Underdog power: Dyslexic entrepreneurs

A weakness can be a hidden strength, author Malcolm Gladwell tells Anderson Cooper.

Underdogs’ limitations force them to be creative, says Gladwell, whose new book is called David and Goliath.

One of his examples is Gary Cohn, a dyslexic who “couldn’t do school” and was “kicked out” for acting up. He learned to work around his disability. He’s still a poor reader. He’s also president of Goldman Sachs.

Malcolm Gladwell: An incredibly high percentage of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic. That’s one of the little-known facts. So many of them, in fact, it’s like a joke among dyslexic researchers that you go into a room of very successful businesspeople, and you—you have a show of hands on who has a learning disability, it’s like half the hands in the room go up. It’s fascinating…

Gary Cohn: People that can’t read well, we tend to build a great sense of listening. We also tend to build a great sense of being able to deal and cope with failure.

Gladwell grew up in rural Ontario, the son of a Jamaican-born family therapist and a British math professor. He was not a strong student, but since his family had no TV and never went to movies, he read lots of books. If he got bored, his mother would say, “It’s important to be bored. You’re giving your brain a rest.”

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  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    When I was a kid, my father would become frustrated with my insistence on staying in doors and reading when he thought some fresh air would be good for me.

    Reading can be just as escapist as other form of entertainment – whether or not we’re reading literature or pulp fiction.

    Many educated people – particularly academics who build their lives around abstractions and passive behavior fail to understand the value of doing or building something concretely substantive. Dyslexics get positive reinforcement from concrete accomplishments because the academic kind are less satisfying. No mystery really.

  2. Mark Roulo says:

    “An incredibly high percentage of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic.”


    I’d want a citation other than Malcolm Gladwell before I started thinking hard about why this might be.

      • Mark Roulo says:



        This was the sort of thing I was looking for:
        In fact, Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London, released a study in 2007 that reported that more than a third of the American entrepreneurs she surveyed said they were dyslexic—a dramatic proportion in comparison with the estimated 10 percent of the overall U.S. population that deals with the disorder.

        • I think I’ll hold of shouting “Eureka” until there’s a trifle more evidence to support the notion. I’m afraid that the constant search for “the next, big thing” in Planet Ed School will result in a dislexia-producing curriculum guaranteed to turn every kid into a Steve Jobs.

          From the tenor of the article at Yale the process is already under way.

  3. If Goldman and other Wall Street firms were really looking for underdogs, they would not hire so heavily from Ivy League schools.