I’m not sure what led me to Amazon to purchase The Element (as in ‘She’s in her element’). I probably thought it was a newly published book and so was surprised to find that it was first published in 2009. Nevertheless, it is probably more relevant today than it was when it was first published.
Ken Robinson is a Liverpudlian now living and working in Los Angeles and an internationally acclaimed thinker and writer on creativity, innovation and human capacity. The Element starts with a story about a school teacher giving a drawing class to a group of six-year olds. A little girl at the back of the classroom sits with her arm curled round her paper totally absorbed in what she is doing. Fascinated by this the teacher asks the girl what she’s drawing. Without looking up the girls says, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” Surprised, the teacher says, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” “They will in a minute,” the girl replies.
Why do most of us lose this level of confidence as we grow up, asks Robinson?
The ensuing chapters form a fascinating insight into what is wrong with society and our education system. Why do so many people only find what they love and are good at after they leave school? Why do so many who are labelled as lazy or thick at school go on to have hugely successful and fulfilled lives? How much human capacity is wasted because those who are written off at an early age never find their element.
With typical scouse humour Robinson illustrates his thinking with stories of numerous of people who found their element despite the education system. The story of the music teacher who had both Paul McCartney and George Harrison in his classes but failed to detect any musical ability in either teenager is particularly pertinent.
Robinson admits that, “…finding your element can be challenging. Sometimes the challenge comes from within, from a lack of confidence, the fear of failure, the fear of not being good enough, the fear of being found wanting, the fear of disapproval, the fear of poverty and the fear of the unknown. Sometimes the people closest to you…are the real barrier. 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.”
The Element should be on the reading list of every policymaker, educator and business leader. Who knows what hidden talents they may find.