Neurodivergence and the Entrepreneurial Journey: A Q&A with Matt Ivey

Neurodivergence and the Entrepreneurial Journey: A Q&A with Matt Ivey

In the realm of entrepreneurship, the capacity to foster innovation and creativity is pivotal for success. Neurodivergence offers a distinctive perspective through which individuals interpret and engage with the world. Here's how entrepreneur Matt Ivey harnessed neurodivergence as a powerful force for innovation.

How has being neurodivergent made your life difficult and how have you used it to your advantage?

Living with being neurodivergent, particularly dyslexia, has been a journey of navigating through both challenges and discovering unique advantages. The difficulties have been multifaceted. Academically, traditional learning methods, which heavily rely on linear and text-based approaches, often felt like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. This mismatch not only made learning more laborious but also sometimes led to feelings of frustration and isolation. Socially, misunderstandings and judgments stem from a lack of awareness about dyslexia. Peers and educators sometimes misinterpreted my learning challenges as a lack of effort or ability, which was disheartening.

However, these very challenges became the crucible for developing my strengths. Dyslexia compelled me to create alternative ways of processing information and solving problems. This necessity to ‘think differently’ fostered a creative and innovative mindset, allowing me to see solutions where others saw obstacles. It honed my ability to look at the bigger picture and connect disparate ideas, skills that are highly valued in the entrepreneurial world.

How did being neurodivergent influence how you chose your career path, and what made you choose it?

My journey as a neurodivergent individual has been a guiding force in shaping my career path. Being dyslexic not only influenced my choice but also illuminated the direction I would take. From an early age, I grappled with the unique challenges of dyslexia. These experiences were more than just academic hurdles; they were profound life lessons about how different minds perceive and interact with the world. This deep, personal understanding of dyslexia’s challenges fostered a strong sense of empathy towards others who face similar learning differences.

Choosing the path of entrepreneurship, especially in the field of educational technology, was a decision to leverage my unique perspective to create more inclusive and effective learning environments. I was motivated by the desire to build tools and platforms that could adapt to various learning styles, ensuring that others would not have to face the same barriers I did. This wasn’t just about creating a successful business; it was about changing how society approaches education and learning differences.

By aligning my career with my life experiences and values, I found a purpose that goes beyond professional success – it’s about creating a world where every neurodivergent individual has the opportunity to thrive.

Were there any role models or people who inspired you and gave you hope, and made you feel positive about being neurodivergent, before you looked at it positively?

My journey towards understanding and embracing my neurodivergence as an adult brought a profound transformation in how I viewed myself and my capabilities. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned I was dyslexic and neurodivergent. This revelation was both a moment of clarity and a redefinition of my past experiences. Growing up, I often felt out of step with my peers, unable to grasp why I thought and learned differently. Only as an adult could I look back and understand the roots of these differences.

The discovery of my dyslexia and neurodivergence opened a new world of role models and sources of inspiration who helped me see these traits in a positive light. Public figures like Richard Branson and Steven Spielberg, both of whom are dyslexic, served as powerful examples of how what I once viewed as a hindrance could actually be a source of unique strengths. Their success stories reframed my perspective, showing me that neurodivergent individuals could achieve remarkable feats and significantly contribute to their fields.

Beyond these well-known figures, I found a deep connection with athletes, resonating with their kinesthetic learning styles and their approach to challenges. My own learning style being a physical, hands-on one, I saw parallels in how athletes train, adapt, and strategize. This affinity extended to my approach as a business owner and entrepreneur, treating business challenges competitively, much like an athlete would approach their sport. This perspective helped me develop resilience, focus, and the ability to pivot and adapt strategies – all crucial skills in entrepreneurship

Understanding my neurodivergence as an adult has been a journey of re-contextualizing my past and reshaping my future. It’s been a process of connecting the dots backward and understanding how my unique way of thinking and learning has always influenced my choices and actions. It’s also been about looking forward, drawing inspiration from those who have not only succeeded with similar mindsets but have used their distinct perspectives to change the world in their own ways. This journey has reinforced my belief in the power of neurodiversity and the potential that lies in embracing one’s true self.

How did being neurodivergent influence how you chose your career path, and what made you choose it?

One of the most transformative moments in my life occurred during my time at Lake Tahoe Community College. It involved a math teacher who played a crucial role in my journey. For years, I had struggled with math, failing the same class three times, which was a source of significant frustration and confusion. It was a cycle that seemed unbreakable, and I couldn’t understand why I could not succeed despite my efforts.

However, everything changed when this particular math teacher took a keen interest in my situation. Recognizing that my struggles might be rooted in something deeper, they suggested that I get tested for dyslexia. This recommendation was a turning point for me. It was the first time someone had acknowledged that my learning challenges could be due to a different way of processing information, rather than a lack of effort or ability.

Following their advice, I learned that I was indeed dyslexic. This newfound understanding of myself was liberating. It shed light on why traditional learning methods were challenging for me and opened the door to new strategies that played to my strengths. In this math class, I discovered that my approach to problem-solving, while unconventional, was effective. The department’s unique grading system, which focused 80% on the process and 20% on the final answer, played to my strengths. I was adept at following the correct processes but often mixed up numbers along the way. This approach to grading allowed me to excel, and for the first time, I passed the math class with an A.

This experience, catalyzed by the insight and guidance of my math teacher, fundamentally shifted my perspective on dyslexia. It reframed dyslexia from a limitation to a different kind of intelligence that excelled in creativity and complex problem-solving. This revelation was not just academic; it became a cornerstone of my identity and a driving force in my entrepreneurial ventures.

This pivotal moment with my math teacher at Lake Tahoe Community College truly set the stage for everything that followed in my life and career.

What advice would you give to neurodivergent people?

To all neurodivergent individuals, my first piece of advice is to embrace the uniqueness of your mind. It’s important to understand that how you perceive and interact with the world is not a deficit but a distinct perspective that can offer incredible insights and solutions. Your neurodivergence is a part of who you are, and it comes with a set of strengths that are as unique as your challenges.

Acknowledge and celebrate your exceptional abilities. Often, neurodivergent individuals possess extraordinary skills in areas like creativity, problem-solving, and out-of-the-box thinking. These skills are invaluable, especially in a world that increasingly values innovation and divergent thinking. Recognize these abilities in yourself and cultivate them. They can be your greatest assets.

Seek environments and opportunities that appreciate and foster diversity in thinking. Surround yourself with people and organizations that accept and celebrate different ways of thinking. Whether it’s in education, the workplace, or social settings, find places where you feel valued and understood. This supportive environment is crucial for your growth and well-being.Don’t be afraid to explore unconventional routes and create new opportunities where none seem to exist.

Most importantly, advocate for yourself. Understand your needs and communicate them clearly to others. Whether it’s asking for accommodations or explaining your thought process, self-advocacy is a powerful tool in navigating a world that isn’t always accommodating to neurodivergent individuals.

Finally, never underestimate the power of community. Connect with other neurodivergent individuals and groups. These connections can provide support, understanding, and shared experiences. There’s immense strength in knowing you’re not alone and in learning from the diverse experiences of others who share similar challenges.

Being neurodivergent is a journey full of challenges and triumphs. Embrace your unique mind, leverage your strengths, seek supportive environments, forge your own path, advocate for yourself, and connect with others. Your neurodivergence is not just a part of you; it’s a part of the unique and valuable contributions you have to offer to the world.

About the Author:

John Stanton

John Stanton graduated from Emerson College with a bachelor’s degree in film production. He is passionate about helping individuals maximize their neurodivergent potential and transform it into a “superpower.” Additionally, he is interested in the education field's adoption of new teaching methods that cater to unconventional learners. In his free time, John enjoys hiking, reading, and getting out on the water.

Author’s Website

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