In business, particularly as an up-and-coming entrepreneur, learning is everything: Learning how to manage employees, learning how to raise and invest capital, learning how to handle inevitable twists and turns, learning how your competitors operate so that your firm can find an edge. Thus, for individuals with learning disabilities, starting and running a successful business may seem implausible, even impossible.
But they would be mistaken, as several highly successful entrepreneurs have proved otherwise. Here’s how four business leaders learned not only to overcome disabilities like ADHD, Asperger’s and dyslexia, but actually turned them into an advantage.
Richard Branson, Virgin Group
The colorful business magnate has never been shy about acknowledging he suffers from dyslexia, a learning disability that makes it difficult for individuals to read and interpret letters. His disability made it difficult for him to succeed at school, because teachers thought thought he was lazy or stupid.
In retrospect, however, Branson says the condition made him a better business owner because it taught him how to “delegate tasks [he] wasn’t so good at” and left him free to look at the bigger picture of growing the business, he wrote in Fortune magazine.
David Neeleman, JetBlue Airways
David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue, struggled as a child with standardized tests and staying focused in school. It was only in his 30s that he discovered he had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)—a condition often characterized by impulsivity and lack of focus.
However, the condition that plagued him in his early years didn’t prevent him from finding success later in life. Neeleman would go on to launch American airline Jet Blue and create the company’s breakthrough electronic ticketing system, which is now used by several other airlines.
Bram Cohen, BitTorrent Inc.
Bram Cohen is the founder of BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer sharing system that allows individuals to distribute large amounts of data across the internet. Although he’s famous in technology circles as the father of the groundbreaking network, many don’t know that Cohen suffers from Asperger’s.
Cohen noted in an interview with Business Insider that his diagnosis can make navigating social conventions difficult, but that hasn’t limited success in any way. In fact, the unique way his brain works actually helps him approach problems and puzzles from a unique perspective – a quality he says helps him be a better entrepreneur.
Daymond John, FUBU / Shark Tank
The famous entrepreneur made a name for himself in the 1990s with his fashion company, FUBU. Later, he re-entered the public eye as an investor on TV show Shark Tank, a reality program that gives aspiring entrepreneurs a chance to grow their business by seeking private investments. What many fans of the FUBU brand and the show don’t realize is that John suffers from dyslexia.
Early in life, the iconic fashion pioneer struggled in school and didn’t even know how to spell his middle name – “Garfield” – for years.
“In math and science, I would excel,” John told the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity. “I could look at something quickly and get high grades, A’s and B’s. Yet reading and spelling were another story.”
John is yet another example of an entrepreneur who’s learning handicap actually made him a better entrepreneur. His condition pushed him to strengthen his other skills, he says, and helped him learn to delegate reading tasks he struggled with to others who could complement his strong math skills.