17 Business Titans Who Overcame Dyslexia: Based on "David and Goliath."
Does dyslexia come with hidden advantages? Since dyslexia is a learning disability it's counterintuitive - but it's a central theme in Malcolm Gladwell's new book, "David and Goliath."
Gladwell proposes that some of the world's most accomplished people succeeded precisely because of this disability. "Dyslexia - in the best of cases - forces you to develop skills that might otherwise have lain dormant," he writes. "It also forces you to do things you might otherwise never have considered." 17 famous dyslexic founders, CEOs, and business leaders are cited to support his ideas, claiming their disorder didn't hold them back.
Perhaps Dr. Levinson's review of Galdwell's ideas concerning dyslexics will added needed perspective! Perhaps these Titans sidestepped their dyslexia rather than overcoming it?
"David and Goliath" is a fascinating read. It argues that"much of what we consider valuable in our world arises" when we're faced with impossible odds. Hence it's intriguing title. "The same qualities that appear to give [giants] strength are often the sources of great weakness," Gladwell writes. "And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate."
For dyslexics as well as their healers and researchers, the book's most interesting ideas are advanced in its second part, called "The Theory of Desirable Difficulty." Here, Gladwell points to the stories of David Boies, "one of the most famous trial lawyers in the world," and Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn as examples of people whose difficulty - dyslexia in both cases - isn't a disadvantage for them. "Being a poor reader is a real obstacle, unless you are David Boies and that obstacle turns you into an extraordinary listener," Gladwell writes, "or unless you are Gary Cohn and that obstacle gives you the courage to take chances you never otherwise would have taken."
Contrary to many who consider dyslexia as either a gift or just a different way of "normal" processing enabling them to see "the big picture," Levinson's vast experience prefers to call a spade a spade. Levinson believes that dyslexics need clarity vs Pollyanna fantasies to succeed, as do most individuals. When misguided fantasies and denial of reality are benevolently added to dyslexic functioning, confusion is enhanced and the chances for failure are magnified. Gladwell's ingenious insights and examples provide a perfect opportunity to clarify these issues. Because both Boies and Cohn were dyslexic and gifted by no means proves that dyslexia triggered their "genius or talent" or that they wouldn't have succeeded without their handicap, perhaps even more so. The evidence is very clear: The vast majority of dyslexics are not gifted, as are non-dyslexics. And the vast majority of dyslexics are more prone to failing, in no small part due to their disability which also predisposes them to a vast array of secondary emotional and behavioral complications, including mood, anxiety and impulse disorders, addiction, crime and punishment, etc.
However, a dyslexic's disability and overwhelming desire to prove they're not as dumb as they often inwardly feel, is often an amazing catalyst for success. Hence the David analogy. By contrast, there are many multi-talented non-dyslexics who are driven to pursue multiple interests. As a result, many lack adequate focus and determination because everything is just too easy, and so they suffer Goliath's fate. There are also many gifted and talented dyslexics who inwardly feel as impostors, driven to drink, drugs and failed relationships. They outwardly appear as superstars while inwardly they suffer in silence. Are they not mixtures of both success and failure, where both remain separate? Although talent may be a saving grace for some dyslexics, it often is not. In therapy, they admit thinking, "Those who think I'm smart and special are just dumber and more hopeless than I am."
To survive and thrive, those with handicaps must develop compensatory and overcompensatory functions, as do both gifted and non-gifted dyslexics. These are the Davids. They are merely repeating or recapitulating evolution's survival of the fittest where adversity stimulates advances over millennia. "Goliath dinosaurs" die off when "complacency" and stagnation take hold.
Although adversity eventually trigger solutions, thus explaining most advances-- scientific and others, when it comes to dyslexia the adverse disorder is often mistakenly equated with its solution. This is "dyslexic logic." By analogy, diabetes triggered the discovery of insulin, and infections led to antibiotics. Would anyone say that diabetes and infections are gifts or just another form of normal functioning? Hopefully not! Although Gladwell refers to this process as "Desirable Difficulty," he clearly does not equate a dysfunctioning trigger with a favorable effect, although recognizing a relationship.
About Harold Levinson, M.D.
Formerly Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at New York University Medical Center, Dr. Harold Levinson is currently Director of the Levinson Medical Center for Learning Disabilities in Great Neck, New York. He is a well known neuropsychiatrist, clinical researcher and author. His "highly original" research into the cerebellar-vestibular (inner-ear) origins and treatment of dyslexia and related learning, attention-deficit/hyperactivity and anxiety or phobic disorders has evolved over the past four decades. Levinson's concepts encompass the collective insights derived from the examinations, follow-up and successful treatment of over 35,000 children, adults and even seniors and have led to new methods of screening, diagnosis, treatment and prevention. His expanded theories appear capable of encompassing and/or explaining all reported symptoms as well as most other concepts and experimental data, thus resulting in a truly holistic perspective.
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