Albert Einstein once said: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
Einstein was a visual thinker. As a young patent clerk, he developed his famous Theory of Relativity by watching train arrivals, a mundane activity that nonetheless revealed to him the inner workings of the universe. By disregarding commonly accepted precepts and looking at things in an unconventional way, he redefined physics.
What is Visual Thinking?
Visual Thinking enables people to puzzle out solutions that might escape the more analytical approach. Einstein’s brain allowed him to synthesize disparate elements—the passing trains, a ticking clock, his knowledge of physics—into a cohesive whole stronger than its parts. Through the years, other scientists and engineers have relied on some variation of visual thinking to develop unique concepts that benefit us all.
This unconventional thinking helps professionals in all kinds of fields reimagine accepted norms. Before ‘dyslexia’ became a common term, I knew that my brain marched to its own rhythm. It was a challenge spelling, reading a clock or a map or sight reading music.
What is Dyslexia
Dyslexia is an umbrella label for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words and letters, but do not affect general intelligence. It's thinking non-sequentially when not consciously focusing, and processing information in a circular manner instead of a linear one. It affects individuals with differing degrees of severity; many have a touch of it, but it seems to vary as to when it presents itself, based on stress and situational factors.
Not every artist or visual thinker is dyslexic, but every one of them does solve problems in an unconventional, non-linear way, which is what separates them from those taking an analytical approach. I want to stress that this “circular” manner is the thing that helps resolve all obstacles and come out on the other end stronger and more confident, instead of getting stuck in just one approach.
Fortunately, a person with dyslexia can develop the tools to decode text and read fluidly by training the mind to actively focus. Sometimes reading aloud helps comprehension or verbalizing ideas. Those with dyslexia also learn more effectively by hearing and seeing.
Creativity is Nonlinear
Designers look at the world in a different way. Einstein said: "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." Creativity is a messy process full of dead ends and unmapped routes. My process is to immerse myself into a problem or scenario in order to virtually see it, hear it, and feel it in my heart and gut.
Making sense of the world by simultaneously thinking and feeling allows us to see things through the lens of another person and empathically uncover the underlying essence of a story. Understanding how our brains operate lets us be patient and accepting while we create and reflect. As with many obstacles that we grapple with, dyslexia can end up making you more agile and better suited to deal with an irrational and surprising reality.
Why is Dyslexia a Creative Advantage?
If you’re stumped on an idea, just keep in mind that creativity isn’t linear: your inspiration can come from something as everyday as a passing train. There are many ways to solve a problem, and many kinds of solutions. See your challenges not as an impassable wall, but as a mountain that you can climb with perseverance—and emerge stronger on the other side. As Einstein himself put it: “Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Janet Odgis is the President and Creative Director of Odgis + Co, an award-winning certified woman-owned design firm based in New York City. For 30 years she has worked with some of the world’s most prestigious corporations reinventing ways to define and express their brand. We Make Business Beautiful.