John Hoke has always loved to draw. He calls it his first real language—something he attributes to having dyslexia.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Hoke, Nike’s chief design officer, opened up about his dyslexia. He explained how what some might see as doodling is for him a crucial form of communication.
“I’m dyslexic, so my first real language was drawing,” he said. “Even at the youngest age I can recall, I wasn’t necessarily interested in the essay or the text, I was graphically designing the header. I doodled everything. That was the way I communicated.”
He was also interested in sports. His go-to tennis shoes were Nike waffle trainers—and they helped spark his interest in shoe design as a kid.
“When I was done with that shoe, I would literally cut it in half and look at the two sections and obsess about how it was made,” he explained.
In an earlier interview with Fast Company, Hoke shared that as a child he struggled with reading and writing. But he soon learned that his affinity for drawing and his creative way of looking at the world are talents few people have.
“I came to this idea that my dyslexia wasn’t actually a burden—it was a gift because it made me look at the world differently,” Hoke shared with the New York Times.
It was Hoke’s doodling and way of looking at the world differently that inspired his dream of one day designing his own sneakers. He started thinking about and sketching ways to make a better shoe. That dream became reality when he was hired to work for one of the most innovative athletic brands in the world.
Today, Hoke manages a team of 1,000 creative designers at Nike. His doodles help guide the team’s designs. As he told Forbes in 2002: “At meetings, I write a couple of notes and spend the rest of the time drawing shoes.”
“They’re not perfect, they’re not final, but they’re a glimpse of an idea,” he said.
Those glimpses inspire the creative direction of the brand. Ultimately, Hoke’s leadership and incredible talent for design bring the team’s shared vision to life.
Dyslexia remains the driving force behind Hoke’s love for drawing. And drawing has helped him discover how he best learns and works: “I find that I listen better when my hand is busy. And I find that when I’m listening intently and I’m gesturally moving my pen, some interesting things come out,” he said.
See a list of entrepreneurs who have learning and thinking differences. Explore more dyslexia success stories. And find ways to help kids discover their passion.
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Tara Drinks is an associate editor at Understood.