I first learned of Sir Ken Robinson through watching his lecture "Do Schools Kill Creativity" free on the Internet last year (his talks have been viewed millions of times by people across the world). In that talk he mentions he was in the process of writing a book -- THE ELEMENT: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything -- is that book. I was thrilled to be able to attend a lecture, one of the first stops on the book tour to promote this book and was so inspired I bought the book immediately.
This book's audience is every person in the world, every single one of us could benefit from reading and applying the information in this book. In addition to being about changes that a person can make in their own life during adulthood, the book also speaks to teachers and other adults who are involved in educating children. People interested in learning styles, learning disabilities, alternative education and education reform may be interested in this book. All types of artists and creative people may like to read THE ELEMENT.
The books starts off discussing children, how all children are unique, have certain interests and natural talents; have an inborn curiosity and a capacity to learn. Sadly, school is sometimes a place where some children are stifled and changed for the worse. Despite best intentions by society for children `to become educated', the issues with designing a `one size fits all' curriculum for mass institutional schools creates its own set of problems. In an effort to raise everyone's educational level up, some fall through the cracks, or their square pegs don't fit in the round holes. The way modern schooling is conducted damages some children. Attempts to educate all children to one standard plan does not allow all children with varying natural talents to shine. The very method of institutional schooling with its standard teaching and standardized testing not to mention the effects in American public schools of No Child Left Behind (when teachers are spending lots of class time teaching to the test or perfecting test taking skills) trains children to think there is only one right answer, therefore killing the creativity that was present within the child before they stepped foot in school. The book is a call for education reformation (transformation) but the author stops short before actionable suggestions are made (I suspect because the issue has been discussed ad nauseum by others over many years time, and still the system is still far from ideal). But, the ideas in the book may plant seeds of change within the minds of school teachers, administrators and parents, and perhaps others can come up with creative ideas on how to affect real change. If not, the individual can always use the advice in this book on themselves when they are teenagers or adults.
Discussed is the fact that children who were labeled with conditions such as ADD/ADHD or who are deemed learning disabled were made to feel they are broken, different (in a bad way), or stupid. We hear stories of some people who found passion in other areas of life that were not the focus in traditional schools (especially the arts) but wound up not just fulfilled but successful at their job, wealthy and with celebrity status, sometimes with their area of strength being directly from their `disability'. Somehow, the book manages to come off pro-teacher though, in no way is this book an attack on the teaching profession in general.
The book then shifts to a discussion of creativity and of the flow state (citing the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ) and encourages everyone to find their creative selves. It is never too late. Adults can find their passion, in spite of any past negative experiences. We can use our passions to do creative work of our choosing, even in the spare time left over after our main work is completed (such as a full-time job to earn a paycheck) while provides a feeling of fulfillment that impacts their entire life in a positive way. Sir Ken Robinson seems to hope that all people would find their passion in life (including in mid-life or in one's twilight years) and to not just focus on getting through life with a more basic survival mentality, bored and feeling empty inside but making ends meet (or living with large paychecks but still unhappy). Some people wind up finding a way to pursue their passion full time and can make a living from it too. These ideas are matched with many real life stories, many from personal interviews.
Advice on how to find one's passion, how to quiet the voices of the naysayers, and how to find new support by finding one's tribe is discussed. Attitude is very important as is seeking opportunities, not just relying on luck. Robinson outlines his steps to put these ideas into practical application. A thorough discussion of what creativity is and how to take practical steps to use creativity and make things happen is not just inspirational but makes it clear that all people can begin living a creative life at any time they choose to open their minds to the notion and commit to taking active steps to make it happen.
I absolutely loved the book!
The book was a fast and easy read. Research studies are cited to back up some of the information and statistics, so it is not just a book of opinion and personal theories. References are made to ideas contained in books written by others and my interest was piqued enough to go on to read those next.
I have a few criticisms about the book. (Despite these I love the book and still rate it 5 stars!)
1. About two-third's into the book I became bored of so many personal stories about celebrities or those who achieved personal wealth through pursuit of their passion (i.e. CEOs and others at the `top of the status chart'). It was a bit too much like "celebrity worship" or "rich people worship", something I don't do. He doesn't just discuss happy musicians but tells the story of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Elvis--some of the biggest names in music history!
2. Some evidence for the over-emphasis on the rich and famous is that despite an entire chapter being about how `regular people' can pursue their passion in one's `spare time' and feel fulfilled but never get rich or famous from what they do, there are not enough stories about that type of experience. I'm impressed and inspired by all kinds of success stories and I am sure that others are too.
3. There is a great discussion of "professional amateurs" (aka Pro-Am's) which is about some people being experts on a subject despite not getting paid to do learn or do that kind of work for pay, but the weird thing is that only two stories in the chapter feature happy people pursuing their passion that didn't wind up winning an award or becoming famous or transforming it into a full-time job/paid career!
A comment I'd like to make about Pro-Am's is that a perfect example are the Generation X mothers today (like me), who are college educated and had good careers, but left their careers to raise children then wound up using their extra time and energy to find their creativity and to pursue their passion. I can also say that of the past generations of women who society labeled as being 'just housewives' (assuming their lives were boring and unfulfilling), some actually had discovered their passion and were living it (like my mother and my grandmothers did).
A comment (not a complaint) I will share is that some of the advice is self-help advice common in a number of other, older books about self-actualization on the market. THE ELEMENT does have a different spin and twist--this was fine with me (because I feel that hearing good advice numerous times and from different sources is useful) but some readers who've read other books about self-help, attitude or self-actualization who want completely new and fresh ideas may be a little disappointed.
As a home educating parent who chose this path for my children for an `alternative education' experience reason primarily, I will share that the book never discusses home education as a viable option for children who are suffering or not thriving in school, those with learning disabilities or whose natural talent for the arts are not being nurtured in mainstream public schools. Homeschooling parents will probably enjoy this book as the good messages contained in it can be applied in the homeschooling journey down the alternative education path.
The book is fantastic and inspirational. Read it and use the good advice it contains!
on April 20, 2009
I borrowed and read The Element before reading any of your reviews.
My initial reaction to the first quarter of The Element was YES!! I've been saying for years that schools are killing creativity & individuality. But as the book wore on reporting on one rich and famous person after another, I became sad that my life seems to be slipping away and I've done nothing to the betterment of my community or the world. Then a few chapters later I was uplifted to find that it's still not too late. So great, I'm ready, so how? And then the book ends.
HOW?, I scream How?!!!
I was also disheartened that there weren't more examples of ordinary people, like Dr. Robinson's mother, who contributed to their families and communities by using intangible talents..ie, compassion, service, organization. Being able to plan and execute an outing for disabled children to celebrate Earth Day is just as much a talent as acting or playing the piano. Doesn't get you much press and certainly doesn't make the Forbes 500 in salaries, but it's rewarding.
I enjoyed the book, but it left me frustrated.
on October 27, 2010
The idea that one should pursue one's passion is neither new nor, in and of itself, particularly profound. We've all heard stories about people who have pulled themselves up by their boot straps and become amazingly successful and fulfilled. Nothing new here. So what's good about this book? What's new? What's useful?
The burning question for almost everyone not lucky enough to have their passion thrust upon them is How Do I Discover MY Passion?
That's the real question.
And when I ask that question, I'm not looking for vague, general guidelines, I'm looking for a process that will lead to the discovery of my passion. Do I even have one? Does everyone have a passion?
The people profiled in the book are all very remarkable, very unusual people. We're not all like them. How do WE discover our passion? I've already heard about the lucky ones; I want to know about the rest of us.
The book doesn't even come close to addressing this question in a meaningful way. And, of course, it could be argued that that is not its purpose. But then, what is its purpose: capitalizing on fame, name dropping, rehashing? Whatever else it might be, it's also an opportunity lost.
In the end, this is a book directed at an elitist audience, like the author and the friends he mentions. More than a disappointment, this book is a disservice to readers serious about making a difference in their lives.
on June 17, 2009
"What I hope you will find here is a new way of looking at your own potential and the potential of those around you."
"The Element: How finding your passion changes everything" by Sir Ken Robinson is a book on passion, creativity, and, most importantly, education. In this book, he tells you how different people ranging from Paul McCartney (The Beatles), Meg Ryan (the actress), Paul Samuelson (the economist), Paolo Coelho (The Alchemist.. sorry, the writer) found their passion, their Element. His contention is that intelligence is diverse, dynamic, and distinct and typical hierachical and standardised education squandered them.
Sir Ken Robinson works in education and he caught eyes of millions in his all-time favourite talk in the TED conference in 2005. You might want to take a look at the 20 minutes talk before reading the book. I have found his talk tremendously inspirational and my review might be biased. But I would encourage you to also be biased and inspired by this intelligent and witty thinker.
(every chapter is filled with amazing stories of different amazing people in the world. In this briefing, I could not list all or even half of them) (I also copy (plagiarise) lots of words from the book and I hope it did not terribly violate the copyright!)
Chapter One: The Element
The chapter starts with Gillian Lynne and Matt Groening who were hopeless at school but ending up giving pleasure to millions around the world because they found their Element - "the place where the things you love to do and the things you are good at come together." Sir Ken Robinson explained that the Element has two main features and two conditions aptitude (I get it), passion (I love it), attitude (I want it), opportunity (Where is it?).
Chapter Two: Think Differently
We take things for granted. When asked how many senses we possess; people normally answer five or six. That is taking things for granted. Psychologists and scientists assert that there are four more. Likewise, when we talk about intelligence, people often refer it to IQ. That is taking things for granted. Sir Ken Robinson tells us that three features of intelligence are that it is diverse, dynamic, and distinct. And we should rather ask "How are you intelligent?" than "How intelligent are you?"
Chapter Three: Beyond Imagining
This chapter starts with three myths of creativity. One myth is that only special people are creative. Another myth is that creativity is about special activities like the arts, design, or advertising. The third myth is that people are either creative or not. Sir Ken said they are all not true. He wrote how imagination is different from creativity and how we should develop both. There are also stories of George Harrison (The Beatles) and how he and Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne created a wonderful album and how an American physicist, Richard Faynman won a Nobel Prize.
Chapter Four: In the Zone
"To be in the zone is to be in the deep heart of the Element." "...it transforms our experience of the Element. We become focused and intent. We live the moment. We become lost in the experience and perform at our peak." The Zone is the place or time where we feel the true sense of freedom and authenticity. Sir Ken Robinson wrote that we are often confined in boxes like the MBTI personality test that group people into sixteen personality types. "My guess is that sixteen personality types might be a bit of an underestimate. My personal estimate would be closer to six billion."
Chapter Five: Finding Your Tribe
The chapter starts with Meg Ryan and how she met different people who gradually shape her Element. "Being a part of this tribe brings her to the Element." People trying to find their Element need a place to discover themselves. Sir Ken talked about two distinct ideas; "domain" (the sorts of activities and disciplines people are engaged in) and "field" (the other people who are engaged in it). He also told us the difference between the tribe and the crowd.
Chapter Six: What Will They Think?
The three circles of constraint which are the barriers to finding the Element are personal, social, and cultural. In this chapter, he wrote about the disabled artist who would not give in to his disadvantage, the story of Paolo Coelho and his family, the Huffington Post (one of the most popular blogs) founder, and Zaha Hadid, the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize for Architecture who grew up in Iraq.
Chapter Seven: Do You Feel Lucky?
Attitude plays an important role in finding your Element. People who find their Element often say they are lucky despite difficulties and unfortunate circumstances. Sir Ken Robinson wrote about himself when he was very young and caught polio when he was four. He wrote about an accidentally blind John Wilson who played a crucial role in curing blindness for millions in Africa. According to the study of the psychologist Richard Wiseman, lucky people tend to maximise chance opportunities; they tend to be very effective at listening to their intuition; they tend to expect to be lucky; and they have an attitude that allows them to turn bad luck to good.
Chapter Eight: Somebody Help Me
Most people who found their Element often have mentors who help them. The important lesson from this chapter is that mentors have four significant roles, recognition, encouragement, facilitating, and stretching.
Chapter Nine: Is It Too Late?
"Lady Di could be bicycling nude down the street giving this book away, and no one would read it." was the comment Susan Jeffers received from a publisher directing at her book "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" before it had been sold millions of copies. And she only started writing properly into her forties. People's life expectancy has risen in the past century and although we cannot be a gold medalist in Olympics when we are sixty but Sir Ken Robinson wrote about lots of successful people who found their Element later in their lives. "One of the fundamental precepts of the Element is that we need to reconnect with ourselves and to see ourselves holistically."
Chapter Ten: For Love or Money
Not all those who find their Element have to be professionals. Sir Ken Robinson shows us the new way of looking at amateur. The word derives from the Latin word amator, "which means lovers, devoted friend, or someone who is in avid pursuit of an objective." In this chapter, you will find lots of people who find their Element as an amateur; they do not do it for a living, just the love of it. Sir Ken tells us the difference between leisure and recreation. While leisure offers a respite, a passive break from the challenges of the day, "recreation carries a more active tone - literally of re-creating ourselves."
Chapter Eleven: Making the Grade
Sir Ken Robinson focuses on education in this chapter and the most renown example would be Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin. The problem with an education system is the hirarchy of disciplines (subjects) in schools and the other is that conformity has a higher value than diversity. There are more college graduates now than ever and degrees worth less now. More people who graduate in this generation could not find job because they need higher degree, the so-called academic inflation. In this chapter, Sir Ken tells us the new, alternative education system that might turn schools into, an analogy of, high quality customised restaurant rather than a fast food chain with standardised and unimaginative products.
I'll compare this book to an ideal business book; a book that is easy to understand, distinct, practical, credible, insightful, and provides great reading experience. Although this book is not purely business but it can be directly applied.
Ease of Understanding: 9/10: This book is written in plain English and it is a really easy read. It is very harmonious and stories are weaved perfectly into the content of the chapters. Most stories are filled with conversations and clear points.
Distinction: 8/10: We all know the power of passion and how it affects our lives. Apart from numerous stories from people whom Sir Ken Robinson encountered, there is a fundamental distinction in the book which is how conventional education system is hindering the creativity of children.
Practicality: 5/10: There are two sides to view the book; one is that the author, Sir Ken Robinson, did not offer any sound and practical advice for readers to follow; the other view is that there is no specific guideline to reach your Element. He said that intelligence is diverse, dynamic, and distinct. There are numerous kind of intelligence, linguistic, musical, mathematical, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intra-personal. Intelligence is dynamic; it does not follow a linear pattern. And it is distinctive; it is as unique as a fingerprint. Thus, it's yours to find.
Credibility: 9/10: All the stories in the book are real, not fictional or theoretical. All the findings are either scientific or psychological findings. There is no reason not to believe him. The one point taken is that although his advices in education are exceptionally inspiring and true, we do not know the extent of it. Nobody knows if we follow the advice especially in education, how it may play out. It might be good but not as great as Sir Ken expected or it might be even better.
Insight: 8/10: All the stories in the book are extraordinary and the book is a great compilation of great and inspiring stories. The psychological findings are sufficient and intriguing albeit not too deep.
Reading Experience: 10/10: This is, by far, the most inspiring book I have read. From the introduction, regarding the stories in the book, "None of them have "perfect" lives. But all of them regularly experience moments that feel like perfection. Their stories are often fascinating." he continues "But this book isn't really about them. It's about you." So, if you read the book with an open mind, you will find a way to discover your Element. The range of people in the book is astonishingly diverse and I hope that one of them will trigger your imagination to reach your Element. I cannot praise it enough.
Overall: 8.2/10: Am I biased? Probably. I am biased because Sir Ken Robinson gave a twenty minutes talk that changed the way I look at my life. I am biased because his book gave me inspiration that I look into the future with optimism and with passion. I am because that this book make me feel that "I" can pursue my dream with my creativity and intelligence. I am biased because this book tells me that my Element is there and it is for me to find it. So yes, I am biased in my review and I deeply hope that you will be biased like me and you will live the life you love. There is no one-size-fits-all but if any of my friends and family members want me to recommend a book on my shelf, they will fortunately get the same answer, The Element.