The Frontal Cortex

Dyslexia and Business Acumen

The data is hard to believe:

It has long been known that dyslexics are drawn to running their own businesses, where they can get around their weaknesses in reading and writing and play on their strengths. But a new study of entrepreneurs in the United States suggests that dyslexia is much more common among small-business owners than even the experts had thought.

The report, compiled by Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London, found that more than a third of the entrepreneurs she had surveyed — 35 percent — identified themselves as dyslexic. The study also concluded that dyslexics were more likely than nondyslexics to delegate authority, to excel in oral communication and problem solving and were twice as likely to own two or more businesses.

Keep in mind that only 10 percent of Americans are believed to have dyslexia, so the percentage of business owners with dyslexia is a very significant aberration. The explanation seems to be that children with dyslexia develop compensatory mechanisms that allow them to excel in business. They turn a potential disability into a new set of cognitive skills.

One reason that dyslexics are drawn to entrepreneurship, Professor Logan said, is that strategies they have used since childhood to offset their weaknesses in written communication and organizational ability — identifying trustworthy people and handing over major responsibilities to them — can be applied to businesses.

“The willingness to delegate authority gives them a significant advantage over nondyslexic entrepreneurs, who tend to view their business as their baby and like to be in total control,” she said.

The larger moral of studies like this is that we should never underestimate the importance of neurodiversity. At first glance, dyslexia might seem like an unequivocal disability, a brain disorder that we’d be better off without. But nothing in the mind is that simple, is it?

Comments

  1. #1 6EQUJ5
    December 6, 2007

    Now it makes you wonder how many military leaders could read the terrain, the weather, and the enemy’s intentions, but couldn’t read a laundry list.

    I once worked for a father and son who had learning disabilities. The old man owned several businesses, two of which ran around the clock. I used to do the daily bank because the owner didn’t trust himself with cash, or his son either. The owner had learned all his accounting by rote, taught to him by others. He taught his son by rote as well.

    I once spent hours trying to teach the owner how to calculate a markup with a tenkey calculator. The paper tape recorded all keystrokes, so there was a printed record of how to do it right — to no avail. He never did get it. He had me program the computer to set his margins for him.

  2. #2 tim
    December 6, 2007

    No surprise. In high school I was able to get into independent studies and internships to avoid the traditional classroom. I lasted just one year in college before flunking out. I just couldn’t master taking notes or understand the subject matter in a way that was relevant to the class. But at the same time I was running my own consulting business. That was 17 years ago and still doing it. Couldn’t be happier.

  3. #3 Andrea Grant
    December 7, 2007

    Whoa–this just rocked my world. I just started reading your blog a few weeks ago, and I clearly need to go buy your book, because you are posting *by far* the most fascinating stuff I’m coming across! Thanks!!!

  4. #4 Michael fitzGerald
    December 7, 2007

    No, no,no – the subjects identified themselves as dyslexic. You need an objective measure if you are going to define a clinical condition. For example I would identify myself as overweight rather than obese.
    So the “data” is dodgy and has been used to develop an “explanation” which is more folklore than science

  5. #5 KeithB
    December 7, 2007

    “Now it makes you wonder how many military leaders could read the terrain, the weather, and the enemy’s intentions, but couldn’t read a laundry list.”

    Include Patton in that list. Maybe George Washington, too. I have heard that one reason that we can be sure that the “Washington Prayer Book” isn’t his is because there are few spelling errors.

  6. #6 Paradigm
    December 7, 2007

    Dyslexia may also be a marker for ADHD, which seems to be common among entrepeneurs. If I’m not mistaken the two conditions tend to go together.

  7. #7 Michael G.R.
    December 7, 2007

    This reminds me of Richard Branson. Last spring I read his very entertaining auto-biography and one of the things he mentions is his dyslexia.

  8. #8 Chris Tregenza
    December 8, 2007

    I find the figure of 35% a little hard to believe. For starters is a Business School that no doubt requires their students to write essays and all the other things dyslexics don’t like / can’t do. A dyslexic is more likely to go off and start a business than study about it.

    I suspect the problem is that its people who self-identified as dyslexic and we don’t know how the sample was selected. It was probably self-selecting which is going to introduce a huge bias in the sample. Couple this with self-identifying with students who equate not being very good at language as being dyslexic and the 35% figure is quite easy to reach.

    If the study was of self-employed business men who dropped out of school at the age of 16, then I think the 35% might be closer to the mark.

    Its important not to fall into the trap (even in this research pans out) of thinking that dyslexia as a gift or that dyslexics have some special business acumen. For every successful dyslexic businessman there are three dyslexics in prison, homeless or suffering from mental illness.

    I’ve written a piece called “Is Dyslexia a Gift? Sink Or Swim” about this: http://www.myomancy.com/2005/09/is_dyslexia_a_g

    Chris

  9. #9 Scott McArthur
    December 8, 2007

    Whilst this research looks a little “soft” it does make interesting reading.

    I wonder if this is linked to the notion of sense making? If someone suffers from dyslexia are they unable to get lost in detail and therefore are they predisposed to look for themes and soltions?

  10. #10 Anon
    April 4, 2008

    This is to Chris, I appreciate that you do not think we romanticised dyslexia but the association should not be disregarded also. Firstly Business Scholl does require you to write essays but it does not say that they all achieve low marks in their business school training if they attended business school at all in their study. You are working on the assumption that managers etc are getting into their posts by formal training.
    Secondly yes there are a high proportion of dyslexias in prison, homeless etc, however it is this very fact that means that dyslexics are more likely to entrepreneurs. Research has identified that enterpreurs has a high degree of deviant qualities and borderline criminal personalities however this is the very thing that makes them successful in business. Dyslexia means that there is a higher chance that you will be more successful in business because of the way you think but also it does not mean that non-dyslexia are at a disadvantage for not being dyslexia because according to the study 65% of the sample were entrepreneurs and not dyslexic.

  11. #11 msnci
    November 4, 2008

    he old man owned several businesses, Ameritania Hotel New York two of which ran around the clock. I used to do the daily bank because the owner didn’t trust himself with cash, or his son either. The owner had learned all his accounting by rote, taught to msn nickleri him by others. He taught his son by rote as well.

  12. #12 Ben
    December 23, 2010

    Well with business school i find interesting i read so many stories who made millions and billions and were complete university drop outs. Example crazy john (australia’s richest man a few years ) dropped out of uni 1st year, dick smith “dyslexic”(australia) left school 14 and many other stories. The fact is you will never really learn to run business through university only with the real world. Those that can not do business and have business education work for someone else or get a PHD and teach business in university. People in the business world laugh at accademics because they get stuck in their ways and i notice many accademics dont know how to relate with others and get stuck teaching business.