Dyslexia and Creativity

Right-brained and left-brained, masculine and feminine, blue-eyed and brown-eyed: Are certain kinds of people more creative than others? Many of the super creative designers I have worked with seemed to have one thing in common; they suffered from dyslexia. Looking back in history, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Jørn Utzon, Agatha Christie and Albert Einstein were all dyslexic. So, is dyslexia linked to creativity?

Good news for those who can spell, the answer is no. It appears that more dyslectic people simply elect to work in the non-linguistic creative professions. To be successful, dyslectic people actually have to work harder to overcome their linguistic challenges. Fortunately, the best predictor of anyone's performance is not their IQ or personality, it is the amount of time one spends on a particular task.

Dyslexia is hereditary and, fortunately, one can learn to live with even severe dyslexia. A dyslectic person may not be well suited for teaching English or working as an editor in a publishing house, however, it does give them a distinct advantage in other creative professions. Having struggled with reading and writing, the dyslectic person has failed early and often, thereby teaching them to persevere. As Winston Churchill, another dyslectic, creative individual, noted: "Never give up - -never, never, never give up."

What then are the advantages, if any, of being dyslexic in overcoming challenges? The early age confrontation of apparently insurmountable challenges teaches the dyslectic person to persevere in the face of failure. They learn early to look at problems from multiple angles and use other skills to succeed. Dyslectic people often color-code information to aide their learning, use three-dimensional drawings to solve algebra problems and come up with intricate mnemotechnical cues to improve retention. Working on small creative tricks to overcome challenges may help make them better prepared to solve problems. It has been said that "luck is when opportunity meet preparation" and dyslectic people could thus appear to be "luckier" problem solvers.

This prompts the question: Might people who are actually good at spelling be at a disadvantage? Since reading, writing and arithmetic are given a high priority in most school systems and IQ and other standardized tests favor people with linguistic skills, perfecting what one is being rewarded for can narrow one's development in other areas where there was the possibility to excel.

One of the secrets to life is to avoid chastising oneself over what is not done well. A dyslectic may never become the best speller; however, a person can live happily with being mediocre in this area and simply delegate the more demanding writing tasks. Being content with being average in one area, dyslectics are freed up to invest the over 10,000 hours required to become an expert in another area. They can then leverage their inborn abilities and turn those abilities into a strong competitive advantage in an area in which they excel.

The Creative Economy may be the fastest growing segment of the Western World and creativity is now, more than ever, the source of this progress. By encouraging people early on to find and grow their unique natural abilities to innovate and appreciating them for what they create, rather than for what they consume, we will have created yet another novel way of spelling success.

Special thanks given to retired child psychiatrist, Dr. Anna Koch, for researching this article.