Neuroscience researcher, University of Cambridge
May 29, 2015
After 20 years at the top of Silicon Valley, John Chambers is stepping down as CEO of Cisco. As a dyslexic in an unrelenting corporate world, Chambers had to overcome many obstacles. But while posing daily challenges, dyslexia can also be a hidden gift.
“I’m currently in the midst of an ongoing war with my iPhone,” laughs Nancy Brinker, as our lunchtime chat turns to the ups and downs of 21st century technology. Brinker is the founder of Susan G. Komen, the global breast cancer charity which has raised more than $2.2 billion to raise awareness and fight the disease.
Her story is one of entrepreneurship and vision, all the more remarkable because Brinker, like a number of influential leaders around the world, is dyslexic.
“It’s very hard for me to listen and focus,” she tells Quartz. “It’s sort of an ADHD reaction. Things become overwhelming really quickly and so I love things that are straightforward. My Blackberry was perfect! I don’t like to have to do four steps before you can send an email. If you have learning challenges, you’re constantly trying to manage and absorb the input around you. So when it’s more complex, like all technology today, it can be highly frustrating.”
Dyslexia is a neurological disorder which affects an estimated 10% to 20% of the US population, yet still remains highly misunderstood and often goes undiagnosed. The common perception is that dyslexia is a single condition, but in reality it’s an umbrella term used for a myriad of neurological differences, ranging from visual perception to phonological processing. The former makes words appear to move during reading, while the latter makes it hard to hear all the individual sounds, or phonemes, which make up words, resulting in delays in understanding speech.
Dyslexia also rarely occurs on its own, often coming in parallel with another condition like dyspraxia or Asperger’s syndrome, leading to additional challenges.
“Dyslexics can find it very challenging to remember names,” Jan Halfpenny, director of a UK-based company that supports dyslexic entrepreneurs, tells Quartz. “Asperger’s makes it very hard to remember faces. Seeing people out of context in difficult environments can be tricky. For a business leader, that’s tricky to get around unless they have well versed assistants who remind them who people are.”