslexic, compared with 15% in the general population.
Founder of Filthy Food, Daniel Singer, is a dyslexic thinker. While it left him struggling at school, it has helped him overcome many challenges as an entrepreneur.
He says: “Entrepreneurs tend to operate outside of the system and tradition, as we like to break and rebuild things in a way that we believe is better. My dyslexic thinking means I don’t just think in a single stream or linear way. I approach every situation from multiple sides at the same time; I can process all those perspectives at once and find a solution faster. Dyslexic thinking drives how I look at the world, solve problems and see opportunities.”
Organizations such as Virgin, Microsoft, Randstad, and EY have been leading the way in recognizing dyslexic thinking as a skill that can solve talent shortages and drive innovation. Other companies have been slower to follow their lead.
Griggs adds: “Our upcoming research with Randstad found that while 66% of HR professionals feel they are meeting the needs of people with dyslexia in their workforce, only 16% of dyslexics feel supported in the workplace. For most organizations, dyslexia is covered by disability and inclusion policies; it’s about fitting in, and while that is important, it must also be viewed as a talent.”
Historically, one of the biggest challenges has a lack of understanding of dyslexia. People with dyslexia think differently and process information differently, which results in a pattern of strengths and challenges.
“Education systems have traditionally deployed standardized tests and norms to measure intelligence, which largely measure what dyslexics find challenging, and place little value on their strengths,” adds Griggs. “This standardized testing continues into work too. Understanding that dyslexic thinking skills are vital for today and future workplaces means we have to shift how we view intelligence and what we measure and value.”
Progress is being made. Last year LinkedIn added dyslexic thinking as a skill on their platform, while dyslexic thinking officially entered the dictionary as a noun. High-profile entrepreneurs are also raising awareness of the unique skill sets that dyslexic thinkers can bring to their businesses.
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson describes his dyslexic thinking as his superpower. “Redefining my dyslexia as a skillset gave me the freedom to pursue my dreams without barriers and recognize this unique way of thinking as a hidden superpower,” he says. “My innate curiosity and big-picture thinking have shaped the Virgin Group into what it is today. I’m constantly looking for ways to improve an experience or shake up an industry. Where others see problems, I see solutions.”
Virgin recently collaborated with Made By Dyslexia to launch the second stage of a Dyslexic Thinking campaign, which highlighted why, given the growing presence of AI, it has never been more important to empower dyslexic thinking in the workplace.
“AI is transforming how we work, live, and interact with each other, and with so many other touchpoints of our lives,” says Branson. “However, while AI aggregates, dyslexic thinking skills innovate. AI can’t replace the soft skills that index high in dyslexics, such as innovating, lateral thinking, complex problem solving, and communicating. Used in the right way, AI could be the perfect co-pilot for dyslexics to really move the world forward. Anyone in a position of leadership in the workplace needs to understand dyslexia for these skills to be able to thrive. Businesses that fail to do this risk being left behind.”
Dyslexia, once viewed as a medical condition to be mitigated or treated, is now seen as a natural form of human neurocognitive variation. Progressive employers, including startup founders, recognize neurodivergent employees as valuable members of a diverse workforce.
However, as Singer points out, creating and scaling a unique company culture is a delicate process. “For that reason, we don’t target anyone with a specific learning difference,” he says. “We do, however, start with attitude and energy and, depending on the role, remove all obstacles in the interviewing process for anyone with dyslexia, dyscalculia, difficulty performing numerical calculations, and ADHD.”