Dyslexics are more likely than nondyslexics to excel in business as they tend to delegate authority and communicate better, a US study says.
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.
Their oral communication looked commendable and so were their problem solving skills. No surprise then the study they were twice as likely to own two or more businesses.
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that manifests primarily as a difficulty with written language, particularly with reading and spelling. It is separate and distinct from reading difficulties resulting from other causes, such as deficiencies in intelligence, a non-neurological deficiency with vision or hearing, or from poor or inadequate reading instruction. Dyslexia does not affect speech as a rule.
Evidence suggests that dyslexia results from differences in how the brain processes written and/or verbal language. Although dyslexia is the result of a neurological difference, it is not an intellectual disability. Dyslexia occurs at all levels of intelligence, average, above average, and highly gifted.
"We found that dyslexics who succeed had overcome an awful lot in their lives by developing compensatory skills," Professor Logan said in an interview. "If you tell your friends and acquaintances that you plan to start a business, you'll hear over and over, 'It won't work. It can't be done.' But dyslexics are extraordinarily creative about maneuvering their way around problems."
The study was based on a survey of 139 business owners in a wide range of fields across the United States. Professor Logan called the number who said they were dyslexic "staggering," and said it was significantly higher than the 20 percent of British entrepreneurs who said they were dyslexic in a poll she conducted in 2001.
She attributed the greater share in the United States to earlier and more effective intervention by American schools to help dyslexic students deal with their learning problems. Approximately 10 percent of Americans are believed to have dyslexia, experts say.
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.
William J. Dennis Jr., senior research fellow at the Research Foundation of the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade group in Washington, said the study's results "fit into the pattern of what we know about small-business owners."
"Entrepreneurs are hands-on people who push a minimum of paper, do lots of stuff orally instead of reading and writing, and delegate authority, all of which suggests a high verbal facility," Dennis said. "Compare that with corporate managers who read, read, read."
Indeed, according to Professor Logan, only 1 percent of corporate managers in the United States have dyslexia.
Emerson Dickman, president of the International Dyslexia Association in Baltimore and a lawyer in New Jersey, said the study's findings "just make sense."
"Individuals who have difficulty reading and writing tend to deploy other strengths," Dickman, who has dyslexia, said. "They rely on mentors, and as a result, become very good at reading other people and delegating duties to them. They become adept at using visual strengths to solve problems."
Danny Kessler, 26, also has dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder said he had low self-esteem as a child, and now views that as a catapult into the entrepreneurial world. "I told myself I would never be a lawyer or a doctor," he said. "But I wanted to make a lot of money. And I knew business was the only way I was going to do it."
He founded Angels with Attitude, which holds seminars for women on self-defense. He is a co-founder of Club E Network (www.clubenetwork.com), which sponsors "networking events," runs an online chat room for entrepreneurs and produces television shows about them.
In high school, Kessler said, "I became cool with the teachers. I developed a rapport with them. I was able to convince almost all of them to nudge my grade up just a bit. I adopted a strategy for squeezing through the system."
As for the importance of entrusting tasks to others, Mr. Kessler says his limitations have endowed him with a "razor sharp" intuition that allows him to ascertain within minutes of meeting people whether he can depend on them and what they would be good at in an organization.