Entrepreneur Georgina Hurcombe talks about her journey with dyslexia
Picture a dyslexic person in your mind. Perhaps you conjured up a young child, struggling with schoolwork, or a man holding his head trying to read a book (both images that popped up in the first line of images in my search engine search for “dyslexic person”). According to the charity Dyslexia Action, more than 6.3 million people in the UK are dyslexic, yet a lot of people still have fundamental misunderstandings about the learning difficulty.
Many people believe that those with dyslexia are not smart, are unable to read or are even lazy. These myths are common amongst those without dyslexia, but in fact a large number of people with dyslexia perform well in management and highly creative roles.
Entrepreneurship and dyslexia also have an interesting relationship according to SME Insider, who found that 35 per cent of entrepreneurs are dyslexic. Notable UK businesspeople with Dyslexia include Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, and Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. In their book “The Dyslexic Advantage”, Brock Eide and Fernette Eide examine the “dyslexic processing style”, which they argue is a reflection of a completely different way of processing information and brain organisation.
Reading the signs
I spoke to LoveLove Films’ Managing Director Georgina Hurcombe about her experience of dyslexia. Although she is now a successful producer of TV commercials and short promotional films, I wondered if Georgina felt her dyslexia, or the attitudes of others towards it, had held her back at all when she was at school.
“I initially found out that I was dyslexic when I was about 12. I remember being told I had a reading age of a child much younger than myself at the time; I think they said eight. This didn’t surprise me as I was always in the bottom sets at school for English and sciences and anything that involved a lot of textbooks.
“Unfortunately, my secondary school didn’t really understand dyslexia and I was put in a special needs learning unit with some students that had extreme learning difficulties. As a teenager, being put into a unit and separated from my peers wasn’t really too helpful; teachers would tell me to hurry up or to stop messing around. I was pretty frustrated, partly at myself for not being able to read and write as well as my peers but also at my teachers for not understanding that I was trying to keep up and I was not mentally inept.”
“I always remember my mum telling me as a teenager that school grades wouldn’t dictate my life, but try telling that to a teenager that is stressing out over grades. It seems almost funny now looking back at the stress I put on myself and the sleepless nights revising and never feeling good enough because I wasn’t getting the same grades as my peers or being put in the bottom classes. In fact, my school told me not to do a language at GCSE as they said there was no point when I couldn’t even write in English.
“In adult life it now seems so trivial, but the stress young people are put under in exams can be horrendous. Instead of celebrating and understanding the individual’s strengths, they try and categorise them into sets, constantly testing them. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we want our young people to strive for great things but the exam culture doesn’t work for every student or young person and that doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t excel in other areas. I wouldn’t want to be a teenager again going through all those exams.
“However, as I got older, I released that although I wasn’t the best at reading or writing I excelled at talking and connecting to people. I loved listening to people and their stories and I also excelled in the more creative subjects such as art, media and drama, where the results or grades for things I was producing were more subjective. It was the freedom to explore my more creative side that led me to go to college and then university, which had facilities that actually supported me – with really helpful tutors and learning methodologies – rather than sticking me in a room and telling me to try harder and stop messing around. I’ve found my dyslexia has meant I often simplify things, which actually isn’t a bad thing when you’re making TV adverts and only have 30 seconds to sell a brand or product.
Working it out
“So today, it I might take a little bit longer to read a 50-page tender document and I often have to print things out and highlight them (I recycle a lot); my team know that I find It difficult to read large documents online so will leave print outs for me or stick them in my bag to take home and read.
“As I’ve got older I’ve realised that generally speaking the “spelling police” are not coming for me (we have spellcheckers) and people do business with people they like and who are passionate and good at what they do. Also, as any entrepreneur will tell you, one of the best things you can do is surround yourself with people that are talented in different areas from you.
“Often I do talks with young people and I get asked by students what they should study to be an entrepreneur; I just say you should study what you enjoy, not put too much stress on yourself as you’re only young once, and find your own passion whether that be English, art, PE or something outside of the school subjects. Reach out to organisations and people that can support you and give you advice. Of course, if you follow what you’re passionate about, then you’re sure to excel.”
Georgina Hurcombe owns and runs the production and animation studio LoveLove Films: