When we hear the term “CEO,” many of us are programmed to think of a certain type of person. We envision someone who has always been successful, from their youth onward. We may even imagine they’ve had an entirely linear upward trajectory. But of course, these stereotypes are myths. Many CEOs have struggled in their lives – and used these difficulties to kickstart their success. In fact, there are many CEOs with learning disabilities who have even used their struggles to push their careers forward through creative thinking and problem-solving. Jean Case of Business Insider notes that failing can teach important lessons, make you more creative, and encourage you to be more committed to what you want.
One of the factors that can cause a struggle, especially in school, are learning disabilities, like dyslexia, attention-deficit disorders, or autism-spectrum disorders. According to Science Daily, about 10 percent of people have learning disabilities.
Here, we’ll talk about five famous CEOs who have learning disabilities. How did they overcome their difficulties to become successful? How did their divergent thinking styles help them set themselves apart from the crowd?
Famous CEOs With Learning Disabilities
Shark Tank star and FUBU clothing founder Daymond John was diagnosed with a learning disability when he was in school in the 1970s. Later, he discovered he was dyslexic, when a friend noticed his reading and writing difficulties in the late 1990s.
Though he earned low grades in writing and reading in school, Daymond didn’t consider his learning disability a problem. Instead, he credits his dyslexia with helping him to see the world differently. He believes that his abilities as a visual learner made him successful in mapping out business plans in his head.
Peter Kight, the CEO of CheckFree, was a poor student because of his ADD and dropped out of college only a few credits short. Later, he was so nervous about working for a big company – and being unable to control his ADD – that he started his own company.
“I was more scared at the thought of having to work for a company where I would get lost and not have the opportunity to control my own destiny,” he said.
In other words, Kight was so concerned that he wouldn’t be able to fit into corporate culture, he decided to forge his own path. His learning disability influenced him to break away from the crowd.
Founder of BitTorrent Bram Cohen has Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism-spectrum disorder that can make social interaction difficult. Cohen, like many others, have used their pattern- and puzzle-oriented thinking patterns to be successful in the world of computers.
“There are no reliable figures on how many people have Asperger’s, but anecdotally a lot of them are drawn into the computer field, particularly the logic-heavy world of coding,” wrote Wired.com.
Other famous thinkers who may have had Asperger’s include Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Newton.
Another CEO with dyslexia, Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group, credits his success to his unusual way of thinking. Branson struggled so much in school that he dropped out at age 16.
Now, he believes that dyslexia should be seen as a sign of potential rather than as a drawback.
“Once freed from archaic schooling practices and preconceptions, my mind opened up. Out in the real world, my dyslexia became my massive advantage: it helped me to think creatively and laterally, and see solutions where others saw problems,” he said.
Interestingly, a 2007 study estimated that about 35 percent of American entrepreneurs are dyslexic.
JetBlue CEO David Neeleman struggled with ADHD throughout his life but now calls his learning disability one of his greatest strengths. He believes that his learning disability made him more creative, which, in turn, helped him design an e-ticketing system for his company.
“One of the weird things about the type of ADHD I have is, if you have something you are really, really passionate about, then you are really, really good about focusing on that thing,” said Neeleman.
Learning Disabilities Offer New Ways to See the World
These successful people with learning disabilities have one commonality: they used their divergent ways of thinking to their advantage. Many of them credit their learning disabilities with helping them think more creatively and see the world differently. Others suggest their divergent thinking patterns gave them the tools to be particularly successful in their chosen fields.
Key here is that these CEOs found ways to focus on their aptitudes, rather than their struggles. Whether or not we have learning disabilities, we should all work on identifying and mobilizing our strengths.