Sir Ken Robinson: Creativity and “The Element”


Sir Ken Robinson is a pretty smart guy who thinks a lot about creativity. Also he’s a “Sir” which means he’s a knight which means he can ride a horse with a big ‘ol clunky suit of armor on.

All in all, you might say these aren’t the most practical skills somebody can have. But that’s not how Sir Ken sees it (and, surprise, surprise: it’s not how I see it either). Especially when it comes to creativity.

In the clip above, he mentions a book he was working on at the time. He calls it “Epiphany” but it morphed into something else. It was published last year and it’s called The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. It’s got a lot of ideas in it, but the foundational ones involve the following questions:

Do you get it? This one’s about aptitude. To be a truly creative person within a particular discipline, according to Sir Ken, you have to have a certain level of innate ability in that discipline.

Do you love it? Lots of people are good at things that they can’t stand doing. To really be “in your element” as Sir Ken defines it, you have to be pretty good at something that you love doing.

Do you want it? The distinction between loving something and wanting it might seem a little fuzzy at first, but it’s really about ambition. Is this thing a calling? Do you pursue it with vocational intensity?

Where is it? This is about finding the time, space, and peers/mentors you need to pursue your discipline in earnest. It might well be the most crucial of them all. Sir Ken sometimes talks about an arts school in Liverpool, England. Former Beatle Paul McCartney is one of the school’s chief patrons and Sir Ken has served on its board. When he asked McCartney if he loved music when he was in school, McCartney said he hated it. It wasn’t music that he hated; he always loved it. It was that the way music was taught in the school didn’t engage him — nor, it turned out, did it engage his schoolmate George Harrison, who was the lead guitarist in The Beatles. Neither of them was noticed in school as having any particular musical talent when they were growing up. Clearly they both got it, loved it, and wanted it. They just had to find it somewhere other than their school.

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