Gladwell then develops the Idea that dyslexia might be a “desirable difficulty”, a condition that is usually a liability but can also be the engine for extraordinary personal success. He says that it’s hard to believe that the condition could be considered desirable given how many people struggle with it. But Gladwell is impressed by fact that “an extraordinarily high percentage of entrepreneurs are dyslexic”. And he is impressed by people like David Boies, the most successful, accomplished person at the top of a very high legal pyramid, who identifies as dyslexic. Boies is the dream-team litigator who worked on a slew of historic cases, including the IBM and Microsoft anti-trust cases, Gore vs. Bush, and the overturning of California Prop 8.
Gladwell’s idea isn’t just that such people manage to succeed despite their dyslexia. It’s that having dyslexia, and dealing with its consequences, played a causal role in their success. If dyslexia can boost people to stratospheric levels of success in professions like law and finance, and it can stimulate the creative, out-of-the-box thinking that contributes to entrepreneurial success, dyslexia might actually be a kind of “desirable difficulty.” Interesting!
Or disturbing. The answer to the question, “You wouldn’t wish dyslexia on your child. Or would you?” is, “No, you would not.” Gladwell seems oblivious to how deeply hurtful the “desirable difficulty” suggestion might be to people who have to deal with being dyslexic, and to the parents who struggle, against institutional resistance, to get their dyslexic children help. His light entertainment is likely to make it harder for many dyslexics to gain recognition of their condition from educators, or the early diagnosis and intervention that is effective for many. That would not be benign.