The Advantages of Dysfunctional Disadvantage
Monday, September 29, 2014
Over the past few weeks I have been interviewing a number of successful people in different fields of endeavor and one common trait kept creeping up. They all, without exception, said they had major learning disabilities.
What is going on?
Growing up, I attended Catholic school from first to eighth grade and broke many a paddle and caused many a nun to pray for mercy on my soul.
I was what was known as a “busy” kid.
They didn’t have names for Attention Deficit Disorder back then. They, the teachers, just got frustrated and gave you a smack or a whack for disrupting the class. It also always seemed the boys had been more touched with the “busy” than the girls.
No matter how much my mom would cry at night about my grades and my getting in trouble at school, I just couldn’t clench my teeth or squint my eyes hard enough, to concentrate long enough, to absorb anything of substance in school.
I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I just couldn’t pay attention in class.
Turns out I most likely had ADD, or ADHD, or some combination of letters I haven’t even heard of yet.
One thing that these teachers did tell my poor mom was that I was smart and I should be able to get the work if only I took the time and studied, if I stopped screwing around in class and paid attention. Like there was a choice.
Recently I met with two guys who are above average in smarts and creativity.
Both started multiple companies with tremendous success.
This 30-something was out of the gate at an early age. His dad was one of the godfathers of Silicon Valley back in the days when garage meant garage, not some brick loft in the Pearl furnished with recycled wooden chairs.
A Different Way of Learning
He observed intensely as really smart engineers and software designers gathered at his family home. He listened to their conversations. They were building and dreaming and solving problems.
Bell was no computer geek without a social life. He was the quarterback of the high school football team, maybe even considered by some to be a stupid jock. The thing is, he worked hard and graduated from school. It wasn’t easy. He told me why: He had dyslexia and ADD.
He hustled as a kid building computers for students and teachers at school and doing all kinds of side deals to make money. He just “liked to build things,” he told me. He had lots of ideas and a burning desire to see them come to life.
That seems to be a common thread with the kind of people I’m talking about. Others say they are all over the place, but in reality they thrive on actually doing things, rather than talking or theorizing or writing about it.
Then there’s Eli Alford Jones. I met him around eight years ago in Portland at NedSpace, the "incubator," when a friend asked me to “come see this kid that was really smart and has started this really amazing company.”
The company in question is called Padici.com. It solves a significant problem for building owners and renters by consolidating the payments they have to make on multiple bills.
I walked away from meeting this guy and agreed he was super smart.
Failure to graduate
Recently I met with him and congratulated him on all his success over the years. He shared with me that he never graduated, and had been diagnosed with similar dysfunctions.
So here are all of the wayward kids, the no-hopers from Sister Mary’s class and all the other schools that couldn’t find a way to teach them, knocking it out of the park!
The busy kids with no hope for holding a steady job figured something out on the way to the wood shed:
“Since I have all these issues and no one seems to understand me, I might as well go be rich building my own company.”
Turns out, this dysfunctional learning thing is actually the secret sauce in their success.
How about this: We are the dysfunctionally advantaged. I always knew we were special.
So here’s to the “busy” kids, finding ways to turn their challenges into success.
- Banking Then and Now: A Tale of Two Business Owners
- Why Investors Were Wrong About the Coolest Cooler
- Portland’s Passive Aggression Problem