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The Theory of Desirable Difficulty

dreamstime_xs_48500020Can you find advantage in your biggest disadvantage?

Many people are aware that Richard Branson is dyslexic. Until recently I had not been aware of research that shows that he shares this characteristic with many other entrepreneurs. Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London, found that more than a third of the entrepreneurs she surveyed – 35 percent – were dyslexic.

In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell explores two possible interpretations for this: that “this remarkable group of people triumphed despite their disability” or that “they succeeded, in part, because of their disability – that they learned something in their struggle that proved to be of enormous advantage”.

Looking at another kind of disadvantage – losing a parent while you’re a child – Gladwell, citesfascinating research by Lucille Iremonger, that 67% of the British Prime Ministers she studied had lost a parent by their 16th birthday.

I coach a lot of talented people. One of the most successful has achieved great fundraising results in every job he’s had, and he’s won a national fundraising award for the pioneering work he’s done in making Social Investment concepts work for charities. Last year, he and I were discussing strategies he could use to tackle a particular work challenge, and he said he would find one of the ideas I suggested difficult because of his dyslexia.

I had been unaware that he is dyslexic. After reading Gladwell’s ideas about some potential strengths that can be stimulated in dyslexic people, I asked my client what he made of it. He said that because he had never been able to rely on reading as much as his classmates, he had needed to develop other skills which in the long run proved to be invaluable strengths.

‘Every disadvantage contains the seed of an equivalent or even greater advantage within it’

Anthony Robbins

Changing what meaning we give to our situation, how we see things, is more than an interesting exercise, it can be hugely useful. Why? Because our results are affected by the type and amount of activity we’re willing to do. What has a massive effect on what we’re willing to do? How we feel, that is, what state we are in. And the states we are in are greatly affected by what we think of our jobs, our skills, the chances of our efforts making any difference.

So as you answer the following questions, dare yourself to think a different thought, to find a new meaning for the obvious challenges to your fundraising success. The more you make a habit of searching for empowering meanings, the easier it will be to feel energised to take action.

How could this concept help you feel and act differently today?

1)      Write down a disadvantage that you or your colleagues would say make fundraising difficult for your charity.

2)      Ask yourself ‘if this disadvantage has some sources of strength or potential advantage hidden within it, what could they be?’

For example, if you work for a cause that appears less appealing to many people, here are three ideas:

  • Because our cause is harder to sell, its forcing me to become a much more skilful fundraiser because I know unless I do, I’ll raise no money at all. For the medium and long-term, this is really valuable to me.
  • Because our cause is not universally appealing many of the people who do support us are even more loyal and supportive, because they feel a solidarity with us.
  • Because our cause is less popular, we can build a stronger team spirit than other charities, in the same way that sports teams that are unpopular or have had a player sent off, often come together as a stronger unit in the face of adversity.

On April 1, 2015 / Fundraising Skills, Major Gifts, Mentoring, Uncategorized


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