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Sir Ken Robinson On Discovering Your Passions

With Jane Clayson in for Tom Ashbrook.

Sir Ken Robinson, who gave one of the most watched TED Talks, tells us how to find what really makes us tick and how to get the most out of life and work.

Sir Ken Robinson works in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources in education and in business. (Martin Mancha)

Sir Ken Robinson works in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources in education and in business. (Martin Mancha)

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” — Sir Ken Robinson

Millions and millions have seen him. Sir Ken Robinson gave one of the most watched TED talks ever, telling us that we’re stifling creativity in our kids early on. Our students sit in classrooms for seven hours a day going over academic drills in math, science, English. But what if equal time were spent on the arts? Dancing, drawing and singing?

Currently Robinson’s not focusing just on children. His beat now is how we all can get more out of our lives if we hone in on our passions — that is, the things that really make us tick.

This hour, On Point: Letting your talents and passions transform your life.

Guest

Sir Ken Robinson, co-author of “Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life” — read an excerpt. (@SirKenRobinson)

He has given several TED talks on the role of creativity in education. Watch his popular 2006 talk:

 

Interview Highlights

Here’s what Robinson had to say about education, creativity, talents, passion and fulfillment.

On everyone’s innate abilities:

We’re all born with immense, natural, creative abilities. Children demonstrate them all. We all feel them. But we feel they slip away from us as we get older. And I think it’s vitally important for personal and every other kind of reason that we focus on them and try to develop them.

How education is jeopardizing creativity:

“Many people in schools…are laboring under this sort of dead culture of continuous testing. And one of the results of it has been to reduce the curriculum, to narrow it.”

I’m not blaming teachers for it. I’m not blaming school principals for it. I’ve worked in education my whole life and I work a lot with teachers in schools and I know they’re as concerned about this as I am and everbody else is. I think it’s to do with this culture of standardization. There is a view that the way we improve education is to make it more and more standardized. Many people in schools — particularly in this country, I’d say — are laboring under this sort of dead culture of continuous testing. And one of the results of it has been to reduce the curriculum, to narrow it. So a lot of the things that people, who may be be in their 40s or 50s, will remember from school — things like band and orchestra, putting on plays, lots of interesting after school activities — a lot of those things are being pushed out by this culture of standardized testing. It’s all done with an honorable purpose, I think — the intention is to raise standards, but the irony is it’s really not doing it. And more and more kids are pulling out of school. There’s more and more teachers, I feel, demoralized by it. And I know parents are very concerned about it too.

“While Shanghai is trying to be like America, America is trying to be more like China.”

I’m not against testing. I’m not against any form of standardization, but what’s interesting to me is that some of the really high performing systems in the world — notably Finland, which is often spoken about — don’t have any standardized testing at all. They have a very broad curriculum. There are these international league tables run by an organization in Paris called the OECD, it’s called the Programme for International Student Assessment. They test for students achievement in math and reading and science. And the last round of tests a year or two ago showed that the top performing system is Shanghai…all kinds of anxieties in the American political circles that China was outperforming us. But what was interesting was that people in Shanghai take a different view of it; they say, “Well, we would expect to be good at these standardized tests. It’s what we do all the time. We drill our children in these things, so we’d expect to come out well. But the problem is that, for China, we know we have to help our children to become more creative, like they do in America.” And that seems to be a very interesting irony — while Shanghai is trying to be like America, America is trying to be more like China.

How STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fits into the picture:

“A great country like this depends not only on mathematicians and scientists and engineers but on people who can work in business, on artists, on people who work in the community. We depend on a huge range of talents and abilities.”

It’s not an argument against math or science — on the contrary, they’re desperately important. But they’re not enough. Somebody once put it: They’re necessary but not sufficient. A great country like this depends not only on mathematicians and scientists and engineers but on people who can work in business, on artists, on people who work in the community. We depend on a huge range of talents and abilities.

Actually, there’s a very interesting study done a while ago by a man called Vivek Wadhwa at Duke University about the educational backgrounds of people who are running large companies in Silicon Valley. He expected they’d be from engineering or math backgrounds. Actually, over 60 percent of them had backgrounds in the arts and humanities. What it really speaks to to me is life is not linear like that. It doesn’t depend only on math and science; it depends on these other things too…I speak to a lot of math teachers and science teachers who are just as concerned that this culture of standardization is squashing creativity out of their disciplines too.

Loving what you do — or not:

An awful lot of people don’t enjoy what they do. They kind of get through the week and wait for the weekend. And there’s a lot of evidence for that; there’s been a lot of research to show there are huge levels of disengagement at work. You only have to look at other really startling figures like the growth in the sales of antidepressant drugs and levels of drop-out rate from schools. There’s massive evidence around the world of people not getting a lot from their lives and often being angry and frustrated from by them.

“It’s about having a balance in your life, that you find some time in your life, some point in your life where you feel you’re doing what puts you at your most authentic — the thing you were really made to do.”

And, yet, I also meet people who absolutely love what they do, who can’t wait to get to it. If you were to say to them, “Why don’t you try something else for a while?” they really wouldn’t know what you’re talking about. They’d say, “Well, this isn’t what I do. This is who I am.”

Firstly, this isn’t just about what you do for a living. I’m very clear about that. Some people can make a living from doing what they love — not everybody can. It may not be that sort of thing. They may not want to; they may not choose to. I interviewed all kinds of people for the book who were doing things that they loved but they don’t want to be paid for it. They’re doing it as it were “amateurs” in the literal Latin sense — they do it for the love of it. It isn’t just about what you do for the living. It’s about having a balance in your life, that you find some time in your life, some point in your life where you feel you’re doing what puts you at your most authentic — the thing you were really made to do.

“If you love something that you’re good at, then that’s a really great place to be in your life. And it can evolve over time.”

Being in your element, to me, is two things. It’s doing something that you’re naturally good at. So part of the argument here is that we have to have a generous conception of ability and talent. That’s one of my problems with the education system: We have a very narrow view of talent, for the most part, in education. But it’s not only doing things you’re good at — because I know all kinds of people who are good at things they don’t care for. To be in your element, you have to love it. If you love something that you’re good at, then that’s a really great place to be in your life. And it can evolve over time. But my experience of it is — and I’ve interviewed all kinds of people in all sorts of walks of life, in all kinds of different economic circumstances — that we all have this potential. It takes different forms for each of us because we’re very diverse. But it’s something worth reaching for because it gives you a sense of fulfillment that you don’t otherwise have.

The “quest” of finding your element, creating the life you want:

“If we create our life, we can recreate it…We owe it to ourselves to look deep inside to see what talents we really do have.”

Our lives aren’t linear. We create our life according to the talents that we find within ourselves, the interests that drive us, and everybody ends up having a unique resume. If we create our life, we can recreate it. Part of my argument in the book is that we owe it to ourselves to look deep inside to see what talents we really do have. Often, human talents are like the world’s natural resources. They’re buried under the ground; you don’t know that they’re there until you go actively searching for them and try to develop them.

There is obviously a balance between talent and passion…Broadly speaking, it’s this: It’s a two-way journey. Actually, no — the word I use in the book is “quest.”

“Quest” is a very interesting idea to me because if you take a journey, a regular journey, you might know where you’re heading to. You’re setting off from Boston to San Francisco. You know where it is and you know when you’ll get there. But some journeys aren’t like that. You set off hopefully, often, though, not completely sure what you’re looking for — that’s what the word “quest” is. It’s a medieval term. It’s where you’re setting out to find something with a purpose and an intention, but you’re not quite sure where it is and you hope to find it. Finding your element is like that.

“You set off hopefully, often, though, not completely sure what you’re looking for — that’s what the word quest is. It’s a medieval term. It’s where you’re setting out to find something with a purpose and an intention but you’re not quite sure where it is and you hope to find it. Finding your element is like that.”

I say in the book it’s a two-way journey — it’s a journey inside to spend more time with ourselves. A lot of people in my experience don’t know enough about themselves, about their talents or their abilities. I meet all kinds of adults who tell me they haven’t got any special talents at all, they don’t have any particular passions or interests, and I just don’t believe it. I think there are plenty of people who haven’t found them, who haven’t known where to look — it’s one of the problems with education that we get steered away from them. So there are a whole series of exercises in the book to help people reflect on their own talents, things they’re good at, whether they really know what they’re good at. And there’s a whole set of exercises about understanding how your passions come about.

And it’s an external journey in the world around you and to find new experiences and new opportunities. It’s those two things and how they come together that I try to map out for people in the book.

One person’s nightmare job, another person’s dream job:

I did tweet recently and asked people if they could name jobs they would hate to do but other people love. I got all kinds of answers back. The normal things like proctologist…but people would say things like, “How about office cleaners?” Well, I have somebody in the book that actually loves being a cleaner. Somebody said, “What about working in sewers?” Somebody immediately tweeted back, “My brother works in sewage disposal. He loves every day of the job.” You can’t make a presumption about what other people would love to do or how they would like to live their lives. That’s one of the beauties of the diversity of human talents and interests.

How you can tell if you’re in your element:

“At the end of a day, if you’re doing something you love to do, you can be physically worn out but elated.”

I make a distinction in the book between physical energy and spiritual energy. I don’t mean spiritual in the form of religious sense; I mean the sense in which you are high spirits or low spirits. If you do things that you love to do, it actually feeds your energy. At the end of a day, if you’re doing something you love to do, you can be physically worn out but elated. If you’re doing things that you don’t care for, you may be physically fine, but down and depressed. If you’re doing where time shifts — if you’re doing something you love, an hour can feel like five minutes. If you’re doing something you don’t care for, five minutes can feel like an hour. And these different things that feed our energy are different for all of us. So part of what I’m saying in the book is try and track those things. I have a whole series of exercises for people to try and recall, remember and explore the things that uplift them as opposed to the things they just feel weary about and having to get through all the time.

On creativity in all disciplines:

Often when people say they’re not creative, what they really mean is they don’t think they’re very artistic. People associate creativity with the arts but it’s as important in the sciences, in technology. I am a lifelong advocate of the importance of the arts in education. I think it’s catastrophic when school districts and schools cut arts programs. It’s very short-sighted and it cuts a lot of people off from their natural talents. But this isn’t just an argument about the arts; it’s a plea for more creative approaches in science, in technology.

The struggle in finding your element:

“Finding your element is not just about passion and aptitude; it’s about attitude and opportunity. It has to matter to you enough.”

I actually have an example in the book of somebody…who was working in business and determined to become a photographer. It was a big struggle. I’m very keen to underline that — I’m not suggesting some Pollyanna approach to this. The book is full of example of people who struggled against all kinds of odds. Finding your element is not just about passion and aptitude; it’s about attitude and opportunity. It has to matter to you enough. It isn’t about walking away from your responsibilities and leaving everything behind…It is about trying to find a purpose in your life and being honorable and true to yourself.

Creativity takes hard work:

“It’s a mixture of knowledge, discipline and imagination…Real creativity comes about through hard work and through application.”

Creativity is not just license; it’s not just blowing off steam and wandering around unsupervised…It’s a mixture of knowledge, discipline and imagination. Often people don’t spend enough time to think through what creativity really means and how it works…There have been moments in the history of education where teachers pulled back too far from their students and thought, “Well, whatever you come back is great by me.” Real creativity comes about through hard work and through application, but not the sort of application that kills the imagination but the kind of work that encourages it. It’s a mixture of those two things, of bringing it together — it’s a skilled process.

On alternative education:

Students do have immense talents and we serve them badly if we don’t give them the right kind of frameworks and structures. There are lots of examples we could go into of schools that come alive with students who are thought to be very unpromising but who’ve flourished quite different when the conditions have changed. And I believe that all of our students have much more to offer than our current system often allows them.

How teachers can include creativity in classrooms despite standardized testing:

Teachers do feel under immense pressure…I think the head teacher can give a strong lead in a school. I always do say to teachers there’s more freedom here than you often think. If you are a teacher with a classroom, when that door closes, you’ve got the next hour with those kids and you can work with them in any way you think is best. Promoting the use of imagination and more creative strategies for teaching and learning isn’t the opposite of raising standards.

Actually, the evidence — in my experience — is it’s the way to actually raise standards even higher. Standardization isn’t the same thing as raising standards. And if you get people excited and engaged…those kids are going to learn an awful lot about language and about community and about working together than they would otherwise have done. It’s important not to see it as the opposite, but as a strategy for improvement.

It’s never too late, but it takes a conscious effort:

“If you take the trouble to find your talents and the things that excite you, new opportunities open up that you hadn’t even considered were there.”

Everybody’s life is different…everybody has to face their own struggles. But your life’s not over until it is over, and it’s never too late. I think it is about taking stock. And I try in the book to give practical techniques to look at the balance of things that you do now, to see what time you have. I think if people looked at how much time they spend in doing things they dislike, things where they fritter their time, they may well find there are opportunities there they hadn’t seen before…If you take the trouble to find your talents and the things that excite you, new opportunities open up that you hadn’t even considered were there. It’s like a whole new portal becomes available to you. There are lots of examples of that, of people who’ve found a way forward that they didn’t know was there until they started to look for it. It’s about making a conscious effort. But it’s not a 10-step program. But it is, in the end, up to you, and what I’ve tried to do is to give some guidelines and tools that’ll make it possible.

Book Excerpt

“Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life” by Sir Ken Robinson

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © Sir Ken Robinson, 2013

Finding your element is a highly personal and often surprising process. We are all starting from different places in terms of our own characteristics and circumstances. The Element is also different for each of us. Even so, there are some common principles that underlie this process that apply to everyone, and techniques and strategies that everyone can use. This chapter says what these principles are and why it’s important to understand them. It also introduces some initial techniques and exercises to help you take stock of where you are now and to begin to plan the way ahead.

As an example of how curious this process can be, let me start by telling you something about how I came to be doing what I do. I’m often asked what my own Element is and when I knew.

Like most others, my story is fairly improbable and it illustrates all of these principles. I am reasonably good at all sorts of things, most of which I’ve never pursued. In my teens, I used to tinkle on the piano and I thought I could sense a world- class talent forming deep within me. But when I noticed that real pianists typically play with both hands, I quietly moved on. I could pick out riff s on a guitar and quickly mastered the opening notes of “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin. Then I listened to the rest of the track and decided to leave the field to Jimmy Page. Plus, playing the guitar hurts your fingers.

When I was much younger, I loved drawing and painting but had to drop art at school to focus on other things. As a teenager and into my twenties and thirties, I always liked to fix things and was often to be found in hardware stores admiring routers and drill bits. I also enjoyed cooking and, at one stage when my children were young, had a small but well- deserved reputation for my pastry— at least with them. In short, from concertos to haute cuisine, I had many options that I might have pursued in my life but did not. Being fairly good at several things, of course, can make it much harder to know what to do with your life than if you are really good at something in particular. I’ll come back to that later. The fact is that when I was younger, I had no idea what my Element was, and would not have known even if the phrase had occurred to me at the time, which it had not.

I know now that my Element is communicating and working with people. I’ve spent a lot of my time traveling around the world presenting to hundreds and often thousands of people, and, through the media, sometimes to millions. When I was very young, I would never have guessed that this would be my Element and nor would anyone who knew me. I was born in 1950 in Liverpool, England. I grew up in a large, close- knit family that was also tremendously sociable and funny. But as a young child, I spent a lot of time on my own. This was partly circumstance. In the early fifties, Europe and the United States suffered a rampant epidemic of polio. Parents everywhere lived in terror of their children catching the virus. When I was four, I did. Literally overnight, I went from being a strong, fit and highly energetic child, to being almost completely paralyzed. I spent the next eight months in a hospital, some of it in an isolation ward. When I finally came out, I was wearing two leg braces and was in a wheelchair, or walking on crutches.

I have to say that at this point I was almost unbearably cute. I was five years old and in addition to all the orthopedic paraphernalia, I had curly blond hair and a winsome smile that makes my own toes curl now just to think of it. On top of that, I had a pronounced lisp. At breakfast, I might ask for “a cup of tea with two thpoonth of thugar and a peeth of toatht.” The net result was that people would melt in my presence and complete strangers would spontaneously offer me money in the street. The lisp was so marked that from the age of three I had weekly sessions with a speech therapist in Liverpool. One theory is that I may have picked up the virus there, since I was the only person among all my family and friends to catch it. So one reason for spending time on my own was circumstance.

Although my family was wonderful in not treating me differently, the fact was that I could not keep up with all the running games in the street or the local park, and I did spend more time on my own than I might otherwise have done. But the other reason was disposition.

As a child I was fairly placid and self- contained. I was a natural observer and listener, and I was happy to sit quietly and take things in from the sidelines. I also loved to make things and solve practical puzzles. At elementary school, one of my favorite lessons was woodwork. I would also spend hours at home assembling and painting plastic models of ships, airplanes and historical figures. I played a lot with Meccano and Legos. I amused myself for whole afternoons in our backyard inventing fantasy games with whatever was lying around. None of this pointed very clearly to a life in the public eye and an international reputation, which I now seem to have, as a public speaker. As is often the case, other people saw my potential before I did.

When I was thirteen, my cousin Brenda got married. Two of my elder brothers, Keith and Ian, and our cousin Billy put together a cabaret act for the evening that involved them dressing up as women and miming to current hit records that were speeded up to sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. They called themselves The Alka Seltzers. (It’s a long story.) They needed someone to introduce them at the event and Keith suggested me. I was astonished, and I wasn’t alone in that. But I did do it, even though the idea terrified me.

I was terrified because I’d never done anything remotely like it and because the massed ranks of my Liverpool family are savagely funny and take no prisoners, no matter how many braces and speech impediments are held in front of them. I did it because I’ve always believed that you have to move toward your fears and not away from them. If you don’t exorcise them, they can haunt you long after they should have faded. As it happens, it was a fantastic evening. I received due acclaim for my small part. The group was a sensation and had invitations to perform at clubs and theaters across the country. They changed their name to The Alka Sisters (to avoid legal action by the popular antacid) and went on to tour for several years and to win a national talent competition. In the meantime, I had a small realization that I could face the public, too.

In high school, I performed in various plays and directed some. By the time I got to college, I had a taste for acting and directing and, although I never sought it, I was often called on to make speeches in debates and to make presentations. Once I was on stage, I found that I relaxed fairly quickly and enjoyed it. I still do. My professional work has always involved working with and presenting to groups of people. Although I was always nervous beforehand, I found from the beginning that I settled in quickly, and that the time passed quickly while I was doing this.

When you’re in your Element, your sense of time changes. If you’re doing something that you love, an hour can feel like five minutes; if you are doing something that you do not, five minutes can feel like an hour. At every stage of my working life, my wife, Thérèse, has always said that she can tell at the end of the day what I’ve been doing. If I’ve been sitting through routine committee meetings or doing administration, I look ten years older than I am: if I’ve been speaking at an event, teaching or running a workshop, I look ten years younger. Being in your Element gives you energy. Not being in it takes it from you.

So how do you set about finding your Element?

From The Reading List

Forbes: Sir Ken Robinson: How To Discover Your True Talents – “Human resources are like the earth’s natural resources: they’re often buried beneath the surface and you have to make an effort to discover them.”

Time: What Graduation Speeches Should Say But Don’t – “Being in your element is more than doing things you’re good at. To be in your element, you have to love the work too. As they say, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.”

The Guardian: Fertile Minds Need Feeding – “Our approaches to education are ‘stifling some of the most important capacities that young people now need to make their way in the increasingly demanding world of the 21st century — the powers of creative thinking’, he says.”

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  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Most of us have to shovel out stalls, in our own perspectives. Some of us are lucky enough not to have to do it all of the time and engage in exciting and rewarding work. Unless lucky to have been able to maneuver into a fantastic environment that utilizes our skills fully, we have to engage in long term planning to position ourselves to be able to seize the opportunity to accomplish something significant in our trades.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1191224433 Margaret Mcintyre-Farina

      Thank you Mark for some common sense.  Many folks in the Arts who end up running highly creative firms were raised in affluent and talented homes… when the goal is to raise the ‘standard of living” for millions, schools must engage in some form of standardization and testing to be sure the most people are getting the most reading, math and science ‘education”.  Ideally, the Arts can still be offered in school, provided the school day is not wasted on drug prevention programs and other mindless social indoctrination. Only after mastering foundation subjects might we be able to expand our lives and develop all of our talents. Similarly, folks who own small businesses and leaders in larger companies can manage their organizations to utilize the most of each member’s talents. I too was fortunate to find such a small business when I was about 30 and enjoyed working there (and utilizing many of my vast talents) for over 20 years–and I feel fortunate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

    Didn’t Joseph Campbell say this thirty years ago? “Follow your bliss.” (“Following your bliss” sounds much better than “finding your element,” which has a ring of Chemistry class about it.)

    The problem comes, of course, from the fact that, though possibly good advice, it is also somewhat simplistic advice. The hard truth for most people is that the world works aggressively to keep it from happening for all but the fortunate few. 

  • andrewgarrett

    Yes, I follow my bliss, but I have to earn a living. Isn’t this just more Oprah type “do what you love and the money will follow”? How many sinks can a plumber fix in a day? Allowing for travel time, 10 maybe? That’s why we need a lot of plumbers. But how many people can a professional musician sing to, through the radio, in a day? Millions. That’s why we don’t need very many professional musicians. If your bliss and talent is plumbing good for you. If you are better than 60 or 70 or 90 percent at plumbing you will make a good living. If your bliss is singing you can be better than 99 percent of the people and never make a dime.

  • jefe68

    I agree with the notion that our schools are stifling creativity in children in the classroom. 

    Take music programs for instance. Having a good music program helps to teach children how to work in a group, how to solve problems, and discipline. It would be great to see a day when every middle school and high school had bands and orchestras playing Duke Ellington, Mingus as well as classical works. 

    I submit for your approval the The SFJAZZ High School All-Stars Orchestra:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sa3nrLlaPEs

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      Thelonius Monk 101. I’m all for this!

  • AC

    i veg out w painting

  • AC

    wait a minute!!! how many masters  were engineers first!!! how awful is that STEM is CREATIVE ! ! ! !

  • realedreform

    Check out the documentary “A Touch of Greatness…” and also Albert Cullum’s book “Push Back the Desks” They will do your heart good that maybe, some day schools will be recovered and teachers will be free to teach again.

  • sharlyne1

    Creativity is great, but what about earning a living? There are always going to be bills to pay and inflation to keep up with. Singing for your supper works for only a few (Carrie Underwood, etc). Not all hobbies or original ideas pay off in life, and that’s why we work. I wish the world was different, but it’s not.  It’s hard to be creative when you’re heavily in debt with education, or living expenses. Practical ideas pay off.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      Practical ideas are tedious, boring & spirit-killing if they are ALL one allows oneself to consider. Not everybody gets a pay-day out of monotonous conformity anymore. Why make people change into something they can never be when those folks can be empowered, instead, for the betterment of all? Oh yeah. It’s all about the gelt….filthy lucre.

      • sharlyne1

        I fully agree that practical ideas are boring and tedious, and I’m not saying that practicality is all one should lend themselves to in life. I’m just pointing out the reality check, people need to eat & have shelter. There are many ways to have a fulfilling life, I simply think in this day and age keeping up with the rat race prevents anyone from enjoying their creative hobbies. Control prices and inflation and maybe more people will be free to be creative rather than worry about how to pay for life. Just look at all the kids in massive student loan debt. Not all dreams pay the bills is all I’m saying. 

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1191224433 Margaret Mcintyre-Farina

          I am amazed at the ‘Arts elitism” shown here.  Not a mention of personality type and one man’s boring engineering problem is another man (or woman’s) bliss!!  I’ve worked as a talent coach with engineers most of my life and I have witnessed great problem solving creativity at such firms as 3M and Motorola. I worked with systems departments in banks which employed ‘unemployable” musicians–who did in fact add great creativity and problem solving to our team.  My point is, there are many ways in a ‘typical day” that multi-talented people do in fact express their talents to the benefit of companies, customers and their own bottom line.  You don’t have to be a member of the Chicago symphony to express your musical creativity!  Advice, everyone know  your Myers Briggs Type and develop …..

  • AC

    this is every stereotype against STEM i fight. especially in girls – i can’t believe i’m hearing this, this is awful. absolutely awful. i dislike this man…
    no one in any stem field worries about ‘failure’ it’s a step closer to success – it’s part of the design process.

    • AC

      i got into engineering because of sculpture, i don’t believe this at all

    • ToyYoda

      I didn’t hear the whole show, so maybe I’m taking this out of context, but I am a professional STEM’er, and I  worry about failure all the time.

      • AC

        you’re partially right – i should ammend that to qualify mostly to R&D projects. & it’s always nice to know the budget is large. but this man was bashing STEM to be un-creative, when that’s absolutely NOT TRUE. i’ve had to be very thourough and creative many times…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

    As a “creative” person whose passions are self-driven & self-realized, it strikes me that creativity is not a competitive sport.
    The absence of competitive drives in many artists has frequently led to abject poverty. Hence, your “starving artists”.

    Please address the American hyper-focus on competitive sports, competitive politics & competitive economics over critical thinking and creative problem solving done on a cooperative level among a diverse group of independent minds.

  • Renee Engine-Bangger

    This is a first world problem. Pop your head out of academia once in a while and see how most people live.

    • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

      Since almost all of the people listening to this NPR program probably live in the first world, I suppose it’s safe to say that all our problems are first-world problems.

  • Derek Elgin

    I really like what Sir Robinson has to say, and I try to adhere to his way of thinking.  Though I completely agree that sometimes what you love to do just isn’t enough to “pay the bills.”  I think a healthy way to approach Sir Robinson’s ethos is to, at a very minimum, make your everyday mundane task a means for the end of your passion.

    In my instance, my job is very project management/budgeting (numbers and sales) based.  But my true passions lie in the visual arts (digital photography and digital design).  What my day-to-day job affords me is the financial ability to buy cameras, lenses, software, and such, so that when I escape my daily grind, I can really allow my joyful tasks to spring forth.

    If and until I get to a point where my skill level in the visual arts surpasses those in my day-to-day job, I will exploit my day job as a means to pursue my happiness through visual arts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/emily.h.lacroix Emily Harvey Lacroix

    The hardest part of STEM is deciding what experiment to do next, which is a very creative and involves taking great risks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mary.e.cunningham.75 Mary Elizabeth Silverthorn Cun

    I work part-time at a job I love. only wish I could do it full time. The job market is apparently full of people who want to do what I do!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mary.e.cunningham.75 Mary Elizabeth Silverthorn Cun

    I work part-time at a job I love. only wish I could do it full time. The job market is apparently full of people who want to do what I do!

  • http://www.facebook.com/karen.donovan.7796 Karen Donovan

    I am hoping your advice will excite my son with Non Verbal Learning Disability.  He’s gifted, but cannot stand pointless tedious schoolwork. He will need to find his passion to make it through life!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      Has he tried his hand at modeling with clay, building his own toys from random parts, etc? Have you introduced him to graphic novels (age appropriate, of course)? Good luck! My kid was similarly inclined. It’s tough.

    • Dana Ortegón

      If you’re in the area, check out Sudbury Valley School. http://www.sudval org. No tests. No homework. Just lots of time to chase your passions!

  • Cassie

    Yes, I agree, the education system is broken because of standardization. However, the people who seem to realize that are not the decision makers, they are the teachers like me who are forced to torture the children with the test prep (and clearly, you, Sir Ken Robinson). I keep hearing people talk about how everything is so broken, but no one actually has a plan to fix it. Do you, Sir?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      Excellent question! Please, Sir, a penny for your thoughts about this? 

  • ToyYoda

    Is it possible that we have passion reversed?  I’m 40, I don’t have any passion.  I’ve been trying to find the things I’d be passionate about and I’m still searching.

    I’m slowly coming to the idea we dont’ find passion, it’s something that develops.  Maybe some activities are easier to develop passion for because of prior transferrable skills (or whatever) and that causes us to misattribute that our passion are “out there”, instead of realizing that it is something you cultivate and grow from within and apply to whatever arises.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      I dunno, ToyYoda, you seem to be quite passionate when posting your thoughts here. Don’t sell yourself short.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BGHooke Bruce Hooke

    I had a wonderful education in the arts and I am always generating ideas: designing things, making things, learning, reading, observing; but I am eternally frustrated that I don’t have more time to actually pursue these ideas. My job is somewhat creative (I’m a website designer) but I’d love to be able to put more time into pursuing the more creative ideas I am constantly generating. I just haven’t been able to find a way to get someone to pay me to do what I love, and without that it always feels like I am squeezing my passions in around the edges of my life.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      I feel you, man. For 10 years I wrote a weekly column on the Arts & Community for a small newspaper on Martha’s Vineyard. I was paid $20 per article with no increases during my tenure. The education I GOT, however, was well worth the $2 bucks an hour or so I earned for it. The trick is to get your passions to PAY you for pursuing them. A little bit is better than nothing. Good luck!

  • nj_v2

    What the industrial/economic/consumer system demands from workers, and the results of an individual “doing what one loves” are often (usually) entirely different things.

    For every person who “finds their Element,” i’d guess there are a dozen or a hundred who, by dint of necessity and mere survival, toil in deadening, repetitive, or menial work that the economic machine requires.

    And even for the lucky few who manage to find some alignment between the jobs that the market presents or supports and “what one loves to do,” there are always going to be aspects of  the work that are not ideal. 

    It’s being made to sound like there’s some perfect fit out there for everyone. It’s all about compromise, trade-offs.

    • pete18

       That’s true, but finding your passion and having it add great fullness to your life does not have to mean that your passion has to be your career. Many people find ways to engage their passions outside of work and that often makes their “deadening jobs” tolerable.

  • Susan_Hannel

    I can’t say enough about the high school education I received in the late 70s.  I took classes in a broad range of subjects including sciences, math, history, English but also choir, orchestra, and concert band.  While I didn’t end up in music, I know my outlook toward the arts and sciences helped me find my passion (I’m a PhD who teaches the technical courses in fashion design, but my original degree was in zoology).  My heart breaks for children who are not being exposed to many fields. 
    In addition, I’m pretty sure that standardized testing would have quashed my progress toward being a PhD.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      Same here. We even had a 6 student seminar, hand-picked by the instructor,  entitled “Values Clarification”. It was pass/fail. I passed : )
      Flunked algebra several times but got As in Honors English, Drama, French, Spanish, Latin & Art. I still got to graduate with my class, though. Don’t think that would happen today.

      • Susan_Hannel

         Oh yes!  I forgot about my 8th grade ‘Values’ class.  That was one of the most valuable (no pun intended) courses I ever took.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

          It taught me how to think critically about my own thinking. Later, a seminar at UMASS-Boston offered “Examining Consciousness” in the English curriculum. Naturally, I loved every blessed minute of it. The reading, alone, would stagger the average student & the writing regimen was rigorous, to state it mildly, but my think-muscles were never stronger for the efforts. I recommend such classes for all ages. You’re never too old to cogitate deliberately & passionately.

  • Thought_Id_Share

    Three things:

    My mantra: “How often I found where I should be going only
    by setting out for somewhere else.” R. Buckminster Fuller

     

    I think corporate benefits have now eroded our creativity.
    It keeps people at jobs they don’t like rather than doing what they really want
    to do. Eventually, we can’t afford to leave the job. Our entire energy for passion
    and innovation erodes and then we as a mass society become less competitve worldwide.
    That’s us today.

     

    Have you also seen Larry Smith’s Ted talk on a similar theme, more
    about passion than creativity, but still awesome! http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_smith_why_you_will_fail_to_have_a_great_career.html

    • N_Jessen

      It’s too bad that we’ve reached the point that for many, those benefits are so necessary, for attaining such things as access to decent health coverage, or some sense that they won’t be destitute when they must finally stop working.

  • Duras

    In most of 20th Century America, the country supported the liberal arts.  Liberal Arts departments have downsized over the last 30 years, while athletic departments have ballooned and universities have created bs trade majors like “event management,” which are nothing more than offshoots of the business major.  Majors that don’t have serious academic inquiry ought to be condensed and appropriated into a “track” within a Business Major per se. 

    The amount of interest in the liberal arts that existed in the 1950s and 1960s, but every field is saturated due to shrinking departments.  Also, countries that support the liberal arts are supporting democracy–America seems destined to be another example in history of what happens to democracy when the liberal arts are stepped on, giving rise to the society of the spectacle. 

    I live in Florida, where there is currently a governor who said, “I know everyone has their own personal American Dream, but do we really need anthropology departments?” 

    If you want a society that has reduced life down to only work, than move to China.

    • Trond33

      My undergraduate degree is from a liberal arts college.  I use skills learned there every day of the week.  My BA was ten times more challenging than my MA.  People all the time comment on how interesting my work is, but the simple fact is that what I do, could not be done without that liberal arts degree.  The broad knowledge and the critical thinking, elements I would not have gotten at a large university.  

  • madnomad554

    Failure is proof that one has tried. If one is afraid of failure, then one is afraid to try. The fear of failure is just that, fear, and fear will prevent creativity.

    I am a self taught craftsman…hand building furniture, hand building entry doors and other heirloom quality things. Thirteen years experience, eleven of them self employed. Fear and the fear of failing would have prevented this part of my life. I don’t do that kind of work now, due to a bad right shoulder…it’s had five surgeries. I have now turned the off and on hobby of photography, into what will be my next self employment endeavor. My fine art photography and bird photography will be online this summer and I am already selling my limited edition hand signed prints, in a couple of galleries. Again, fear and the fear of failing would have a serious negative effect on this new endeavor.

    My accomplishments have been done with only a high school diploma, handed too me in 1987, as I have no college degree. And on a side note, neither of my parents graduated high school or had a GED. I believe the greatest and most valuable opportunity one will ever have, is the opportunity that comes from within. Internal opportunity will never take advantage of you, for internal fortitude and opportunity is centered around what I can give, rather than what I can get.   

    • Trond33

      Well said, no matter how much education a person has, it is still up to that person to make the life they want.  

      • N_Jessen

        Or at the very least not give up on eventually having it, and looking for the means.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bob.lee.adoglobalassociates Bob Lee

    As an attorney who teaches martial arts full-time and having seen hundreds of students struggle to find their purpose in life, 
    one can be trained to have the confidence and the patience and determination to find what they are passionate about. 
    Oftentimes, fear, insufficient determination, and paying too much attention to the wrong people block one from finding what they enjoy.  It’s not necessarily going to be an easy path, but the personal rewards would be profoundly meaningful and substantive.Kind regards,Bob LeeHead Instructor3rd Degree Black Belt

    • brettearle

      If I, myself, had listened to some people, in the early going, I would have wound far away from my current life–because I would have followed the advice of those who suffered from their own Broken Dreams.

      [If I can't make it, how can you? or neither can you....]

      If you want to find someone who thinks you can’t do it, there’s always someone you can listen to, who will tell you what you don’t want to hear.

      Like the guy a few comments above….

      • http://www.facebook.com/bob.lee.adoglobalassociates Bob Lee

        What many may not understand is that when people are not able to align their life with their passion, there will be a natural tension (stress) in other parts of their life.  The accumulation of these negative stresses eventually lead to health issues unless people use tools to counteract these stresses.

  • Stephen Selvey

    I think the idea of people believing they should love what they do or have their work define them as a person is way overblown.  It’s better to have a profession that will earn you a decent living and pursue your passion on the side.  If your passion becomes your vocation then great.  Most likely being a Janitor is nobody’s passion but the world needs Janitors.  Similarly, if no is buying your art, music, or whatever then unfortunately its probably not good enough and you should pursue something else and do it as a hobby.

    • brettearle

      To believe that a starving artist does not have enough talent, is an elitist attitude that flies in the face of how difficult it is to make it in the Arts. 

      • HonestDebate1

        Brettearle, that is a beautiful sentiment. I can’t fault it but I feel compelled to point out talent can’t hold a candle to passion when it comes to making a living in music. 

    • jefe68

      I guess Van Gogh, Rembrandt (towards the latter part of his life) Frans Hals who is buried on a paupers grave, and Mozart should have heeded your advice. Although all but Van Gogh ended up in poverty in latter life.

      You can’t plan how the overall economy is going to effect ones livelihood and the way a painter falls in or out of favor.

      Charlie Parker never made much in his lifetime, he always struggled, and yet he was one of the greatest musical geniuses of the 20th century. I’m glad he never gave up or became a janitor.

      • HonestDebate1

        I like to make money when I play music, the more the merrier. However, if I never made a dime, I would still play just as much and just as hard. I’ve done it all my life. For me it’s not a choice, I have to play. I’m no Charlie Parker but I understand his plight.

        I feel comfortable saying the best music ever played was heard by no one but the player and the player was just doing what he/she had to do. 

  • blueshift

    what a great program…

  • HonestDebate1

    I’ve always liked this as an example of excellence achieved at a level only passion can deliver. It doesn’t really matter your bag, just that you have one. The most successful people I know, in life not money, knew their calling very early and jumped in with both feet. 

    Passion is what gives you the drive to get good at something. Getting really good at something with hard work driven by passion gives you fulfillment. Fulfillment puts you in a place to become passionate. At some point Karma, God, good luck or what/whoever you choose, throws you a bone and you are not only ready but eager, so eager, for the challenge. More hard work, driven by passion, ensues and it begins again. Passion is everything.

    • brettearle

      First an update….

      My system went down.

      I’m in the middle of the Global-Jihad thing, back to you.

      Second,

      How are you defining `Karma”?

      I have a lot to say about this….

      • HonestDebate1

        I just mean when you do good things, good things happen for you.

        • DrewInGeorgia

          If only that were true.
          Take a look back at the most benevolent humans in history. Some of the worst atrocities imaginable were visited upon them. Karma is a myth.

          People shouldn’t ‘do the right thing’ due to an expectation of a return on their investment, they should do it because it’s the right thing to do.

          • HonestDebate1

            That was not the point of my original comment at all. I just threw in Karma and good luck for the atheists. I’ve always noticed that many heathens view karmic results as gospel. 

            My reply to Brettearle was just a definition but I could have said it better I suppose. But I did not say “right thing”, I said “good” things. There is a distinction with regards to what I was trying to say about passion.

            Expecting something in return is the antithesis of passion. That’s the point, passionate endeavors are self-contained and expand exponentially. I was trying to say that devotion and passion driven diligence makes you better at your craft or vocation in a way punching a clock cannot. The universe of opportunities expands because you are better equipped to contribute. Also, as you separate yourself from the pack you become part of a smaller universe of sought after proficiencies. It’s not so much that opportunity will knock. it’s that if it does you will be ready. 

            Some may call it good luck, Karma or God’s will but I don’t believe in any of it. I believe in passion.

            I wasn’t really making a moral argument one way or the other but I do endorse doing the right thing.

          • brettearle

            Woody Allen’s movie, “Crimes and Misdemeanors speaks of a man who prospered, after protracted, I think it was, malicious behavior.

            This is also sometimes true in real life.

            Sometimes–obviously not all the time–Good Things Happen to Bad People….without any retribution, that we know of.

            Those who seek wisdom in a God who punishes for bad deeds will say that we will NEVER know the penalties that the perpetrator may suffer in this life or the next one…..[if there is a next one].

            How do we know that God did not have mercy on Hitler’s soul?

  • BDSpin

    Isn’t it possible simply to be content with life as it comes, day by day? Enough all of this striving, goal-setting, self-improving, toiling, and goading ourselves until we find our “element” (bliss/career path/true calling/authentic self/etc.). I’ve pretty much dispensed with all that, and I’m much happier for it. Somehow, money gets earned, kids raised, gardens tended, poems written, love enjoyed. 
         I now find shows like this one so upsetting, I have to shut them off. I suffer physically when I hear the forcing, the tension, the control, and the competition that’s behind every word.

    • brettearle

      But passion and pursuing one’s skills or talents is, for many, a basic part of life.

      Sure, it can cause grief.

      But why deny who you are?

      To thine own self be true.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1191224433 Margaret Mcintyre-Farina

      Yes, for you, this is all upsetting.  But, I’ve worked as an outplacement/career coach for 20 years and MANY people want and need help sorting out their passions, goals etc.  There is a need to be filled and ultimately, some of these people may arrive at your conclusions.  So, we help them in their struggle–maybe that’s the only point, coming to terms with what cards life has dealt us!

  • AC

    i finally listened to the 2nd half of the show & he’s somewhat redeemed himself….

    • DrewInGeorgia

      I listened to the entire show and had already heard his TED talk. I don’t know what it was specifically that put you off, I haven’t had time to read the comments. I thought for the most part he was on the money during this interview.

  • ExcellentNews

    I have never given a TED talk, but IMHO if students spent less time on math and more time on dancing, we would have even less innovation and creativity – and would have to import more engineers and scientists from abroad (assuming they would still want to come in the US, of course…)

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