Dyslexics thriving in the workplace

Reading the Dyslexic Advantage
Quite a few people have said good things to me since I posted about reading the dyslexic advantage. On Saturday I finished the whole book and although there are so many great sections the last one had so much to talk/blog about

The last section which is all about work, and so very fitting…

For individuals with dyslexia, good-fitting jobs have several common features. First, they engage strengths and avoid weaknesses. As we’ve discussed, many individuals with dyslexia excel in big-picture reasoning, or the ability to see the overall features, “contours,” or implications of objects or ideas. The occupation or position in which they best display this ability depends upon which MIND strengths they possess, but as a general rule, jobs that fit individuals with dyslexia well stress problem solving, troubleshooting, fixing things, coming up with new ideas, thinking about what’s missing or not being addressed, or telling stories (e.g., sales, counseling, coaching, advertising, entrepreneurship).
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In contrast, individuals with dyslexia often struggle with fine-detail processing, mastering routine procedures to the point of automaticity, or rote memory. As a result, they often find that jobs that stress repetition, efficiency, consistency, attention to details, use of procedures, application of fixed rules, or routine processing tasks (especially clerical tasks that involve the manipulation and use of written symbols) are a poor fit.

I can’t tell you the cognitive pain of repetition, I find it super uncomfortable and far prefer the new and unknown. My mind wonders and before long I’m innovating my way out of doing the task as is. Better way to spend my cognitive surplus?

After choosing a job that seems to be a good fit, individuals with dyslexia should work hard to optimize that job environment by being proactive in pursuing opportunities, self-advocating with supervisors and co-workers, building partnerships, pursuing leadership opportunities, and using technologies to maximize their productivity.
Many individuals with dyslexia are especially good at spotting opportunities that others have missed and then aggressively and proactively taking advantage of those opportunities. Professor Julie Logan cited this ability as one of the most common characteristics she’s observed in the dyslexic entrepreneurs she’s studied.
We’ve also observed this ability in many of the individuals with dyslexia we’ve interviewed—and not just in business. Astrophysicist Matt Schneps told us, “One thing I’m very proud of is that I’m very good at taking advantage of opportunities. If I see something I think is useful for me, I think about how I can make the most of it and take advantage of that.” Because of this ability (and strong self-advocacy skills like those we’ll discuss later), Matt has been able to enjoy four entirely different careers over the past thirty years, all with the same employer.

Making and taking those opportunities is a big thing, which I’m certainly hard-wired for. Most people take and give out business cards as a brush off but I take them seriously. I do like to meet or follow up, see if theres a chance for collaboration. I’m also generally interested in the person and if I can connect them with someone else I might know.

A second key feature of jobs that fit individuals with dyslexia well is that they engage interests. While everyone works better on tasks they find interesting and enjoyable, individuals with dyslexia are often especially dependent upon interest to produce their best efforts. In contrast, when tasks fail to engage their interest, they often struggle to perform well and remain focused. This is largely because many of the rote or automatic skills needed to perform routine tasks require more focused attention for individuals with dyslexia. This need for heightened attention can be difficult to sustain unless there are things about the job that are especially interesting. When work heightens interest and mood, dyslexics typically respond with greater creativity and performance.

Absolutely, like most people I assume but I guess I actively find my mind drifting away to more interesting things. Focus is difficult when not in my wider area of interest. I mean I’m curious about lots of things, so its really got to be something poor/bad for me.

A third key feature of jobs that fit individuals with dyslexia well is that they focus on results rather than on methods. Many of our interviewees mentioned that they often perform tasks in unconventional ways—frequently of their own devising. For example, more than half told us that they solved math problems differently from how they were taught by using unconventional methods that made more sense to them.

This is something I’ve known for a long while, I can’t help but find alternative ways to do things. This is why if you tell me a task without the bigger context/picture I find it frustrating as hell. I’m always thinking about the final impact not the individual steps to get there. Those are just details to me. Reminds me of Do you have humility, a sense of craft and can you hustle?

Jobs that allow flexibility can open the door to success for dyslexics. It’s often while devising new methods for routine tasks that dyslexics come up with innovative approaches that save time, effort, and expense and improve outcomes for everyone.
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There is evidence that this kind of flexibility is often more easily found in positions very near the top or the bottom of the structures of large organizations but in shorter supply in the middle. Professor Julie Logan has found that although many large corporations have CEOs with dyslexia, fewer than 1 percent of middle managers in such firms are dyslexic.

Now this is very interesting detail… Be interesting to look into the stats for the BBC via the BBC’s Neurodiversity project.

Some large companies, like his former employer Intel, manage to maintain their flexible attitudes despite their size. Douglas Merrill also told us that supporting this diversity in thinking styles was one of his primary goals as chief information officer at Google. Douglas worked hard to give employees the greatest possible flexibility in choosing the work habits and technologies that allowed them to be their most productive. When a company shows this kind of flexibility, it’s likely to be a good fit for individuals with dyslexia. Of course, there’s no employer that can provide more flexibility than oneself, which is one reason why so many dyslexics start their own businesses.

And theres a long long list of successful dyslexic entrepreneurs. Interestingly the guardian piece pretty much says the same thing as I read in the dyslexic advantage.

Its a great book, I do wish it was more dyslexic friendly to read but the content is certainly incredible.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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