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Agency life is Kryptonite to creatives with dyslexia – but that can change

By Adam Holloway | Chief creative officer



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October 5, 2022 | 8 min read

Adam Holloway of agency Emperor explores how agency life is inhibiting the superpowers of our creatives with dyslexia – and how to make marketing environments a little more hospitable for them.

A jumble of typesetting letters

People with dyslexia have a harder time with reading, writing and expression – does agency life make things worse? / Amador Loureiro via Unsplash

I’m dyslexic, along with 6.3 million people in the UK – around 10% of the population.

Dyslexia is extremely prevalent in the creative industry. Researchers for Frontiers in Psychology have found that people with dyslexia have “enhanced abilities” in certain areas; one is creativity. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re dyslexic, or work with people who are.

Being dyslexic doesn’t just mean I’m terrible at spelling (which, for the record, is so bad that sometimes even the spell check is like, WTF?). It also affects my reading, writing and speech.

I love reading, it just takes me a lot longer than most people because I need to read a lot of sentences twice. It’s like my brain (or “brian”, as I always spell it) needs a double pass to pick up all the information.

Although people tell me I’m a passable writer, it’s not an easy process for me. I constantly feel like I have brian (go with it) fog, which makes finding the right words feel difficult and clumsy.

Do you speak Wookie?

Dyslexia can affect how I articulate myself. Everything makes perfect sense in my head, but when it comes to converting those thoughts into words, it can go disastrously wrong. At best, it results in me using a word in the wrong context or mispronouncing a word I’ve said a million times. At worst, I open my mouth and emit a sound like Chewbacca that no one understands (unless you speak Wookie).

Being in a job that requires me to accurately describe my thoughts and sell my ideas, this can be problematic. It’s easier when I have a friendly audience; people who have worked with me a lot understand my shorthand. For knowledge shares or pitches, preparation is essential. Not just the usual level of robust preparation; I have to know what I’m going to say backward.

I have a limited concentration span and can be easily distracted. This is particularly difficult if I have a long meeting with lots of visual or audio distractions. The result is the same: I have to work hard to maintain focus.

Dyslexia is a superpower

It’s not all bad. Far from it. To me, the benefits of dyslexia far outweigh the negatives; it’s my superpower. I’m good at distilling complex information and turning it into an effective organizing thought or idea. This ability can also bring brevity to the host of exciting problems that it’s my job to solve.

Here at Emperor, we’ve been exploring how we can better support neurodiverse people and attract unique talent – getting the best creative outcomes for clients means that we want as much diversity in project teams as possible.

Earlier this year Kathy Forsyth and Kate Power, authors and designers of the book The Bigger Picture Book of Amazing Dyslexics and the Jobs They Do, joined us for a candid conversation about dyslexia. We discussed the challenges and coping strategies they use in everyday life, and how the education system and workplace could and should become a friendlier environment for dyslexic people.

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It’s Kryptonite, Superman

Let’s be honest, though: the workplace can be hostile to someone with dyslexia.

Emails are the first thing everyone checks when they start work. This sets in motion a chain of events that aren’t compatible with the minds of most dyslexic people. First read (and understand) them all, and identify which ones need a response. Then prioritize responses, some of which require secondary tasks. Then write responses that answer the queries.

Meanwhile, you have multiple notifications from Teams, which can feel as though you’re under fire. And just as you’re getting into the zone, you have a calendar reminder for a meeting you’re not due to attend for another 15 minutes. The zone evaporates, and the anxiety levels rise.

Seems easy, right? I bet you’re not dyslexic.

And when it comes to the brief, not all are as good as they can be: 80% of the information might be irrelevant; 15% devoted to tactical deliverables; 3% on project timings; and, finally, just 2% focused on the problem that needs to be solved. That is a lot of unnecessary information for our (dyslexic) creatives to get through.

Seriously though

Wherever you are in your career, get into the habit of setting boundaries. Turn off the noise. Be disciplined with your time. Communicate this to your team. Be clear about what it takes to do your best work.

Let’s help by focusing on what’s important and leaving out what isn’t. Look at different ways of briefing them. Think about how we deliver the information. Ask what works for them. Do things differently.

One thing is for sure: we’re not taking full advantage of our creatives’ dyslexic superpowers.

Let’s remove cultural barriers that inhibit their ability to thrive. Just think about the positive impact this would have, not only on our ideas and craft, but on our workplaces. The world will be a better place for it.

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