Where are all of the dyslexic thinkers?

With LinkedIn now including 'Dyslexic Thinking' as a skill users can add to their profiles, Chris Murphy, general manager of The Hallway Performance Digital - himself a dyslexic - says it's time the creative industry capitalised on dyslexics' competitive edge.

The creative industry prides itself on the ability to problem solve and think differently, which is why Linkedin’s recent move to add ‘Dyslexic Thinking’ among the talents its users can list should be embraced by those working in marketing and advertising.

What’s more, Dictionary.com has redefined the term as ‘strengths in creative, problem-solving and communication skills’. If that doesn’t reflect what the majority of those reading this does each and every day then I don’t know what does.

As one of approximately two million people in Australia with dyslexia –  a term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that does not affect general intelligence – I spend most of my days being a proudly dyslexic business leader.

Since starting my career in the creative industry I’ve always been encouraged to ‘think differently’ yet I never disclosed my dyslexia until later in my working life (2020 in fact). Despite being biologically hard-wired to ‘think differently’ it was only when I decided to embrace my difference, that my career took off. It made me accept the things I wasn’t good at and ask for help. I opened up to my team and now we work better together as they better understand how I think.

Some of the biggest names in the industry are fellow dyslexics. Rich Silverstein, the legendary adman who is co-chairman and partner at Goodby Silverstein and Partners, struggled through most of his secondary education. Like me, he was also put in a separate class for underachieving students. “I remember how scarring it was,” he said. “I had this amazing facility to visualise things, yet I couldn’t read or put things down in words as efficiently.”

Another is Chris Arnold, a former creative and strategy chief at Saatchi & Saatchi, who now runs his own innovation lab called The Garage, where he says: “Half of my creative department is dyslexic.” A proud dyslexic he adds: “Dyslexia is commonplace in the creative industries because it’s one industry that is more interested in your ability to think and solve problems, than to gain paper qualifications.”

There have long been stigmas associated with learning and developmental disabilities. I’ve lost count of the number of times I was told I wasn’t “good enough” nor “naturally gifted” to have an impact, and to a certain degree I still struggle. But I’ve found the antidote is attitude, I’ve overcome my perceived disability through self-belief and hard work and over the past two years I’ve done some of my most meaningful work to date, including recognition at industry awards, being appointed to manage THPD, The Hallway’s performance digital arm, and most recently securing a spot on The Marketing Academy’s 2022 program and being named an UnLtd Ambassador for Good.

So to my dyslexic colleagues, I want you to ‘Ride it like you stole it’. Dyslexia is your competitive edge that’s helped the likes of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Agatha Christie. Go ahead, add ‘Dyslexic Thinking’ as a skill to your profile and wear it with pride, because it’s served some of the best thinkers of all time.

And to senior industry leaders who aren’t dyslexic, the industry is going through immense change and we all know we need to innovate. Let’s stop looking at old practices to solve future problems and instead continue to challenge the notion of hiring for diversity and tap into a talent pool of people who are great conversationalists, tremendous empathisers and are wonderfully imaginative.

We are in the business of ideas. We value the quality of thinking. So why not include those with it already built-in?

Chris Murphy is general manager of The Hallway Performance Digital.


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