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 – though often steering 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 they said that our conversations for the book revealed ideas and experiences they hadn’t discussed 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 has “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 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.
Watch a 20 minute video: Ken Robinson on TED about education
For more information please visit: Sir Ken Robinson – The Element
It will look like this: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything