Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Book Review - The Element by Ken Robinson

You will never guess where I am?  OK, so I am in the sleeping bag.... on Heni's swing finishing up one of the books I picked up at the airport on my way to Malta  a while back. The first thing that grabbed my attention  about the book was the authors name....  strangely he has the same name as my dad! After that I was intrigued by the "how finding your passions changes everything" bit on the front cover. It struck me as something that a lot of us are in search of.  Therefore potentially, we could all benefit from reading the book! I had also listened to some of Ken's awesome TED talks online......  Thus It appealed to my curiosity and became one of my holiday reads. Here is the review.....

In the book Ken says that we are each born unique with high natural capacities and capabilities but unfortunately too few of us ever connect with these talents or don't even know what they are... never reaching our potential to the fullest or finding our "Element".
He uses the term Element to describe the place where the things we love to do  and the things we are good at, intersect. Finding this element, he describes, is essential to our personal well being and satisfaction  and ultimate success and achievement. Two features of the element are natural aptitude and personal passion... when these two come together, we feel like...

"we are doing what we are meant to be doing and being who we are meant to be". 

When we find our Element there is a sense of renewal, as the activities that we love fill us with energy and can even change our physiology, having an effect on our metabolic rate, endorphins  and brain wave activity.  Being out of our element on the other hand (doing things we dislike) drains us in minutes.

 Most people, however, don't fully recognise or discover  their innate capabilities and have limited understanding of them until "leaving and recovering from formal education". 

found on

Our current educational systems drain creativity from children and stifles individual talent, desire and motivation to learn. He likens the system to that of the obsolete steam engine (which no longer serves our needs). What we now need is the combustion engine... new methods of education are needed to propel us forward. Education needs to be transformed, personalized and customized to help children discover their talents and true passions. Other than eduction, some of the reasons people never pursue their talents and passions are they think they could never make any money out of it as a career, lack confidence, fear failure, have self doubt or are influenced by what others think. Others lack opportunity or encouragement. 

Most of us take for granted certain ideas of "intelligence", which most people define as how well we do in an IQ test or standardized testing in schools and shows our academic abilities. These test numbers however only indicate a persons ability and skill at taking a test and therefore only measure some types of intelligence and do nothing to take into consideration a persons unique skills.  Instead of asking... 

"how intelligent are you?'
.... he reasons... we should be asking the question 
" how are you intelligent?" 

... acknowledging that "there are a variety of ways to express intelligence and no one scale could ever measure (it)."He asks  "if we were left to own devices - if we didn't have to worry about making a living or what others thought" - What are we most drawn to doing?  What activities do we engage in voluntarily? What absorbs us the most?

 Ken points out that we all have different strengths in different intelligences and natural aptitudes.....

"human intelligence being diverse and multifaceted" 

However, EVERYONE has a high capacity for CREATIVITY (though you may think you are not creative). To find our element we first need to understand this link between creativity and intelligence. He explains that we  can be creative in anything at all -

"anything that involves our (particular) intelligence".  

Imagination, more than most capacities is one we take for granted the most. With imagination - 

"we can visit the past, contemplate the present and anticipate the future...... we can also create, hypothesize, speculate and we can suppose". 

Imagination however is not the same as creativity. To be creative you have to put imagination in to action.... he calls it applied imagination.... a practical process of refining ideas and

"trying to make something original". 

Ken also talks of creativity not only affecting what we put in the world, but also what we make of it-

"not only what we do, but also how we think and feel about it." 

...with creativity we can re-frame our situations and look at things in a different way. He quotes William James (founder of modern psychology) saying

"the greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind... if you change you mind you can change your life."

Ken gives many great examples in the book of people coming to recognize their particular element(s). some individuals  had to find the right "medium" that helped them free their creativity. One of the example he gives is of Gillian Lynne a world class choreographer who has worked on "Cats" with Andrew Loyd Webber. At school Gillian couldn't sit still and her mother took her to see a psychologist at the request of the teachers. The psychologist questioned mother and daughter in a room and then asked the mother to step out of the room with him. As they left, he switched on the radio. From the open door he told the mother to watch the little girl who quickly got up and started to dance. Instead of labeling her as ADHD  the psychologist told the mother to take her to a dance school. Here she flourished, found her element AND her medium!  The rest is history. The psychologist helped Gillian and her mother to discover her natural capabilities and passions. Without the roll of this "mentor" the journey would have been considerably harder. Mentors can be "knowledgeable guides" who can  help US to recognize, encourage, facilitate and stretch us on our journey to discovering our Element.

Its a great book to get you thinking outside the box on intelligence, talents, passions and creativity and helps you to look at people in a different way. We all have visible talents and some that are still in embryo ....that we are not yet aware of. My talent is not yours and yours is not mine. Each of us has valuable abilities and contributions to make.   I'm not exactly sure that I have found mine yet... but I am hopeful that it will appear as I take the journey in its pursuit and I wish you well in your search to discover your  particular "Element".


If you want to see Kens talk on "Do schools kill creativity" you can follow the link here to TED.

Do you know what your element is? Have you found your passion in life?
Feel free to share how you found it and post some tips on Facebook (Henibean) to help us who are still in its pursuit!


1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a really great read. Being unschoolers/homeschoolers, I'd have to agree with him that schools do kill creativity to a certain degree! I think Temple Grandin would agree with him too!


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