Thinking Differently About Teaching People with Dyslexia

For years, educators have struggled with how to help students with dyslexia learn to read at the same pace as their classmates.  Dyslexia is a type of learning disability that affects the way letters are visually perceived.  Letters such as “m” and “n” are easily confused, while other letters are flipped horizontally or vertically by the brain. ZWriting resized 600

As a result, individuals with dyslexia struggle to distinguish letters and words as quickly as individuals without the learning disability.  Dyslexia affects as much as 5-10% of the world population, and educators have learned to modify their teaching style to help their students.

However, Christian Boer may have revolutionized the world for people struggling with dyslexia.  He has created a new font that makes small adjustments to each letter that helps illuminate the differences between similar letters.

Watch the video below to learn more about the new font “Dyslexie”:

What problems are you trying to solve today?  

Panera Bread- Feeding the Needy by Thinking Differently

If you’ve visited the Panera Bread location in Clayton, MO, Portland, OR, or Dearborn, MI, you might have noticed something strange about the menu.  There are no prices. 

nonprofitx largeThat’s right, no set prices for menu items.  These 3 locations are actually non-profit community cafes called Panera Cares where customers choose what they would like to pay.

If you have money to spare, you can pay more than the typical price for your meal, but if you have nothing to offer you can still eat.  The cafe is not a “soup kitchen,” though, it is a way for members of the community to help one another when in need.  If someone cannot pay at all, they are not denied a meal, but they are urged to donate their time. They are also using the store as a way provide job/skills training to disadvantaged youth.

The 3 locations were chosen strategically.  They were placed in reasonably affluent neighborhoods with access to public transportation, which has allowed for a diverse clientele.

At these 3 locations, Panera Bread Foundation has found that about 20% of people pay more than the retail price for their meal while 20% pay less.  About 60% of people pay roughly the original retail value.  Within a few months of the first store opening, Panera Cares turned a profit (which they reinvest in skills training).

Who would have thought that removing the price from a menu would result in people paying more than the item is worth?  This is a great example of an organization thinking differently about how to approach a problem like feeding the needy.

Panera already donates between $100-150 Million in products each year by donating their “less fresh” baked goods to charitable organizations.  The Panera Cares cafe is just one more example of how this organization continues to take care of the community through healthy meals, discounted or free items, and skills training.

Kudos to Panera for “thinking differently.

How can you make a difference today?

(image source credit to Tim A. Parker of USA Today)

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Decisions: Khan Academy

Have you ever tried to help a sibling, child, or friend with their homework?  Salman Khanwas asked to help his cousin Nadia with her math problems in 2004, and he turned that simple request into a non-profit organization that has helped 38 million YouTube viewers worldwide.

Salman is a 33 year old from New Orleans who just wanted to help his cousin and other family members learn math.  Before I talk about his “Extraordinary Decision” I should be clear that I don’t consider Salman “ordinary” in any traditional sense of the term.  He received a perfect score on the math section of the SAT’s, holds degrees in mathematics, electrical engineering, and computer science in addition to an MBA from Harvard.  He’s wicked smart! However, he was an average person in the sense that he was holding down a full time job and he just wanted to help his cousin learn how to solve math problems.

Salman began remotely tutoring his cousin online and over time realized it would be more efficient to record his lessons and post them on YouTube.  As the popularity of his videos grew, he realized the need for “free education” provided in a simple, direct, and relaxed approach.  Today, Salman has produced over 2,000 ten-minute videos on YouTube ranging from elementary school mathematics to college level calculus (where was this when I was in undergrad?).  He averages 35,000 hits per day and has big plans for the future of Khan Academy?  Monetization, right?


Khan has received several offers to sell his videos and the Khan Academy and turned each one down.  The organization itself is a non-profit.  Khan could likely retire today based on the offers he has received.  Google has even contributed $2 Million to translate the videos into additional languages.  The possibilities are endless.  Individuals in the most remote areas of the world can receive world-class tutoring with the click of the mouse.  It’s amazing.

As if the story isn’t extraordinary enough already, consider the fact that Salman has been named one of Fortune Magazine’s “Top 40 under 40″ (a prestigious list of rising entrepreneurs) and even Bill Gates said he uses the Khan Academy to teach his kids.

What I find truly extraordinary is his perspective on selling Khan Academy:

“I’ve been approached several times, but it just didn’t feel right. When I’m 80, I want to feel that I helped give access to a world-class education to billions of students around the world.”

As far as his long-term vision, he says:

“I see Khan Academy becoming the world’s first free, world-class virtual school where anyone can learn anything–for free.

The videos are just part of the vision. We hope to build out the adaptive software to cover all the topics that the videos cover. We also intend to develop simulation games to give more nuanced and applied understanding of concepts.”

I am amazed and inspired by Salman Khan’s brilliance, innovation, and philanthropy.

Salman Khan decided to think differently, and he is changing the world.

How did you make a difference in the world today?


Think Like a 4 Year-Old

Tonight I met a precocious 4-year old who reminded me how amazing a child’s brain works.  They are persistent, creative, imaginative, and witty.  This particular child, not unlike most toddlers, was trying to bait his mom into buying every item in the check-out line at the pet store.

After being turned down several times, he zoned in on the shiny, engraveable dog tags on the counter, and this is the conversation that transpired:

Child (very dramatically):  “Mom, we almost forgot the tag thing.”

Mom:  “No, we don’t need a tag, because Bailey already has one.  Remember?”

Child:  “But what if he loses it?”1196950 smile resized 600

Mom:  “Then we will have to replace it, but we don’t need to buy one today.”

Child (unthwarted):  “But what about MY tag?”

Mom (semi-amused): “You don’t wear a collar, so you don’t need a tag.”

Child (now very excited): “Oh, we forgot a collar too!!!”

Mom:  “No, children don’t wear collars or dog tags.  Only pets wear those in case they get lost.”

Child:  “But what if I get lost?”

Mom:  “You won’t get lost.”

Child:  “But I might.”

Mom:  “Well, that’s why we taught you your full name, address and phone number.  Then, if you get lost you can tell an adult and they will bring you home safely to us.”

(The child then rattled off all of his personal information, and the mom looked quite proud).

Child:  “But what if I forgot them?”

Mom:  “You won’t.  That’s why we practice them so often.”

Child (after hesitating for a moment):  “But, what if I can’t talk?”

Mom:  “Why wouldn’t you be able to talk?”

Child:  “Well, if I was eating I wouldn’t be able to talk.”

Mom:  “Well, then you would tell them after you finished chewing.”

Child:  “But what if I was REALLY hungry?”


At that point, my cashier finished ringing up my purchase so I didn’t hear the mother’s answer to his inquiry, but I found the whole conversation so amusing!  I almost wanted to buy him a tag just to reward him for his creative thinking.  I also loved that the mother (though clearly exhausted with the conversation) never said “because I said so.”  She didn’t discourage his line of questioning, and answered each question logically.

This is how we build the great thinkers of tomorrow.  Some day that little boy will be sitting in a boardroom, on a battle field, or in the White House asking “What if” because no one ever told him “because I said so.”

How have you had a similar conversation with your children lately?

Now You’re Thinking Creatively: Creative Thinking in Inventionland

Take a look around your office.  What does it inspire- productivity, social collaboration, positivity, efficiency?  What if instead of looking at the 3 walls of your cubicle every day, you looked out at a lagoon complete with a waterfall?  What would that inspire?

For George Davison and the 250 employees of Davison, the environment is key to their creative thinking.  Davison has created over 900 products seen in stores worldwide.  They have invented everything from The Meatball Baker to a Portable Explosive Detector, and their products can be found at Walmart, Skymall, QVC, Sears, Cabella’s, Lowe’s, Home Depot and many more well-known stores.

While on a family trip to Disney World, George Davison realized that during the trip many of the problems he’d been struggling with in the office seemed to have new solutions when he was inspired by the world around him.  He believed that the change in atmosphere made a big difference in his creative process.  So, he headed back to the office and invented Inventionland!

Inventionland is the Willy Wonka of design factories.  The staff don’t work in cubicles or corner offices.  They work in the hull of a ship, a race car track, a castle, or a tree house. Check out these pictures from DailyMail and see more pictures from the office here.


In the book “Now You’re Thinking” the authors suggest that when presented with a difficult problem or situation “If you can, get some space or take a walk. A change in the scenery can have a tremendous impact on your ability to think through a situation.”

Just imagine if that walk/change of scenery included a “house made of a shoe” or candy inspired bungalo! Kudos to George Davison and the Inventionland creators for reminding us that sometimes to change your thinking, you must change your scenery.

Where do you go to think creatively?

Watch a timelapse video showing the building of Inventionland below.


Thinking Differently About Disabilities

Heather Ishikawa, co-author of Now You’re Thinking!, once told me a great story about finding creative solutions.

She told me about a company that was having trouble with their Packaging Department.  The company started using old newspapers to wrap their delicate items before shipping.  Using old newspapers helped them save money (because the newspapers were donated) and helped lessen the impact on the environment.

However, they realized that their employees’ productivity slowed once they transitioned from using plain brown wrapping paper to the old newspapers.  It turned out the employees were reading the newspaper as they used it for wrapping.

So, they brainstormed ways to keep the newspapers, but remove the problem of reduced productivity.  They exercised a brainstorming technique called “suspension of judgement” which meant that every idea was worth considering, no matter how silly it may sound.  The question became “how do we stop employees from reading the newspapers while they wrap the products?”  Ideas included dying the newspapers, hiring non-English speakers, and dimming the lights in the warehouse.836231 do you trust me resized 600

In the end, the idea that seemed the most surprising became the perfect solution.  Someone suggested that they blindfold employees.  While blindfolding probably wouldn’t go over well with the employees, the idea made them realize that they hadn’t considered hiring individuals who were visually impaired.  The company ended up hiring individuals who were blind and productivity instantly skyrocketed.

This is such a great example of creative and critical thinking.  This company was able to “think differently” by considering every possible solution to the problem.

I was reminded of this story when I watched the following video on this evening.  Some people might think it is impossible for blind people to drive, but this company is choosing to think differently about how to put visually-impaired individuals behind the wheel.

How can you think differently about a challenge you’re working on today?

Research Shows Better Decision-Making = More Money!

Harvard Business Review conducted research with Bain & Company where they surveyed executives worldwide from 760 companies, most with revenues exceeding 1 billion to understand how effective those companies were at making and executing their critical decisions. This 2010 research showed that decision effectiveness and financial results correlated 95% or higher for every country, industry, and company size in the sample. The companies that were most effective at decision making and execution generated total shareholder returns nearly 6 percentage points higher than those of other firms.

The research found that, “a companies value is no more (and no less) than the sum of the decisions it makes and executes. Its assets, capabilities, and structure are useless unless executives and managers throughout the organization make the essential decisions and get those decisions right more often than not.”

Based on their research, the article suggests that it is important to sync an organizational structure and the organization’s decision making approach.

The article outlined 6 steps to focus on when aligning an organization with decision making.

1.      Be clear about which decisions are most important (Recognize and confirm assumptions)

2.      Figure out where in the organization those decisions need to be made (Evaluate the information)

3.      Organize your structure around sources of value

4.      Figure out the level of authority your decision makers need and give it to them

5.      Adjust other parts of your organizational system to support decision making and execution

6.      Equip your managers to make decisions quickly (Make sure that your decision allows your managers to be empowered)


How do you ensure decision-making alignment within your organization?


Editor’s Note:  Heather Ishikawa is a co-author of Now You’re Thinking! and the National Sales Director for Pearson TalentLens.  She is a career human resources professional with extensive experience in training, selection, organizational development, executive coaching, leadership development, team-building, and critical thinking skills training.  She holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Management and can be contacted at

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