By John Chambers

Think Like a Dyslexic. Book review — Connecting the dots — leadership lessons in a start-up world by John Chambers

Emma Wallace
5 min readMar 14, 2019

This was intended to be a book review of John Chambers recent book, Connecting the Dots with my key takeaways because I have found it to be such an inspiring story. But it has actually evolved into being more about my perspective as a dyslexic and learning to recognise the strengths of being a dyslexic today.

One of the privileges of taking an extended career break is the opportunity to indulge in hobbies and passion projects. For me, reading about people’s experiences and research is a ‘shortcut’ way for me to gather the insights and learnings from others, be able to apply them to my life and work without making the same mistake and to learn how situations I haven’t encountered before are likely to play out. For only a few hours of my time, I can grow my understanding and potential so much, and I like to share it too.

I picked out Connecting the Dots recently, not because I knew about the author (who I now know as the former longstanding CEO of Cisco), but because of its reference to lessons from a start-up world which is a topic I have invested a lot of my time off learning more about. Having a quick flick through before committing to reading, it was the subject of chapter two that really caught my attention which covered Think Like a Dyslexic.

As a dyslexic I’ve only really been aware of it as a weakness and something to overcome. Seeing my struggles through reading, short term memory and learning difficulties and as something to hide and try and cover, not fully appreciating the gifts it has actually given me and the kind of person it has made me become. I always feel the sting of anxiety when someone laughs at my misreading or spelling (yes, I knew it was chief not chef, thank you). It’s only fairly recently that my perception of it has begun to change and more widely that the strengths from it are becoming known. I’m sure most people are aware of Richard Branson being dyslexic but I didn’t know of any other leaders to look up to that have dyslexia, none in my industry at least and I’m sure many have been like me and prefer to keep it secret. I have admired his raising awareness of the benefits of dyslexic thinking (Made by Dyslexia) but I had found his life difficult to relate to mine.

While reading about John Chambers’ dyslexia however, learning about his experience and perspective has definitely come at a time when I’ve needed to define my strengths and skills. It has really helped me shift my perspective, made me see it as one of my strengths and that I should be more open about it. Not only has dyslexia meant that for John (and myself) it forced him to learn important skills early on: persistence, finding your own way to learn and a strong work ethic which can be transferred to any situation. The biggest advantage is the different ways to process information and how that has related to his biggest professional successes of spotting market transitions and ‘connecting the dots’ ensuring that his company was always ahead and discovering what his customers really needed.

It’s refreshing to read about someone else so successful that thinks like me because of how their brain is wired, which has often only been seen as a learning disability. I’ve always known I had a different way of seeing the world which became more apparent when I started working. I’ve often been able to see solutions that other people have missed, spot patterns and predict the next step, links and opportunities. It’s nice to be able to attribute that to a cause that used to hold me back a lot. I like John’s explanation of the method I use “gather lots of data, step back, and connect the dots to see trends.”

As I’ve progressed in my career this strength has become more of a component of my success. It’s been my ability to spot links in data, connect it to a strategy to see the next opportunity that got me to a new position and to have a greater impact. Whether that’s been range planning, bringing in data to see why particular products have done well or why they haven’t performed and summarising where I see broader market transitions are going.

What came across so well in the book was how significantly these skills are going to be needed by businesses in the future. As markets and industries move and evolve faster and faster being able to recognise the signs and come up with a plan to develop the right products and strategies is key to keeping up with your customers needs and being able to thrive, not just survive. His point though is you don’t need to be ‘special’ (my word) to do this, it can be taught and John Chambers calls it his playbook of pattern thinking. In summary, focus on the big picture, be curious about new development in your industry and compare all the things you see and hear with the data of your own business to make your next bet.

What I really want to share here is how valuable identifying what I thought was a disadvantage is one of my greatest strengths but most people will go through life never knowing this about themselves. There are between 10–20% of the population with dyslexia and in my former workplace I only knew of a couple other people out of 200 plus people (and they were in my teams). But by sharing this now I hope I can at least encourage other like me and maybe business leaders too, to research the benefits it can bring and know to communicate the strengths they have so they aren’t chained to conforming to job descriptions and instead use their creativity to solve big problems, whatever level in an organisation.

P.S. I do really recommend reading Connecting the Dots, there are many other important lessons to take from his perspective.



Emma Wallace

I’m passionate about sharing my experiences with personal development, entrepreneurship and neurodiversity. You can visit my website at