Why we must spell out the creative difference dyslexics can make ￼
There’s great creative power in dyslexia
August 1, 2022
Senior Account Manager
Can you keep a secret? Dyslexia isn’t something to be hidden away. It’s not a taboo. In fact, it could make all the difference at your agency.
When I first started working in advertising, I conformed to the perceived norm. I kept my dyslexia under wraps, fearful that revealing it would embarrass me and hold me back from the things I wanted to achieve.
I’m not alone. In a recent interview, Sir Richard Branson revealed he suffered “cruelty and humiliation” for poor reading and spelling skills due to his severe dyslexia when he was starting out. Now, looking back, he feels the condition is a “superpower” that has always propelled him forward in business.
The moment when I finally felt accepted as a dyslexic was quite comical. Our CEO Jamie leaned over to ask a colleague if she could help him spell a word. She replied: “Don’t ask me – I’m dyslexic.”
Jamie sought help from a second, then a third, then a fourth person, only to be told they were all dyslexic, too. Far from being exasperated, he replied: “So am I, that’s why I’m asking!” We all laughed: the “secret” was out.
It inspired us to think more closely about the many unique attributes people with dyslexia bring to our industry.
Eight unique talents dyslexic employees bring
The UK Government estimates 10% of our population is dyslexic. While no such statistic is readily available relating specifically to the creative sector, Creative Equals figures it’ll be about double the national proportion. As it happens, a quarter of INITIALS CX employees are dyslexic.
In addition, as part of an article about workplace diversity, the Data & Marketing Association (DMA) referenced survey data revealing that of the 6% of employees with a diagnosed neurodevelopmental condition, well over a third (37%) stated they are dyslexic.
It was surprising and heartening to read these statistics.
It’s even more exciting to discover the untapped talent dyslexics can bring to our industry. According to Ronald Davis in his groundbreaking book The Gift of Dyslexia, dyslexics can bring to the table eight traits that neurotypicals don’t always possess. We:
1. have vivid imaginations – assisting with conceptual ideas
2. use our brain’s ability to alter and create perceptions – meaning we can put ourselves firmly in the shoes of the target audience
3. are highly aware of the environment we and others inhabit – great when trying to understand and communicate with a target market
4. tend to be more curious than average – we can dig deeper into why people behave like they do and choose the products they buy
5. think mainly in pictures, not words (useful for at least one half of the traditional creative team!)
6. can be highly intuitive and insightful – creative advertising is all about using insights to drive effective work
7. think and perceive multi-dimensionally, using all our senses – we can immediately envision how flat design concepts can come to life in physical environments, across different formats
8. often experience thought as reality – especially useful when creating events. Imagining conceptual ideas in the real world allows us to predict how consumers will view them
Having written that list, it’s clear there’s great creative power in dyslexia. It also explains why many of us are drawn to advertising and other parts of the creativity industry.
Strategic, innovative, creative potential in one brain. You might normally need a whole group of people to put all of that into action. But despite this being the case too many dyslexics still see a diagnosis as a negative and decide to hide it. That needs to change.
The driving force behind creative agencies
Aside from Richard Branson, other famous dyslexics have enjoyed huge success in a range of industries: Jamie Oliver and Keira Knightly, for example; and The Dots founder Pip Jamieson and Hugh Robertson of RPM from our sector.
Those at the top table must recognise the requirement for dyslexics to feel comfortable in their role; and the need for agencies to round out their skill sets with the talent on offer.
In its useful Dyslexia Employer Guide, the DMA says: “Dyslexic people have an uneven cognitive profile with contrasting abilities. Often, they have strengths in creative, problem solving and communication skills, but challenges with spelling, reading, and with holding onto or retrieving information quickly and accurately.”
The industry can’t allow those stated problems to preclude the abilities that are also there to be used. Instead, we must support and celebrate dyslexia as part of the wider diversity that makes creativity the wonderful, inventive, extraordinary calling that it is.Some great initiatives are under way, such as e-reader Leo making creative education available in dyslexia-friendly formats, to encourage more people with the condition into the industry.
Meanwhile, global charity Made By Dyslexia published its study The Value of Dyslexia “to prepare dyslexic individuals for a changing world and enable them to flourish”. (In fact, as this article in Forbes explains, there’s a growing belief dyslexics are the key to harnessing the full power of a digital future.)
Collectively, we can all do so much more to make the creative industry a second home for dyslexic people.
Dyslexics can use their powers to propel creativity. There’s even a strong case for someone with dyslexia to add the condition to the skills section of their CV as a key personal strength.
So – what will your organisation do to celebrate this talent, and write a new chapter in the diversity handbook?