Sometimes You DO Want A Hard Life

I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book David And Goliath last night and one of the chapter talked about desirable disadvantage, and they talked about Dyslexia, which is a reading disorder where you use your right brain heavily to comprehend words. This is a problem because your right brain is much more conceptual, it shouldn’t be tasked with something so precise and rigorous like reading.

Dyslexia can be a major problem for children because of the psychological impact it brings. People tend to not understand this disorder and will treat the poor academic performance on children’s laziness and intelligence.


But when the environment is set with the right combination, this disorder can be a HUGE advantage, how?

Consider these two questions:

1. If a bat and a ball costs $1.10 Total. And the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost? 

What’s your answer? $0.10 for the ball? It’s not! Look again and calculate, the answer is actually $0.05 for the ball!

2. It takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how much does would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

What’s your answer? 100 minutes? It’s actually 5 minutes, because all the machines can be on at the same time.


These are 2 of the 3 questions that make up the world’s shortest intelligence test, called Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT), it measures ones ability to comprehend something much more complex than it appears. They used CRT on different universities, Princeton scores 1.9 out of 3 while MIT scores 2.18 out of 3.

However, what they found extremely interesting is what happens if they make the questions VERY hard to read. They redid the test but made the questions 10% grey and 10-points italic Myriad Pro font… it looked something like this:


When they made it barely visible, Princeton’s average went from 1.9 to 2.45!! Wow! But why?

What they found was that when you made the reader’s life hard, you force them to slow down and slowly comprehend what is going on, this makes their brain do a lot more work instead of just jumping to conclusion.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? When we hear success stories they usually start with someone’s life being extremely difficult and they have to make it work, so they did. Actually, a look at the successful entrepreneurs reveals that 1/3 of them are actually Dyslexic. They include people like Richard Branson, Henry Ford, Ingvar Kamprad, etc.

The theory is that because of Dyslexia, the conventional way of doing things do not work for them. So since they were young they have to make things work by thinking outside the box and rely on other skills like listening and negotiating to get things done. These years of practices can give them a huge advantage over the others.

Gladwell’s book is extremely intriguing as it keeps pointing out different phenomenons where people deemed it to be disadvantageous, when in fact when you examine it closely it’s actually an advantage. My question to you is that are you in a tough spot right now? Are you at a disadvantage place right now? You may actually be blessed with the opportunity to think outside the box and make it work!

Before we end, here is a interesting (and one of my favourite) TED talk by Gladwell:


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