The Power of Dyslexic Thinking

What do Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea, the prominent financier Charles Schwab, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mike Peters have in common? They are all dyslexic.

In the book The Power of Dyslexic Thinking, Robert Langston, who has dyslexia himself, shares inspiring stories of how having a learning difference shaped the careers of successful people.

Langston highlights some of the many strengths of dyslexic thinking such as:

  • heightened visualization abilities
  • problem solving
  • critical thinking, thinking about a problem using a visuospatial approach instead of a linear, word-based strategy
  • concept formation

The people profiled by Langston do not see dyslexia as a handicap; if anything, they say that dyslexia helped them succeed. Phil Jacobs, the former president of the Community Technologies group for BellSouth Corporation, a telecommunications holding company (now known as AT&T South after a 2006 merger with AT&T Inc.) attributes his success in business to his dyslexic brain. He says, “Dyslexia mind moves ahead fast enough to compensate for the things that are going to trip you up. Being able to think ahead ends up being an asset especially in business.”

Another great strength of dyslexia is people skills. All the leaders in the book believe that they’re better leaders in large part because they need others to help compensate for their learning difference. Since they were little, they have learned the power of having the right people in the right place. Many people in the book credit their ability to empathize with growing up with dyslexia. Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea said, “I learned empathy because I had to. Studies have shown this is true for most kids with dyslexia — they tend to be highly empathetic.”

One thing to note is that all of the individuals profiled in this book are men. If you’re going to be sharing these stories with your students, it should be easy to find stories of women with dyslexia who have gone on to be successful as well (Agatha Christie and Whoopie Goldberg are two possibilities to explore).

Through both research and personal experience, Lanston has come to believe that dyslexia is a condition that does not need curing; instead, he argues that individuals with dyslexia have to dig deeper and explore the  different capabilities and skills dyslexia can provide to those who have it. He hopes that understanding more about the benefits of dyslexia will help not only people with dyslexia, but educators and parents as well.

  • Kaini Gu, SMARTS Intern