Biz Features

Are Learning Disabilities a Roadblock For Entrepreneurs?

by . April 4th, 2013

Klippan, Oslo,  Ekby Trygvve, and Duktig… as far as names for individual products go, IKEA is perhaps well ahead of most other familiar brands when it comes to names that make you look twice.

It seem obvious that being a Swedish company, IKEA would go for Scandinavian product names. But this is only part of the reason for what is perhaps one of the most distinct product naming systems in the world.

The real reason might surprise you. Ingvar Kamprad, Swedish entrepreneur and IKEA founder is dyslexic. Kamprad’s dyslexia made it extremely difficult for him to keep track of alphanumeric codes for his extremely wide product range. The reason for what some might figure to be an oddly charming but inefficient naming system was in fact a way for Ingvar to cope with a crippling learning disability.

Learning disabilities (LD’s) such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, dyscalcula, and many others obviously have huge-mostly negative-  implications for one’s ability to process information. This leads to significant roadblocks not only in school, where most of these conditions first starting affecting lives, but in business as well.

Who Has Them?

Entrepreneurs with learning disabilities are very commonplace, as we’ll discuss later. While there are way too many learning disabilities to discuss in just a single post, the main problems entrepreneurs and managers with learning disabilities often encounter are often one or more of the following:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Difficulty with reading comprehension or math skills
  • Trouble with open-ended test questions and word problems
  • Dislikes reading and writing; avoids reading aloud
  • Spelling the same word differently in a single document
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Trouble following discussions and expressing thoughts aloud
  • Poor handwriting


Learning disabilities tend to be spectral – most people with them can function in normal society without ever realizing they had one. However for many entrepreneurs, they can be serious enough to lead to major difficulties.

Technology Offers Solutions

Luckily more than ever, there are plenty of solutions which can work for almost anyone with learning disabilities. Many of these solutions often take buggy short-term memory out of the equation.

None_shall_pass”, a contributor to Reddit’s r/entrepreneur community explains “I don’t bother remembering anything for short-term. If it’s not in my calendar (on phone) or email (on phone) it doesn’t exist. I tell everybody right up front.

The phone’s calendar is set to do reminders at a appropriate times before meetings, bills are due…. I do software development and support, and keep all the software tasks in Bugzilla.

I have most bills set to auto-pay out of my checking account. When visa comes in, I pop it into Quickbooks, add the payment to the bank and forget about it. Same thing for real estate taxes, etc.

Aside from anything else, it keeps my head clear. I never have to try to think if I’m forgetting something. My phone will tell me when it’s time. I figure that any one-time tasks I can get out of my head frees up “clear thinking” for stuff that actually makes me money.”

It doesn’t have to be high-tech either. Managers and entrepreneurs with learning disabilities may opt for decidedly low-tech whiteboards, Post-its, and notepads- which offer some of the same benefits. However, it takes a lot of effort and discipline to keep adhering to any method, especially if using them goes against the very nature of your LD. Which brings us to the next point:

Keeping a Support Network

Another important thing for entrepreneurs with learning disabilities to have is a support network of people who understand their particular condition.  Not only is it a much less lonely path to take, you’re able to have someone to nudge you in the right direction when you’re going off track. If your condition is a secret or is misunderstood, you might still get the nudging you need, but the overall delivery might be much more negative.

Someone who understands how you are will be in a better position not only to keep you grounded, but to also complement and compensate for your own abilities. We can’t be everything to everyone, and that’s OK.

Take Pride in Your Uniqueness

We just mentioned that one-in-seven Americans has a learning disability, so you might not be too unique anyhow. There is absolutely nothing wrong with scoring  how do in the genetic lottery. Learning disabilities are not your fault.

Some LD’s, such as Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD for example, offer some unique advantages. For example, adults with ADHD are 300% more likely to become entrepreneurs- thanks in part to the restlessness it imparts.

People with Asperger’s are likelier to have better focus at certain areas, especially technical fields. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg for instance, is widely reported to have Asperger’s, as is a huge percentage of workers at tech hubs such as Silicon Valley.

Taking pride in what makes you different will also, if nothing else, make you more confident -which is essential for making any decsion.

Famous Examples of Entreps with Learning Disabilities

Cath Kidston, designer and businesswoman -Dyslexia
Richard Branson, entrepreneur- Dyslexia
Steven Spielberg, film director, founder of DreamWorks- Dyslexia
Michael Burry, US investment fund manager – Aspergers
Bram Cohen – BitTorrent Founder – Aspergers

For ADHD, there’re way too many to mention. Among the more famous:

Richard Branson
Andrew Carnegie
Malcolm Forbes – Forbes Magazine
Henry Ford
Bill Gates
William Randolph Hearst
Paul Orfalea (Kinkos)
Charles Schwab
Ted Turner
F.W. Woolworth

Entrepreneurs with learning disabilities face an uphill battle. LD’s often lead to problems with social interaction and organization- things absolutely essential for any entrepreneur or small business manager. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. With a realistic and mature attitude to towards LDs, they may not be disabilities at all, but rather the things that allow you to be the best at what you do.


For additional information: National Research Center on Learning Disabilities (NRCLD)


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.