Richard Branson is a very well known dyslexic and this is one of my favourite stories about him. You can find the original story as part of a TED Talk and at Friends of Quinn’s YouTube channel. It tells of how Richard Branson learnt about net profit when he was 50 years old and already head of a huge group of companies in Europe.
The story is full of insights into Branson, into dyslexia, into entrepreneurship itself and how to connect with dyslexics and teach them. I’m going try and unpack some of this here and share how I would apply this to working with dyslexic teenagers.
Branson talks about sitting in a board meeting for the Virgin brand, aged 50, and someone passes him some figures for one of the companies. He turns round and asks, “Is this good news or bad news?”
After the meeting, one of the directors approached him and said, “Look, Richard, you don’t know the difference between Gross profit and Net profit, do you?”
At this point he admitted he didn’t so the director used an illustration to help Branson understand. He pulled out paper and crayons and drew the sea, a net with fish in and some fish around it in the sea. He explained that the sea represented the turnover, the fish just swimming around were the gross profit and the fish caught in the net were the net profit.
Branson commented that this was important to know but he had built a great company anyway because what was even more important to him was building a great business that gave better service and became a better company to his customer.
This story gives us some great insights into dyslexia.
- 40% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic compared to 10% in the general population. They are drawn to service industries, problem solving, joined up thinking and developing systems and often these end up as businesses because they add value and create profit.
- Branson had been compensating intuitively and drawing on the strengths of others. Delegation and being part of a team that can help compensate for a dyslexic’s challenges gives them space to play to their strengths and succeed. For example, Jackie Stewart is a famous race driver in Scotland and a businessman. He’s dyslexic and can’t read but he runs very successful companies because he has a great team.
- We can see that if dyslexics are in an environment where they feel they are thriving then they are often open learners. Branson had gathered around him people who were similar but also different in way that complemented his strengths and he was willing to learn from them. It would be fascinating to speak to the director who devised the illustration and to learn how he intuitively knew to use this illustration. It shows the dynamics of a great team.
There is the use of the word ‘like’ which took an abstract process and connected it to something real like a net. The process of analogy and drawing anchored the concept in the real world.
So how do we apply this to our dyslexic teenagers?
Honour their ability to solve problems and add value to a situation through their creative thinking and create spaces for them to do that more.
Watch out for their compensation strategies and help them develop more. Feedback is great too. Dyslexics need to know if something is good or if it is not working.
Find ways to teach and illustrate a point using real life analogies and illustrations wherever possible. This can be quick ‘back of the envelope’ sketches. It appeals to the dyslexic brain and helps to make sense of more complex concepts.
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