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Succeeding Because of the 'Advantage of Disadvantages'

In his book David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell documents the lives of many successful leaders and entrepreneurs who succeed not in spite of challenges and suffering in life but because of them. He calls this phenomenon "the advantage of disadvantage." Gladwell cites a study from City, University of London that notes that a third of highly successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic (e.g., Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, and Paul Orfalea). Researcher Sharon Thompson-Schill recalls speaking at a prominent university donors' meeting filled with successful business people, and when she asked how many of them had been diagnosed with a learning disorder, half of the hands went up. Gladwell's insight on this is profound:

There are two possible interpretations for this fact. One is that this remarkable group of people triumphed in spite of their disability: they are so smart and so creative that nothing—not even a lifetime of struggling with reading—could stop them. The second, more intriguing, possibility is that they succeeded, in part, because of their disorder—that they learned something in their struggle that proved to be of enormous advantage.

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