Image: Ian Britton
After an enforced hiatus from reading and blogging caused by some deadlines (I always laugh the Douglas Adams’ quote, ‘I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by’. Sadly my conscious doesn’t like the sound so much), I have been reading Sir Ken Robinson’s book ‘The Element; How finding your passion changes everything.’ Robinson is an internationally-renowned expert in the field of creativity and innovation in business and education and an inspiring orator. His TED (technology, entertainment and design) talks from 2006 and 2010 have been seen by millions.
Robinson believes that everyone has their Element (his capitalisation), which he describes as ‘the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion.’ He believes that ‘finding your Element is essential to your well-being and ultimate success.’ The Element can be almost any activity from public speaking to dancing to playing billiards to solving mathematical problems, with the diversity of fields related to the multiplicity of human intelligence. He believes that investigating a person’s intelligence revolves around the question ‘How are you intelligent?’ rather than ‘How intelligent are you?’
Throughout the book are examples of people who have found their Element, a discovery which has led them to self-fulfilment and success (in all its various forms – not just financial or academic). Robinson believes that to find your Element, you need attitude (ie to want something) and the right opportunities.
One of the aims of the book is to try to illustrate the diverse ways in which people can find their Element. These can include finding like-minded people who share and develop your passion; these may be fellow students in a course, co-workers, musicians – anyone with whom you connect. Mentors can also be pivotal in identifying talent and passion and providing guidance. This is a particularly strong theme for Robinson, having been recognised as having aptitude by a visiting inspector while attending a special school where academic achievement was not high (he’d had polio- there was nothing at all wrong with his mind). This encounter resulted in Robinson moving to another school, passing an exam no-one thought he could ever attempt and, as a consequence, getting a place in an excellent school from which he entered university. He defines the four roles of a mentor as recognition of talent, encouragement, facilitating (experiences, contacts etc) and stretching the mentee by expanding their limits.
The discussion of mentors made me think again about the role of educators, be they of veterinarians, doctors, corporate workers, children or any other group. When we identify students or even co-workers with a particular aptitude or passion, could we do more to help guide them? I suspect in some cases the answer is yes.
A particularly thought-provoking section for me was about the association between intelligence and creativity and how it is possible to become more creative in your work. I was also fascinated by the concept of creativity being a concrete version of imagination. Robinson writes that creativity ‘involves putting your imagination to work to make something new, to come up with new solutions to problems, even to think of new problems or questions.’ This book will appeal to anyone searching for their Element (which includes me – I’m got some clues but haven’t actually got there yet), those interested in creativity and thinking in different ways and those aspiring to become better teachers or mentors.