Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Element

Sir Ken Robinson defines 'Element' as,
"... 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."

In his book 'The Element', Ken Robinson narrates inspiring stories of a long list of people including the British Ballerina Gillian Lynne, Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post, Paul McCartney of Beatles, Paulo Coelho and many others who managed to follow their passion, breaking social norms and overcoming odds. These odds were not always mental road blocks, some of them were physical as well. This includes Ken Robinson's personal struggle after contracting polio in his childhood. The book describes how being in 'The Element' helped these individuals to achieve great heights.

The book covers how some of the fundamental flaws we have developed in our society, especially in the field of education make it difficult to find one's Element. For example, how Professional courses are given more importance than Fine Arts or any art related subjects, the flaws in determining an individual's IQ and the way we have defined what Creativity is.

Talking about intelligence, Robinson noted that when he posed the question, 'How intelligent are you?' to an audience, the answers often took the form of a Bell curve, with a few lying at the extremes but the major portion was concentrated around the center. When the same group were asked, 'How creative are you?', the answers were completely different. The majority thought they were not very creative. This clearly shows that people think that creativity and intelligence are not related.

The primary reason for this thinking is, we as a society tend to assign creativity to a very specific group of subjects like Arts, Music, etc. Similarly, standardized tests that test an individuals' IQ do not always assess their artistic abilities. This difference tends to imply that creativity and intelligence are two different things, often forgetting that an individual can be both intelligent and creative irrespective of his field or profession. So, Robinson suggests that, the question to be asked is not, 'How intelligent are you?' rather, 'How are you intelligent?'

Similarly Robinson talks about how we take things for granted. Often people don't realize that they have something special and fail to acknowledge it. One simple example given in the book is about the senses. When the question is asked 'how many senses do human beings have?', the answer is usually five. But according to Robinson, there is more than that. This sixth sense, he says, is not the spooky one, but a real sense like the five others, the sense of balance! The sense of balance is a very key thing in day to day life, but is often taken for granted. He narrates the story of Bart Conner, whose ability to walk with his hands was not taken for granted and how he eventually represented the USA in the Olympics.

There are similar thoughts covered throughout the book along with some stories attached to it. Along with these stories, Robinson also provides some insights on how to find one's Element like spending time with one's 'Tribe'. Tribe here are the people who share a common passion, like a group of scientists or artists.
Often an individual's passion fails to be acknowledged by people around them who either neglect it or suppress it in the name of well being, like in the case of Paulo Coelho. So being among like minded people would help the individual's passion to be heard and understood and to help develop the skills required for it.

On the whole, the book is more of an extension to Ken Robinson's famous TED Talk on 'How schools kill Creativity' and 'Bring on the Learning Revolution'. The book carries a number of stories which for some might seem a little bit overwhelming. As one of the users pointed out in the amazon review comments, by the end of the book one might start feeling that the same ideas are being repeated over and over again and might question the length of the book itself. Reducing the number of stories might have definitely increased the readability, but on the contrary, it could have made it look like a self help book and this definitely is not one. 'The Element' is a good read if one can bear with some of its extended stories and it's repetitive tone.

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(Edited with comments from Dhiviya.)

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