Mother's Joe Staples on creativity as jiu-jitsu, growing up dyslexic—and raising a son with the same diagnosis
In this episode of the “Ad Block” podcast, Staples talks about growing up with undiagnosed dyslexia and dealing with a school system that didn’t understand him. “Every single year I got the school report, which was, ‘Really smart but disruptive, can’t concentrate and doesn’t care about his work, which is why it’s such poor quality,’” he says. “I thought it was all true. You just think you’re crazy or whatever the teachers told you.”
It wasn’t until college, when a professor suspected he might be processing information differently, that he was tested. When he found out he was dyslexic, he cried. “To have the weight of being crazy or of being lazy—because I really wasn’t lazy; when I could be engaged, I was incredibly engaged and passionate—to have that taken off, it was big. It felt big.”
But struggling through school with a poor short-term memory and difficulty concentrating made him lean on his strengths, too—his ability to understand process. “I can think in large words and can’t spell any of them, so I have to think broadly and execute incredibly simply,” Staples says. “And because I was so easily distracted, I knew that I had to break down whatever I was doing into bite-sized chunks.”
That understanding has translated into his work as a creative director, helping other creatives examine their own thinking and processes. “The gift of dyslexia is you get to help someone pull apart their thinking,” he says. “As a creative leader, our job is to build safe environments for people to express the fucked-upness of their genius.”
Staples also weighs in on the similarities between advertising and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the joys of driving in Los Angeles traffic and shepherding his young son through his own diagnosis of dyslexia.