Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D., author of The Element, is a compelling speaker who, very intelligently and cordially, works to transform institutions that are outmoded and inefficient with ideas that are innovative and somewhat intuitive. His thinking makes sense–but you might not have reached his rather obvious epiphanies without a poke and a push or two. Robinson has made waves decrying the dearth of creativity in education–even claimed that traditional education sounds a death knell for creativity. Of course, “the creative mind” is one of the buzz-phrases advanced by popular thought leaders and corporate visionaries searching for solutions to supplying a 21st century workforce.
Robinson does lecture think tanks and corporations but his argument goes beyond workforce readiness. He also believes that Ritalin is too often a palliative wrongly prescribed for children who are intensely kinesthetic–who think best while moving–and uses the example of the choreographer for Cats to make his point at the beginning of this book. Gillian Lynne, the kid who couldn’t sit still in school, was lucky enough to be diagnosed by a psychologist who told her mother to take her to dance class. Bingo. The child went on to join London’s Royal Ballet and eventually to work with Andrew Lloyd Weber on Cats and Phantom of the Opera and become a world-renowned choreographer instead of a grammar school washout.
Robinson tells his own story about getting polio at age four or five, which put a swift end to his soccer prodigy career. He shows how people who encountered setbacks went on to turn their bad luck into tremendous advantage. He explores thinking outside the box and working in the “zone.” He advocates for finding likeminded souls to collaborate with–your “tribe”–thereby exponentially increasing the energy of your chosen work. An entire section is devoted to the significance of mentors. Every novel idea is illustrated with examples of (mostly) famous people who went through the very same thing to reach their goals. Those were often improbable or unconventional goals that demanded years of dedication, practice, stubborn belief and a sense of inevitability to achieve.
Neither age nor lack of experience should affect the search for your element and its incorporation into a central place in your life, Robinson asserts. Some people are drawn to a new skill and it becomes a second and very rewarding career. Some people discover what they love and pursue it as an all-consuming hobby while maintaining a career in another field. Finding your element might make you rich but it will almost inevitably make you happy. If these ideas are new to you, The Element will fascinate you. The book’s subtitle “How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything,” just about sums it up.
It’s all pretty good advice–nothing startling here but solid thinking, loads of colorful examples and decent inspiration. Sir Ken has a viral TED talk about education and creativity that borrows heavily from these arguments and that might serve as an entree to the book. I suspect the ideas don’t go quite far enough and are not radical enough to capture the wave of a future we can no longer imagine. But you have to start somewhere and finding what you love to do and are good at seems like a promising beginning.
The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything Ken Robinson, Ph.D. | Viking 2009