The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everythingby Ken Robinson, Lou Aronica
A New York Times-bestselling breakthrough book about talent, passion, and achievement from the one of the world's leading thinkers on creativity and self-fulfillment.
The Element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the Element, they feel most themselves and most inspired and achieve at/b>/i>… See more details below
A New York Times-bestselling breakthrough book about talent, passion, and achievement from the one of the world's leading thinkers on creativity and self-fulfillment.
The Element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the Element, they feel most themselves and most inspired and achieve at their highest levels. With a wry sense of humor, Ken Robinson looks at the conditions that enable us to find ourselves in the Element and those that stifle that possibility. Drawing on the stories of a wide range of people, including Paul McCartney, Matt Groening, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, and Bart Conner, he shows that age and occupation are no barrier and that this is the essential strategy for transforming education, business, and communities in the twenty-first century.
Also available from Ken Robinson is Finding Your Element, the practical guide to achieving your highest potential.
- Penguin Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- Penguin Group
- NOOK Book
- Sales rank:
- File size:
- 739 KB
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
Table of Contents
CHAPTER ONE - The Element
CHAPTER TWO - Think Differently
CHAPTER THREE - Beyond Imagining
CHAPTER FOUR - In the Zone
CHAPTER FIVE - Finding Your Tribe
CHAPTER SIX - What Will They Think?
CHAPTER SEVEN - Do You Feel Lucky?
CHAPTER EIGHT - Somebody Help Me
CHAPTER NINE - Is It Too Late?
CHAPTER TEN - For Love or Money
CHAPTER ELEVEN - Making the Grade
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,
Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland
(a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell,
Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre,
Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632,
New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in 2009 by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright © Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica, 2009
All rights reserved
Artwork on page 65: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/ Hubble Collaboration. Acknowledgment: D. Gouliermis (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg).
All other artwork: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
Robinson, Ken, date.
The element: how finding your passion changes everything / Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
eISBN : 978-1-440-65618-7
1. Self-actualization (Psychology) 2. Self-realization. 3. Creative ability in children. 4. School failure. I. Aronica, Lou. II. Title
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrightable materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
To my sister and brothers, Ethel Lena, Keith, Derek, Ian, John, and Neil; to our extraordinary Mum and Dad, Ethel and Jim; to my son, James, and my daughter, Kate, and to my soul mate, Terry. This book is for you. For all your many talents and for the endless love and laughter we put into each other’s lives. It’s when I’m with you and the ones you love that I really am in my Element.
They say it takes a village to raise a baby. Rearing a book like this takes a small metropolis. I know I have to say I can’t thank everyone, and I really can’t. I do have to single out a few people, though, for special service awards.
First and foremost, my wife and partner, Terry. This book simply wouldn’t be in your hands but for her. Its origins were in an off-the-cuff remark I made at a conference a few years ago. I had just told the Gillian Lynne story, which now opens chapter 1 of the book. In passing, I said that one of these days I was going to write a book about stories like that. I’ve since learned not to say these things out loud in front of Terry. She asked me when did I have in mind. “Soon,” I said, “definitely soon.” After a few months had passed, she started it herself, wrote the proposal, worked on the ideas, did some of the initial interviews, and then found the agent, Peter Miller, who was to help make it happen. With the foundations laid so solidly, and the escape routes closed so firmly, I finally kept my word and got on with the book.
I want to thank Peter Miller, our literary agent, for all his great work, not least in bringing Lou Aronica and me together. I travel a lot—too much, really—and producing a book like this needs time, energy, and collaboration. Lou was the ideal partner. He is seriously professional: sage, judicious, creative, and patient. He was the calm center of the project as I orbited the earth, sending notes, drafts, and second thoughts from airports and hotel rooms. Between us, we also managed to steer a successful course between the often comic conflicts of British and American English. Thank you, Lou.
My son, James, gave up his precious, final student summer to pore over archives, journals, and Internet sites, checking facts, dates, and ideas. Then he debated virtually every idea in the book with me until I was worn out. Nancy Allen worked for several months on research issues under increasingly tight deadlines. My daughter, Kate, had a wonderfully creative collaboration with Nick Egan to produce a unique Web site that shows all the other work we’re now doing. Our assistant, Andrea Hanna, worked tirelessly to orchestrate the myriad moving parts in a project like this. We wouldn’t still be standing up without her.
As the book was taking shape, we were extremely fortunate to have the wise and creative counsel of our publisher, Kathryn Court, at Viking Penguin. Her benign form of intimidation also ensured that we got the book finished in decent time.
Finally, I have to thank all of those whose stories illuminate this book. Many of them spent precious hours, amid very busy lives, to talk freely and passionately about the experiences and ideas that lie at the heart of The Element. Many others sent me moving letters and e-mails. Their stories show that the issues in this book reach into the core of our lives. I thank all of them.
It’s usual to say, of course, that whatever good things other people have contributed, any faults that remain in the book are my responsibility alone. That seems a bit harsh to me, but I suppose it’s true.
A FEW YEARS AGO, I heard a wonderful story, which I’m very fond of telling. 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.”
I love this story because it reminds us that young children are wonderfully confident in their own imaginations. Most of us lose this confidence as we grow up. Ask a class of first graders which of them thinks they’re creative and they’ll all put their hands up. Ask a group of college seniors this same question and most of them won’t. I believe passionately that we are all born with tremendous natural capacities, and that we lose touch with many of them as we spend more time in the world. Ironically, one of the main reasons this happens is education. The result is that too many people never connect with their true talents and therefore don’t know what they’re really capable of achieving.
In that sense, they don’t know who they really are.
I travel a great deal and work with people all around the world. I work with education systems, with corporations, and with not-for-profit organizations. Everywhere, I meet students who are trying to figure out their futures and don’t know where to start. I meet concerned parents who are trying to help them but instead often steer them away from their true talents on the assumption that their kids have to follow conventional routes to success. I meet employers who are struggling to understand and make better use of the diverse talents of the people in their companies. Along the way, I’ve lost track of the numbers of people I’ve met who have no real sense of what their individual talents and passions are. They don’t enjoy what they are doing now but they have no idea what actually would fulfill them.
On the other hand, I also meet people who’ve been highly successful in all kinds of fields who are passionate about what they do and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I believe that their stories have something important to teach all of us about the nature of human capacity and fulfillment. As I’ve spoken at events around the world, I’ve found it’s real stories like these, at least as much as statistics and the opinions of experts, that persuade people that we all need to think differently about ourselves and about what we’re doing with our lives; about how we’re educating our children and how we’re running our organizations.
This book contains a wide range of stories about the creative journeys of very different people. Many of them were interviewed specifically for this book. These people tell how they first came to recognize their unique talents and how they make a highly successful living from doing what they love. What strikes me is that often their journeys haven’t been conventional. They’ve been full of twists, turns, and surprises. Often those I interviewed said that our conversations for the book revealed ideas and experiences they hadn’t discussed in this way before. The moment of recognition. The evolution of their talents. The encouragement or discouragement of family, friends, and teachers. What made them forge ahead in the face of numerous obstacles.
Their stories are not fairy tales, though. All of these people are leading complicated and challenging lives. Their personal journeys have not been easy and straightforward. They’ve all had their disasters as well as their triumphs. None of them have “perfect” lives. But all of them regularly experience moments that feel like perfection. Their stories are often fascinating.
But this book isn’t really about them. It’s about you.
My aim in writing it is to offer a richer vision of human ability and creativity and of the benefits to us all of connecting properly with our individual talents and passions. This book is about issues that are of fundamental importance in our lives and in the lives of our children, our students, and the people we work with. I use the term the Element to describe the place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together. I believe it is essential that each of us find his or her Element, not simply because it will make us more fulfilled but because, as the world evolves, the very future of our communities and institutions will depend on it.
The world is changing faster than ever in our history. Our best hope for the future is to develop a new paradigm of human capacity to meet a new era of human existence. We need to evolve a new appreciation of the importance of nurturing human talent along with an understanding of how talent expresses itself differently in every individual. We need to create environments—in our schools, in our workplaces, and in our public offices—where every person is inspired to grow creatively. We need to make sure that all people have the chance to do what they should be doing, to discover the Element in themselves and in their own way.
This book is a hymn to the breathtaking diversity of human talent and passion and to our extraordinary potential for growth and development. It’s also about understanding the conditions under which human talents will flourish or fade. It’s about how we can all engage more fully in the present, and how we can prepare in the only possible way for a completely unknowable future.
To make the best of ourselves and of each other, we urgently need to embrace a richer conception of human capacity. We need to embrace the Element.
GILLIAN WAS ONLY eight years old, but her future was already at risk. Her schoolwork was a disaster, at least as far as her teachers were concerned. She turned in assignments late, her handwriting was terrible, and she tested poorly. Not only that, she was a disruption to the entire class, one minute fidgeting noisily, the next staring out the window, forcing the teacher to stop the class to pull Gillian’s attention back, and the next doing something to disturb the other children around her. Gillian wasn’t particularly concerned about any of this—she was used to being corrected by authority figures and really didn’t see herself as a difficult child—but the school was very concerned. This came to a head when the school wrote to her parents.
The school thought that Gillian had a learning disorder of some sort and that it might be more appropriate for her to be in a school for children with special needs. All of this took place in the 1930s. I think now they’d say she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and they’d put her on Ritalin or something similar. But the ADHD epidemic hadn’t been invented at the time. It wasn’t an available condition. People didn’t know they could have that and had to get by without it.
Gillian’s parents received the letter from the school with great concern and sprang to action. Gillian’s mother put her daughter in her best dress and shoes, tied her hair in ponytails, and took her to a psychologist for assessment, fearing the worst.
Gillian told me that she remembers being invited into a large oak-paneled room with leather-bound books on the shelves. Standing in the room next to a large desk was an imposing man in a tweed jacket. He took Gillian to the far end of the room and sat her down on a huge leather sofa. Gillian’s feet didn’t quite touch the floor, and the setting made her wary. Nervous about the impression she would make, she sat on her hands so that she wouldn’t fidget.
The psychologist went back to his desk, and for the next twenty minutes, he asked Gillian’s mother about the difficulties Gillian was having at school and the problems the school said she was causing. While he didn’t direct any of his questions at Gillian, he watched her carefully the entire time. This made Gillian extremely uneasy and confused. Even at this tender age, she knew that this man would have a significant role in her life. She knew what it meant to attend a “special school,” and she didn’t want anything to do with that. She genuinely didn’t feel that she had any real problems, but everyone else seemed to believe she did. Given the way her mother answered the questions, it was possible that even she felt this way.
Maybe, Gillian thought, they were right.
Eventually, Gillian’s mother and the psychologist stopped talking. The man rose from his desk, walked to the sofa, and sat next to the little girl.
“Gillian, you’ve been very patient, and I thank you for that,” he said. “But I’m afraid you’ll have to be patient for a little longer. I need to speak to your mother privately now. We’re going to go out of the room for a few minutes. Don’t worry; we won’t be very long.”
Gillian nodded apprehensively, and the two adults left her sitting there on her own. But as he was leaving the room, the psychologist leaned across his desk and turned on the radio.
As soon as they were in the corridor outside the room, the doctor said to Gillian’s mother, “Just stand here for a moment, and watch what she does.” There was a window into the room, and they stood to one side of it, where Gillian couldn’t see them. Nearly immediately, Gillian was on her feet, moving around the room to the music. The two adults stood watching quietly for a few minutes, transfixed by the girl’s grace. Anyone would have noticed there was something natural—even primal—about Gillian’s movements. Just as they would have surely caught the expression of utter pleasure on her face.
At last, the psychologist turned to Gillian’s mother and said, “You know, Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick. She’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”
I asked Gillian what happened then. She said her mother did exactly what the psychiatrist suggested. “I can’t tell you how wonderful it was,” she told me. “I walked into this room, and it was full of people like me. People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.”
She started going to the dance school every week, and she practiced at home every day. Eventually, she auditioned for the Royal Ballet School in London, and they accepted her. She went on to join the Royal Ballet Company itself, becoming a soloist and performing all over the world. When that part of her career ended, she formed her own musical theater company and produced a series of highly successful shows in London and New York. Eventually, she met Andrew Lloyd Webber and created with him some of the most successful musical theater productions in history, including Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.
Little Gillian, the girl with the high-risk future, became known to the world as Gillian Lynne, one of the most accomplished choreographers of our time, someone who has brought pleasure to millions and earned millions of dollars. This happened because someone looked deep into her eyes—someone who had seen children like her before and knew how to read the signs. Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down. But Gillian wasn’t a problem child. She didn’t need to go away to a special school.
She just needed to be who she really was.
Unlike Gillian, Matt always did fine in school, getting decent grades and passing all of the important tests. However, he found himself tremendously bored. In order to keep himself amused, he started drawing during classes. “I would draw constantly,” he told me. “And I got so good at drawing that I was able to draw without looking, so that the teacher would think that I was paying attention.” For him, art class was an opportunity to pursue his passion with abandon. “We were coloring in coloring books, and I thought, I can never color within the lines. Oh, no, I can’t be bothered!” This kicked up to another level entirely when he got to high school. “There was an art class and the other kids would just sit there, the art teacher was bored, and the art supplies were just sitting there; nobody was using them. So I did as many paintings as I could—thirty paintings in a single class. I’d look at each painting, what it looked like, and then I’d title it. ‘Dolphin in the Seaweed,’ okay! Next! I remember doing tons of painting until they finally realized I was using up so much paper that they stopped me.
“There was the thrill of making something that did not exist before. As my technical prowess increased, it was fun to be able to go, ‘Oh, that actually looks, vaguely, like what it’s supposed to look like.’ But then I realized that my drawing was not getting much better so I started concentrating on stories and jokes. I thought that was more entertaining.”
Matt Groening, known around the world as the creator of The Simpsons, found his true inspiration in the work of other artists whose drawings lacked technical mastery but who combined their distinctive art styles with inventive storytelling. “What I found encouraging was looking at people who couldn’t draw who were making their living, like James Thurber. John Lennon was also very important to me. His books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works, are full of his own really crummy drawings but funny prose-poems and crazy stories. I went through a stage where I tried to imitate John Lennon. Robert Crumb was also a huge influence.”
His teachers and his parents—even his father, who was a cartoonist and filmmaker—tried to encourage him to do something else with his life. They suggested that he go to college and find a more solid profession. In fact, until he got to college (a nontraditional school without grades or required classes), he’d found only one teacher who truly inspired him. “My first-grade teacher saved paintings I did in class. She actually saved them, I mean, for years. I was touched because there’s like, you know, hundreds of kids going through here. Her name is Elizabeth Hoover. I named a character on The Simpsons after her.”
The disapproval of authority figures left him undeterred because, in his heart, Matt knew what truly inspired him.
“I knew as a kid when we were playing and making up stories and using little figurines—dinosaurs and stuff like that—I was going to be doing this for the rest of my life. I saw grown-ups with briefcases going into office buildings and I thought, ‘I can’t do that. This is all I really wanna do.’ I was surrounded by other kids who felt the same way, but gradually they peeled off and they got more serious. For me it was always about playing and storytelling.
“I understood the series of stages I was supposed to go through—you go to high school, you go to college, you get a credential, and then you go out and get a good job. I knew it wasn’t gonna work for me. I knew I was gonna be drawing cartoons forever.
“I found friends who had the same interests at school. We hung out together and we’d draw comics and then bring them to school and show them to each other. As we got older and more ambitious, we started making movies. It was great. It partly compensated for the fact that we felt very self-conscious socially. Instead of staying home on the weekend, we went out and made movies. Instead of going to the football games on Friday night, we would go to the local university and watch underground films.
What People are saying about this
“Ken Robinson presents the theme of creativity and innovation in a way that makes you want to go out and make your dreams a reality. In his wonderfully easy-to-read and entertaining style he presents the stories of many who have done just that. . . . It is a book that lightens and lifts the minds and hearts of all who read it.” —Susan Jeffers, Ph.D., bestselling author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway® and Life is Huge!
“A great and inspiring book. It’s been said that an unexamined life is not worth living. True enough and Ken Robinson doesn’t let us off the hook. After the first page, you have to abandon your ego and look for your own gifts and graces.” —Warren Bennis, author of On Becoming a Leader: The Leadership Classic
“Robinson (Out of Our Minds), renowned in the areas of creativity development, innovation, and human resources, tackles the challenge of determining and pursuing work that is aligned with individual talents and passions to achieve well-being and success. . . . Motivating and persuasive, this entertaining and inspiring book will appeal to a wide audience.” —Publishers Weekly
“Ken Robinson is a remarkable man, one of the few who really look at and into you, so he makes you feel at ease and happy. I’m proud to be in his book as one of the people he feels attained the Element. Reading his book helps you pinpoint the search we must all make to achieve the best in us.” —Gillian Lynne, choreographer, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera
“While the world is changing faster than ever, our organizations, our schools, and too often our minds are locked in the habits of the past. The result is a massive waste of human talent. The Element is a passionate and persuasive appeal to think differently about ourselves and how to face the future.” —Alvin Toffler, author of The Future Shock
“A brilliant and compelling look at creativity, and the path to succeed in the global world of tomorrow.” —Harry Lodge, co-author of Younger Next Year
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
I heard Dr. Ken Robinson discussing his book "The Element" on Huckabee, and immediately ordered it at B&N online. I awaited it anxiously and was very pleased that it arrived promptly! My anticipation was well founded! Dr. Robinson's book was a GREAT read! I am at a point in my life, having worked in the same field for over 25 years, that I have begun entertaining the idea of pursuing another line of work along some of my interests. "The Element" gave me a fresh and insightful perspective into what is likely to provide me with the greatest level of satisfaction and feeling of achievement. Dr. Robinson did an artful job of weaving the stories of real people, many of them celebrities or people of notoriety, into his thematic presentation. He adeptly utilized inspiring true life accounts of people who have found "the element" to illustrate his persuasive arguments in each chapter. He paints a very convincing picture of how people are happiest in life when their abilities or competencies intersect their passions or most gratifying pursuits. In short, he guides the reader through "I get it!"... "I love it!"... "I want it!"... "Where is it?!" Fortunately, or tragically (I'm still mulling this over!), about the time I was ready to charge out and begin a new career, Robinson allowed for the fact that a person can still feel very fulfilled through pursuing their passion as a hobby or outside interest and not just through making it their life's work. Reading "The Element" was undoubtably time well spent! I seriously hated putting it down and, when I had finished it, thought that it ended almost too soon. However, Dr. Robinson did a masterful job of making his point, and providing genuine inspiration, in an appropriate amount of time. The length is perfect... long enough to be convincing... brief enough to leave you wanting more. Nice job. Dr. Robinson is certainly in "the element". Pick up a copy soon and BUY it, don't borrow it, as you'll want to have it on your bookshelf for periodic review!
The premise that people all should do their element is pretty common knowledge. The vignettes were interesting, but for me not much different that a gathering of profiles that I have read in various magazines. I guess I was expecting a more "how to find your element" rather than just examples of people in their element.
Excellent book. All parents and educators should read this. Explains why we need to make changes to our educational system to allow for and develop creativity and right-brained thinking as we progress in the 21st Century. Many examples of people who did not fit into conventional/technical/math/science curriculum, but became highly successful and have made an impact in the world when they found their "Element." Reading this and Daniel Pink's "A Whole New Mind" will inspire you to want to make changes and to do away with all the technical testing required by Bush's No Child Left Behind law.
Robinson's insight into creativity is innovative and motivating. He inspires us all to uncover and follow our inner passions in our daily life and work. Using anecdotes as well as thoughtful reflection, Robinson's humorous tone keeps the pace fast without diluting his message. This is a must-read for anyone who feels victim to monotony.
After hearing a speech by Sir Ken Robinson I purchased this book. It is worth the read. He expounds on his work in creativity. The latter half of his book seems to veer off; however, it is a book I would recommend. I especially would recommend it to parents of young children.
This book is so good that, although I borrowed the library copy, I may end up buying it. For anyone out there that knows they are meant to be doing more with their lives but, up to now, feels a bit sidetracked by life (education, friends, family...) this book will help you understand why you've ended up where you are, and give you some insight into how you can step into a more fulfilling life. BUY IT NOW!
According to author and education consultant Sir Ken Robinson, today's educational systems promote only certain types of learning and recognize only certain types of intelligence and creativity. Yet people are happiest when they follow their talents and do what they love. Robinson, writing with co-author Lou Aronica, describes this avenue to fulfillment as "the Element," the intersection of ability and passion. He uses stories of artists, scientists, athletes and musicians to support his theory. While Robinson makes a strong case for finding your Element, he doesn't tell you how to get there. Since he relies on case histories of the famous, some readers might feel more distanced than motivated. Nonetheless, getAbstract recommends this thoughtful self-help book, which challenges traditional views of intelligence and creativity.