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Great Minds Think Differently


Frank Moore


Robin Backx


Try to imagine the world today if Britain had not fought on alone, against all odds, after France was overrun by the Nazis. Imagine if peaceful resistance to tyranny hadn’t found its seed in South Africa a century ago. Can you imagine a world in which electricity had not lit up our lives or if Mickey Mouse and his pal Donald Duck had never come to life?

The visionaries responsible for these remarkable achievements are now recognized for being instrumental in developing much of the wonder and promise of their time. These are: the diplomats – Gandhi, Churchill and Kennedy; the storytellers – Hemmingway, Christie and Belafonte; the artists – Rodin, Picasso and Morriseau; the innovators – Edison, Ford and Grandin; the theorists – Einstein and Hawking; and others including entrepreneurs such as Disney, Branson and Inamori. All began as ordinary individuals who overcame learning challenges to achieve greatness through sheer determination and raw talent. These are their stories.

While people who have experienced difficulties with particular areas of learning can be found in every profession, it appears that there are certain fields which seem to naturally draw upon their strengths rather than weaknesses. As we have discovered, the old adage Great Minds Think Alike is simply not true. The stories within Great Minds Think Differently profile seventeen famous individuals, and highlight how their strengths, along with relative areas of weakness, have brought about great success.

If formally tested, not all of the individuals profiled in Great Minds Think Differently would necessarily fall within the diagnostic criteria of a specific learning or developmental disability. Yet all struggled throughout school, and displayed multiple traits of various learning challenges. Each had their own unique profile of skills and abilities, failing in certain subjects while excelling beyond their peers in others. Each had a very different kind of mind.

For centuries, people who have appeared different from others and who processed information, observed life and learned differently have faced barriers. However, many who dared to embrace the unique ways in which they perceive and understand the world are among those who have been able to achieve the greatest feats within their lifetime. Instead of viewing these people as achieving greatness despite their learning challenges, the stories in Great Minds Think Differently demonstrate how, because of what others may perceive as a disability, great success can be achieved.

Great Minds Think Differently is the first biographical analysis of its kind, highlighting how different types of learning styles have impacted the life journeys and affected the accomplishments of some of the world’s most remarkable individuals. Their profiles read more like mysteries than do most standard biographies, and by using a plain language approach, the stories are meant to be both accessible and inspiring to all readers, including individuals with learning or developmental challenges. Names of many of the individuals profiled are often referenced in books on learning or developmental challenges, but their complete stories, with surprising commonalities among all, have not been told until now.

If these extraordinary men and women are to be understood in new ways, it must be by their own account of their struggle with learning throughout life’s journey. To understand both their life and their life’s work, we must first understand how they overcame obstacles in mastering their chosen careers, in their own words. With each story, the mystery of their gift unfolds; namely, what they have done and what they have learned by doing it. They set the record straight as they describe how they discovered elements in themselves that helped to transcend whatever challenges they faced. After reading these stories, one will understand the depth and meaning of their gifts in ways that have never before been examined.

It is not the intention of the authors to diminish or underestimate the difficulties faced by individuals with learning and developmental disabilities throughout the world. Learning challenges, including those faced by the seventeen famous people profiled, are significant, individual, and can lead to real frustration and hardship. Our goal is to show the other side of the picture, to reveal some very uplifting success stories that can serve to empower and bring understanding and hope to those who may be struggling. It further serves to inspire all others through viewing these remarkable individual’s thinking and learning styles in a new light, adding depth to our collective understanding of these renowned individuals’ lives.

Great Minds Think Differently urges the reader to consider factors beyond diagnostic labels as predictors of success, and instead focuses on relative areas of strength and need. This viewpoint is supported by the World Health Organization International Classification System, which is the current model used in research and practice for individuals with all types of disabilities throughout the world. The impact of disability on a person’s life is considered more important than causes or diagnostic labels, as emphasis is instead placed on ability to function and succeed, not on disability or deficits. The model maintains that a diagnostic label does not directly dictate success in life, and that a focus on multiple factors paints the most comprehensive picture. The stories within Great Minds Think Differently give a real world view, supporting this popular theoretical model.

The stories in Great Minds Think Differently illustrate how a variety of people with different learning styles have adapted to a world where their specific abilities initially may not have been valued or appreciated. Their uneven profiles of skills and abilities are unique, but each faced significant learning challenges, and used their areas of strength to excel in their own way. Each, in their own way, went on to make their own impact on the world by viewing their ‘deficits’ as strengths.

The stories within Great Minds Think Differently are divided into six themes, which summarize the individual’s primary areas of skill: inspiration, imagination, interpretation, innovation, insight and intuition. These can be seen as the gifts that they shared with the world, despite deficits related to learning or developmental disabilities. It is possible that because of their areas of need, they had to find creative and new ways to learn specific tasks, and their minds were primed for the creative endeavours that would soon follow. Due to their ability to compensate for their areas of weakness, and different ways of thinking, their areas of strength surpassed others in their chosen fields. In this way, what some may perceive as deficits, actually led to greater achievements.

The intention of Great Minds Think Differently is to encourage readers to imagine a world where, rather than focusing on what we cannot do because of the way we are born, more attention is paid to individual strengths. What if those reading these stories could see what could be accomplished because of differences, instead of trying to fit everyone into the same mould? These stories challenge us to adjust the way we view the concept of disability, and might even open a door for our own unique, but often hidden gifts!

We will complete the approximately 90,000 word manuscript of Great Minds Think Differently, by October, 2011.


Great Minds Think Differently is divided into six parts – The Diplomats, the Storytellers, the Artists, the Innovators, the Theorists and the Entrepreneurs. In the preparation of these profiles we have drawn extensively on the memoirs of the subjects, their friends and contemporaries. Notes, divided by profile, are contained along with a complete bibliography.

Part One – (inspiration)

The Diplomats




Part Two – (imagination)

The Storytellers




Part Three – (interpretation)

The Artists




Part Four – (innovation)

The Innovators




Part Five – (insight)

The Theorists



Part Six – (vision)

The Entrepreneurs




Chapter Outline


Inspiration – in-spa-ray-sh’n – to infuse thought or feeling into; to arouse

The Diplomats

Mahatma Gandhi



“I may say that I failed to get from the teachers what they could have given me without any effort on their part. And yet I kept on picking up things here and there from my surroundings.”


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was one of the most unlikely heroic figures of all time. Despite significant learning problems that would challenge him at every turn throughout his youth and a solitary, privileged upbringing in a land rife with poverty and suffering, Gandhi would one day become the face of his people’s struggle to the world. He is yet unequalled in history for his ability to move people to his way of thinking through his inspirational personal example and extraordinary commitment.

Sir Winston Churchill



“I am all for the Public Schools but I do not want to go there again.”


Many believe we are free today because of Winston Churchill’s ability to inspire nations with his words and by the conviction with which they were spoken. Although never diagnosed as having dyslexia, Churchill seemed to know intuitively that his struggles were unique and were not caused by a lack of effort on his part. He recorded his thoughts in detail regarding the struggles he endured through his school years, painting a vivid picture of the plight of the child with dyslexia that rings as true today as it did a century past.

John F. Kennedy

United States


“You know, I am getting on all right and if you study too much, you’re liable to go crazy!”

J.F.K. in first grade

Many people who have dyslexia believe that they have an advantage in ‘top-down’ thinking. They often have the ability to see situations as whole rather than small parts, allowing them to come up with atypical or ‘outside-the-box’ solutions. For them problem solving can often come easier than explaining how they arrived at the answer. They can see the whole picture and don’t get lost in the detail. They appear to have that most valued of leadership skills – being able to see the entire forest in spite of the trees. Kennedy routinely demonstrated his knack of simplifying a complex problem without minimizing the challenges to resolution.

As president, Kennedy inspired his nation’s confidence through some of the most trying days of the cold war by seemingly speaking directly to each member of his audience. Most famously he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country” and “Mankind must do away with war or war will do away with mankind.”


Imagination – i-ma-gin-a-sh’n – an act of creating a semblance of reality. The mental faculty which apprehends and forms ideas of external objects.

The Story Tellers

Ernest Hemingway

United States


“All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time…”


Despite his less than successful encounters with formal education Ernest Hemingway understood the art of storytelling from a young age. In elementary school Ernest was a daydreamer, imagining the adventures he would have in the great outdoors when summer vacations finally arrived. He escaped into adventure books. The secret he discovered was to use direct simple language to paint a picture with words. He said, “The hardest thing to do is to write straight honest prose on human beings. First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write. Both take a lifetime to learn”.

Agatha Christie



“The general standpoint in my young days had a certain humility. You accepted what you were. You had assets and you had liabilities. Like a hand at cards, having been dealt it, you sorted your cards and decided how best to play them.”


“I myself was always recognized, though quite kindly, as ‘the slow one’ of the family. The reactions of my mother and my sister were unusually quick – I could never keep up. I was, too, very inarticulate. It was always difficult for me to assemble into words what I wanted to say. ‘Agatha’s so terribly slow.’ was always the cry. It was quite true, and I knew it and accepted it. It did not worry or distress me. I was resigned to being always ‘the slow one.’ Inarticulate I shall always be. It is probably one of the causes that have made me a writer.” And what a writer she was! Dame Agatha Christie is considered one of the most important and innovative contributors to the development of mystery writing. Unesco states that she is the best selling writer of books of all time and the most translated individual author in the world, surpassed only by the collective works of Walt Disney Productions.

Harry Belafonte

United States


“It was like taking a deep breath,…There was fellowship and literature and folklore and history and discussion and debate and there was culture of my people. There were the important questions of knowing who you were and why you were, and what you were, and where you had come from and where you were going. And I began to discover that there was Harry Belafonte, an individual who was somebody and who belonged.”

H.B. On joining the Navy

This is the story of man whose life and career is not only a great personal triumph but central to one of the most important issues of our time. Harry Belafonte rose out of the poverty of Harlem for a groundbreaking career in music and film and has gone on to play a leading role in the civil rights movement.


Interpretation – in-ter-pre-tay-sh’n – an explanation or establishment of the meaning or significance of something.

The Artists

Auguste Rodin



“Where did I learn to understand sculpture? In the woods by looking at trees, along roads by observing the formation of clouds, in the studio by studying the model; everywhere except in schools.”


Acknowledged to be the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo (who himself displayed symptoms of dyslexia) and considered to have sown the first seeds of modern sculpture, Rodin’s gift was to simplify the art form to its most basic elements.

Rodin’s first contact with formal education came in four years attending a school for boys. Although he struggled with most subjects as well as spelling, he would later recall that he hadn’t liked the school but it had allowed him useful distractions: “drawing fanciful designs, telling stories and reciting imaginary descriptions to his comrades.”

Pablo Picasso



“For being a bad student I was banished to the ‘calaboose’- a bare cell with whitewashed walls and a bench to sit on. I liked it there, because I took along a sketch pad and drew incessantly….I think I provoked situations so that professors would punish me. I was isolated and no one bothered me-drawing, drawing, drawing. I could have stayed there forever drawing without a stop. True, all my life I’ve been in the habit of drawing, but in that cell it was a special pleasure-difficult to explain. It’s not that I wanted to excel, rather to work – that’s what one must always do.”


Pablo Picasso said that his goal was to capture reality-in this he succeeded in making his reality seem more real than any other painter, before or sense. He wanted to challenge, excite and shock. He spent his life wiping the mist from the mirror before him to reveal the mystery of his creative process. He came closer to unveiling the truth than anyone before or since. Picasso said that he could not remember when he learned to read or write. He thought it not before he turned ten. He could never recall the correct order of the alphabet yet he mastered multiple art forms with seeming ease. Picasso’s legion of biographers has never been able to wrap their minds around this seeming contradiction. That is, until now.

Norval Morriseau



“My idea is, why I draw them – see, there’s lots of stories that are told in Ojibway. But that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to draw them – that’s from my own self – what they would look like. And I never knowed anybody who would be interested. And I thought if they could be some place for a hundred – two hundred-years – not for myself, for my people. Even if I don’t get no money I would be glad to paint them just for people to see.”


Despite struggling through an impoverished childhood, receiving only a few years of formal education, and battling alcoholism and Parkinson’s disease as an adult, Norval Morriseau would go on to give voice to an entire First Nation. Nicknamed ‘Picasso of the north’ Morriseau, or Copper Thunderbird as he is known in Ojibway, became an accomplished artist ,writer and Shaman and is credited with starting the ‘woodland’ style of painting. In his book, ‘Legends Of My People The Great Ojibway, Morriseau captures the beliefs, tales and legends of his people through words and pictures. His mission in life was to inspire First Nations people through understanding their past. He wanted ” to reassemble the pieces of a once proud culture…to show how dignified and brave my people once were. We were once a great people.”


Innovation – inno-vaysh-n – violent departure from established precedent.

The Innovators

Thomas Edison

United States


“…everybody will wonder why they have never thought of it, it is so simple.”


His mother Nancy, a former schoolteacher, provided the home schooling that constituted the entirety of his education, other than three unhappy months spent attending two primary schools. At the age of eight he dropped out of school after a teacher described him as “a little addled.” Edison himself recalled, “I was always at the foot of the class. I used to feel that the teachers did not sympathize with me.” He had such difficulty with the traditional approach to learning which relied heavily on rote memorization that he came to believe that he could reach understanding only through hands-on experience. Among the many inventions he is credited with are the light bulb and the phonograph.

Henry Ford

United States


“Those who have what might be called the creative type of mind and who thoroughly abhor monotony are apt to imagine that all other minds are similarly restless.”


Henry Ford never learned to spell, to write legibly, to read well, or to speak in public, but even as a child he was a master of mechanical logic: from a glance at a machine he could visualize and understand the workings of its individual parts. Known for his unrelenting optimism and fierce determination Ford saw himself as heir to a tradition of innovation that started with Benjamin Franklin and which drove him to change the face of manufacturing forever. The architect of the assembly line transformed the landscape of modern America, by putting its people on wheels in his affordable, sturdily constructed Model T cars.

Temple Grandin

United States


“I think in pictures. Words are like a second language to me. I translate both spoken and written words into full-color movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head. When somebody speaks to me, his words are instantly translated into pictures.”


Despite being diagnosed with Autism and possessing an individuality that refuses to be confined by rules, Temple Grandin has relied on intuition, visualization and leaps of imagination to solve life’s mysteries. Throughout her life the inventor has also remained a champion of people who have learning challenges. Her advocacy and support have helped bring about positive change in how those who learn differently are viewed in society.


Insight – in – syt – penetrating vision or judgement, spontaneous understanding

The Theorists

Albert Einstein

Germany – United States


“Imagination is more important than knowledge…When I examine myself and my methods of thought I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”


What Albert Einstein lacked in aptitude for most high school subjects, and indeed he flunked out of French, Biology and Chemistry, he made up in his mastery of all things Mathematical. Fortunately for humanity Einstein went on to become the best known scientist of all time. By relying on visual methods of study and research he was able to conceive and explain the origins and the workings of the universe. He proved that energy itself was merely matter and that all matter contained energy, leading him to come up with the most famous equation of all time: E=mc2. He was a genius devoted to the field of theoretical physics, with a concern for humanity deeply rooted in his hope for peace and cooperation between the nations of the world.

Stephen Hawking



“I find that many papers are obscure and I simply don’t understand them. So, I have to try to understand them into my own way of thinking.”


Despite having struggled with formal education as a child and being diagnosed with ALS at the age of twenty-one, Stephen Hawking has refused to allow obstacles of any kind to get in the way of his scientific evolution. Like all geniuses he has insatiable curiosity. Said to be the most famous scientist since Einstein it is easy to understand why this is so. It is widely acknowledged that he has done more than anyone to advance our understanding of the origins of the universe. His book A Brief History of Time has made his name known around the world.


Intuition – In – tu – I – sh’n – instinctive knowledge

The Entrepreneurs

Walt Disney

United States


“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”


Walt Disney’s appreciation of entertainment began to emerge as a child. In later years he would credit his aunt, who gave him crayons and paper and his neighbour, who paid him a few cents for a picture he had drawn of a horse. Though he was a poor student, in his one year attending High School, he made the most of his artistic talents, creating artwork for the school newspaper. Walt Disney would go on to become the greatest entrepreneur and entertainer of his and perhaps any generation. His heroes were Thomas Edison and Henry Ford with whom he had more in common than he would ever know. Each admired the other’s work for its groundbreaking influence on everyday life.

Sir Richard Branson



“Perhaps my early problems with dyslexia made me more intuitive: when someone sends me a written proposal, rather than dwelling on detailed facts and figures I find that my imagination grasps and expands on what I read.”


Despite having undiagnosed dyslexia, Sir Richard Branson has become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world. Of his school days he recalls: “Words were just a meaningless jumble to me, and however hard I struggled to read and spell, I couldn’t for a long time, until I trained myself to concentrate over several years.”

Today, as chairperson of the Virgin Group, he has diversified his business interests to include airlines, trains, holidays, mobile phones, media – including television, radio and cable – the Internet, financial services and healthcare. He is also playing a leadership role in bringing together businesses worldwide to tackle environmental and humanitarian challenges and to invest in the future of our planet. His hope is “that the fortune I have been granted can bring enormous opportunities to other people and make a real difference.”

Dr. Kazuo Inamori



There is no fixed boundary to human creative potential. You must become unshakably convinced that nothing is impossible… Make your own considered judgments independent of others’ ‘common sense’… And in all your endeavors strive to position yourself in the center of the whirlpool.


Despite battling both physical illnesses as well as learning challenges throughout his childhood, Kazuo Inamori overcame many obstacles to become the greatest entrepreneur in all of Japan. Apart from overseeing a vast business empire, and using his own funds, he established the non-profit Inamori Foundation. Ordained a Zen Buddhist priest, it should be no surprise that his interests span technological and social innovation, combating urgent world problems, and “contributing to the material and spiritual happiness of humanity and society”. In his book, ‘Passion for Success’ Inamori provides insight into overcoming adversity and pursuing ones dreams. He reveals how he developed his powers of concentration and ability to resolve the most perplexing business problems – skills that he believes can be acquired by anyone who acts passionately and selflessly.