There is good news for those who find basic skills hard:
“Basic skills have no market value.” Norbert Weiner, author of Cybernetics said way back in 1948. His words are truer by the day.
After spending weeks studying Thomas West's work, talking to him on the Wonderfully Wired podcast and then going down the rabbit holes of many success stories of what he calls dyslexic superstars, I stepped back and let my eyes relax.
I was waiting for an image to emerge like in those optical illusions we used to enjoy as kids.
It’s wonderful to hear of a kid placed in a special needs program going on to win a Nobel Prize in Biology, of a boy who couldn’t spell becoming a renowned writer and a high level mathematician who doesn’t know his maths facts. - These stories in themselves are enough to give young Wonderfully Wired brains the gumption to succeed.
But a bigger picture emerges from Tom’s work -a seed of an idea in our generation to blossom in our children’s: The workplace is changing in fundamental ways.
‘All the low-level reading and clerical tasks that dyslexics have difficulty with were becoming less and less important in the world of work. In contrast, the high-level visual thinking talents and skills where dyslexics often excel were becoming more and more important in the world of work once again.’ says Tom in Dyslexic Strengths in Times of Adversity, July 2022
Tom got me thinking about old world skills becoming relevant again: like those displayed by Polonysian wayfarers, that modern education would have found primitive. Today’s complicated information visualisation technology helps all see what these ancients saw without such help (and we think the technology is so smart!) You can read my blog about that here.
Then we spoke of progressive industries searching out different thinkers to solve the puzzles that the more analytical, traditionally trained brains can’t. Read the blog about why dyslexics make good spies.
Tom also comments on the trend in more and more entrepreneurs like Richard Branson rising to the top of their game because their dyslexia superpowers give them the edge in that industry.
But more exciting than seeing individual successes, I was delighted when Tom quoted a report by one of the big four management consultant companies, EY (formerly Ernst and Young) in 2018 titled The Value of Dyslexia.
The report reads,
“ dyslexic individuals (have) natural abilities to form alternative views and solve problems creatively. Heightened cognitive abilities in certain areas, such as visualization and logical reasoning skills and natural entrepreneurial traits can bring a fresh, often intuitive perspective.”
Do you see it?
We are no longer talking about extraordinary individuals. Formal reports written by a major business management consultant firm acknowledges what they call ’natural abilities’ in all people with the profile.
The working world is changing in fundamental ways.
Tom explains that with powerful computers and artificial intelligence all the things, like reading and remembering facts, that schools have been training students to do, are being done faster and more cheaply by machines.
Tom urges us to Tell Young Dyslexics:
“Time is on your side. All the things you have had trouble with are becoming less and less important. All the things you are good at are becoming more and more important.”
This new work world is one where the humans that rise to the top are the ones that don’t excel in what machines can do.
“Rather, humans need to visualize, see the big picture, understand, recognize patterns, consider slowly and ponder what it all means, where to go and how to get there.”
It just so happens that’s really good news for the child in your home struggling today with the things that schools have historically regarded as most important.
Leading Universities and colleges are also seeing the trend, -- Eugene S. Ferguson writes in Engineering and the Mind’s Eye for the MIT press.
“Until the 1960s, a student in an American engineering school was expected by his teachers to use his mind’s eye to examine things that engineers had designed, to look at them, listen to them, walk around them and thus develop an intuitive feel for the way the material world works and sometimes doesn’t work.
“By the 1980s, engineering curricula had shifted to analytical [and mathematical] approaches, so that visual and other sensual knowledge of the world seemed less relevant. As faculties dropped drawing and shop practice from their curricula and [professors] deemed plant and factory visits unnecessary, working knowledge of the material world disappeared from faculty agendas and therefore from student agendas, and the nonverbal, tacit, and intuitive understanding essential to engineering design atrophied.”
Private business is catching on, cyber codebreaking companies are catching on, tertiary level education is catching on… now to get primary and secondary education to catch on and develop the potential in our kids.
We need better tests and measures of capacity for a start - Tom suggests we get dyslexics to help create those tests. We need to stop majoring in rote learning, neat handwriting, and low level skills.
And we need teachers to start believing in the kids that they’ve always assumed have fewer options.
All the details came together to make an image arise in my optical illusion and I felt a growing optimism:
I don’t see a string of visual thinking superstars that are outliers. I see a wave of young dyslexics that will not only survive but thrive by contributing meaningfully to the workplace of tomorrow.