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ADD in the corner office: Five top executives discovered that an LD can be a capitalist tool

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By Lois Gilman, ADDitude Magazine

The Internet mogul

Alan M. Meckler

Chairman and CEO, Jupitermedia

My lack of concentration, my inability to read charts, and my difficulty in deciphering documents made me a much better business person," says Meckler, 59. "And my lack of patience forced me to cut to the chase." His dyslexia was diagnosed only recently, after the long academic struggle of his youth. "I used to daydream in class a lot — I'd just find my mind wandering off," recalls Meckler, who had problems with standardized tests. "I wasn't able to spend much time on something if I couldn't come up with the answer right away." Arithmetic, which he refers to as "math block," was his biggest bugaboo.

Despite his difficulties with numbers, he learned to turn his disabilities to his advantage. In high school and college, he says, "While most people would take lot of notes during a lecture, I could figure out the key points by just listening to the teacher. I have developed that skill in business. I am able to pick out the important details rather than getting bogged down."

At Jupitermedia, Meckler is famous for short meetings. He insists that if you can't describe something succinctly, then it isn't a good idea. "I believe in 'keep it simple, stupid,'" says Meckler. His skill at digesting very complex issues, to "listen to them, not read about them," enabled him to spot business trends and to take advantage of those opportunies before the competition did.

"I spotted the Internet as a business opportunity three or four years before anyone else," he says. "I started a newsletter and reporting service that covered the development of the Internet, then turned it into a magazine, then into a trade show. Internet World became the fastest-growing trade show in history, and was very big from 1994 to 1999." Meckler has since turned his attention to search engines and has launched a new trade show, Search Engine Strategies.

While the information industry generates reams of data, diagrams, graphs, and charts, Meckler depends on colleagues to interpret them for him. "I can understand very simple bar graphs," he says. "Once the chart has multiple lines, I can't follow it." When it comes to interpreting economic data, "I'll go to my chief financial officer and say 'take me through this.' I'll digest it instantly if I know the topic, but I can't follow it otherwise." Balancing his checkbook is also left to others.

This takes him back to his youth, his passion for baseball, and his learning disabilities. New York in the 1950s had three baseball teams, so there were plenty of statistics for young Meckler to keep track of. He overcame his math block through those stats. " I would devour the statistics," he recalls. "I memorized baseball averages, taught myself thirds, averaging out, and how to compute earned run averages." Then he confesses: "I still have problems if you tell me to divide — I can't figure out the numerator or the denominator — I have to go back and think of baseball averages to help me."

So that's the secret behind running a $47 million business.

Reprinted with permission from ADDitude Magazine. All rights reserved. See for more articles like this one.

Comments from readers

"I don't get why people think it's such a blessing. What's the point in having so many thoughts and ideas shooting at you if you frequently forget them due to yet ANOTHER mental tangent or almost inevitable lack of interest to follow through? This is cliche, but, if ADHD is a gift, I want to return it :p. Nonetheless, it's great to see what these people have done with themselves regardless of their issues :), BUT, and this is just my opinion that they would only be better versions of themselves without ADHD. Also, those ideas held by someone else without ADHD (or under treatment and/or medication) would might have done even more with them. Although being positive is important when diagnosing, accepting the problem, and researching it, ADHD needs to stop being looked at as a gift. It's not. It diminishes your quality of life, and should be taken seriously. That's just my view on it, more power to ya if you're content with it :), cause I'm sure not. "
"I had to laugh when I heard David Neeleman has a certain place for his wallet and keys. I honestly think I have the same condition as he does. I wouldn't trade it for the world. I am an idea machine. I take in experiences from all different aspects of my life and boom another idea and then boom another idea. I compare my brain to a computer with parellell processing. I am constantly juggling 3-4 different threads in my brain all at the same time. It wears me out sometimes. Anyways, if you have the same thing, I wouldn't medicate for it, but just learn to harness that God given ability to your advantage. Awesome article!"