Posted December 20, 2005

Kinko's founder found the positive in ADD

See origional story [link]

By Jean Peerenboom


Paul Orfalea was a D-student, flunked two grades, was expelled from four out of eight schools, and graduated eighth from the bottom of his high school class. As a hyperactive dyslexic, he was barely able to read, struggled on school tests, had no mechanical ability, and after being fired from numerous jobs, was virtually unemployable as a young adult.


Eventually, he found a way to turn learning disabilities into learning opportunities. He thought outside of the box without even knowing there was a box. In 1970, he founded the highly successful Kinko's Copy Center.


He talks about his struggles, challenges, philosophy and successes in his new book "Copy This! Lessons From a Hyperactive Dyslexic Who Turned a Bright Idea into One of America's Best Companies" (Workman, $23.95).


"Even if they're straight-A students, speed readers and star athletes, they're scared half to death of putting themselves on the line," he writes. "They need a push. This is one of the greatest lessons I learned from my own struggles, from my dyslexia, my restlessness and what others call my ADHD. Doing life alone is not second best, it's impossible. We need other people. We need to know how to talk with them, argue with them, build with them and introduce ourselves to them. We need a push. It's funny to think that human beings forget this fact, especially the straight-A types."

"If you're going to enjoy the picnic that life really is, you'd better learn to like yourself, not despite your flaws and so-called deficits, but because of them," he writes.


Orfalea said he still has no idea how a copy machine works, has never used e-mail and reads, at best, at a fifth-grade level. The chain he founded is now FedEx Kinko's and is going strong.


"My job was going from store to store to store to find out what people were doing right," he said. "In every store, there was something people were doing that was novel or creative."


He hired and relied on capable managers. "Would you hire an incompetent guy like me?" he asks. "But I knew how to hold other people accountable."


Orfalea said he took prospective employees out for beers to see how they behaved, asked if they enjoyed visiting their parents and posed a question he knew the applicant would be unable to answer.


"Those three things were the ones I relied on the most," he said. "How they handled themselves while drinking, if they got along with their parents and if they would say 'I don't know' in an interview."


"Copy This!" tells a fascinating story of an amazing man, one of a handful of successful entrepreneurs who never quite learned to read, write or sit still for any length of time. Orfalea's Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder taught him not to be deterred by obstacles, how to cut through the red tape - or just ignore it - to grow a business without losing perspective, to surround himself with the right people and still have plenty of time to enjoy life.

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