The Element, by Sir Ken Robinson
The Element is Ken Robinson’s way of describing the meeting point between our natural aptitude and personal passion. It is different for everyone and its features are aptitude and opportunity. I’m interested in this thinking because I use a ‘strengths-based’ approach in my leadership development work, and this book takes that thinking further.
You could summarise Robinson’s recommended steps towards the Element as:
- I get it
- I love it
- I want it
- Where is it?
We get to define what the ‘it’ is; it’s compelling to us and our journey is to have more of it in our personal or professional lives. ‘It’ is an activity that consumes and rewards us, for its own sake.
Robinson states that our innate capacity for creativity allows us to rethink our lives and our circumstances-and to find our way to the Element. He also makes the point that imagination is not the same as creativity. His definition is that creative work is a delicate balance between generating ideas and sifting and refining them.
Redefining creativity in this way is good news for those of us who traditional linked ‘creativity’ with the arts. We no longer have to aspire to be Mozart or Picasso to be creative. It’s more like being in the zone: to be “in the zone” is to be in the deep part of the Element. Even if initially undertaken for other reasons, the activity that consumes us becomes intrinsically rewarding.
This isn’t just a solitary exercise; it’s also about connecting with other people who share your passion and desire. Robinson calls these people the “Tribe”. He believes that Tribe membership helps people become more themselves; giving them a greater sense of personal identity. There seems to be a paradox between our personal finding of the Element and the group’s role. Tribe members can become allies or competitors. For example, the pressure to conform may encourage us to ignore our inner ‘calling’ and succumb to ‘group think’.
For Robinson, the ultimate question is always going to be "what price are you willing to pay?" The rewards of the Element are considerable – yet reaping these rewards may mean pushing back against opposition - something we often come across in the world of leadership and coaching.
I also believe this book is connected to the series of works published by Gallup on Strengths (for example, ‘How Full is Your Bucket?’ the ‘Strengthsfinder’ series, and individual works such as Marcu Buckingham’s ‘Go Put your Strengths to Work’). All these works can be found in the Leadership Library.
For Robinson, the Element is about a more dynamic, organic conception of human existence, in which the different parts of our lives interact and influence each other. Being in our Element at any time in our lives can transform our view of ourselves.
As a coach, consultant and mentor, specialising in leadership development, I’m glad to see that there’s a role for me to play in Robinson’s world: we can support and encourage our clients; enable them to recognise their Element; and we can offer ways to facilitate and stretch them and live into their Element.
Most importantly, Robinson says that it’s never too late for any of us to find our Element. Opportunities come along every day for us to stretch, grow and live into it.
More from Sir Ken Robinson
Creativity matters to Ken Robinson; he’s often referred to as the ‘creativity guru’ and Robinson asserts that most people believe intelligence and creativity are entirely different things. He sets out three main myths surrounding creativity.
- Only special people are creative
- Creativity is about special activities
- People are either creative or they're not
When I can get the technology to work, I'll upload one of the TED (TED.com) videos or RSA 'RSanimates' that illustrate his wider thinking.