If you have heard of Sir Ken Robinson, it probably is because of his TED talks, especially “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” which makes an entertaining and good case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity. That’s how I first encountered him. He was a professor of arts education in England and focuses on the development of creativity, innovation, and human resources.
I got to hear him speak in person at an education conference and bought his book that was new then titled The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.
In the book’s Foreword, he tells this story:
An elementary school teacher was giving a drawing class to a group of six-year-old children. At the back of the classroom sat a little girl who normally didn’t pay much attention in school. In the drawing class, she did. For more than twenty minutes, the girl sat with her arms curled around her paper, totally absorbed in what she was doing. The teacher found this fascinating. Eventually, she asked the girl what she was drawing. Without looking up, the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.”
Surprised, the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.”
The girl said, “They will in a minute.”
The book reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success in its structure. Both contain interviews with successful people and tries to reach some conclusions about how they achieved success. Robinson interviews people who have been successful in the arts, sports, education, and business how they have found in their “Element.”
Now, reading about people like Paul McCartney, The Alchemist author Paulo Coelho and Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons might be interesting and might be inspiring, but the value of the book would have to be whether or not it leads YOU towards your element. These people were able to make a living (as in a salary) from a passion or were able to significantly enrich their lives through their passion. They are “in their element.”
Ah, yes – but how does one find that Element?
One way is to think about what you would do if you could erase the need to make money, and if you could erase any concern for what others thought of you. It’s not helpful if all you can say is “I would just hang out with my friends.” But if the answer is that you would just work in your greenhouse, get back to painting watercolors, volunteer at the animal shelter or write poetry, you might have a start.
Robinson describes the Element in his book as the “meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion.”
He talks about the idea of “multiple intelligences”, an idea proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983.
Robinson feels there is a big difference between asking if people are intelligent – as we do with testing – and asking how they are intelligent – which we don’t do very often at all.
So, the Element is a place, a point where the activities you enjoy and are (perhaps, naturally) good at, meet.
Robinson emphasizes the importance of finding a circle of like-minded people with your passion and of mentors. As you would expect with his background, he also talks about reforming and transforming education.
Robinson doesn’t feel that your age and occupation are barriers. But, getting back to that original question to ask yourself, eliminating the need to make a living and being able to reject the opinions of others as you follow your passion is no easy task. Still, the book might be what finally pushes you to see your passion and move toward that point.
TED Talks – Sir Ken Robinson on “Do schools kill creativity?” He makes an entertaining and good case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.