Talking to business leaders about his latest book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Sir Ken described how most adults are unaware of what they are capable of and that most believe that work is something that has to be got through, rather than enjoyed. He believes that many people are detached from their talents and sense of purpose. Those who love what they do and have a personal sense of fulfilment are “in their element”.
He described the world as being driven by two things: techology and population shifts – where the future is not just unpredictable but the pace of change is so rapid that it needs a great human effort to adapt and cope. For Robinson, that requires a huge increase of creativity.
The solution? “We need to dis-enthral ourselves”, we need to change our perceptions, quoting Abraham Lincoln, he said: “we need to rise with the occasion”. But what does that mean exactly?
One of the simplest fictions, Robinson claims, is that life is linear. Writing our CVs, for instance, we create a linear narrative of our lives: that event (a) led to event (b) led to job (c) and so on. Yet, who of us knows when we accept a new job or project where it will lead?
Similarly, he claims that we run our organisations as if they are industrial [linear] processes in their own right. “We live in a culture where if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count”. This culture surpresses the imagination – the conceiving of other possibilities, which for Robinson is what sets human beings apart – and as a result creativity and thus innovation.
Rejecting the industrial metaphor for the organic, Robinson explained that a human organisation is much more like an organism – it has relationships, feelings. And much like a dessert can come into bloom after a rare rainfall; given the right conditions a seemingly sterile organisation can blossom. The dessert like the organisation, has dorment potential. This is a synergistic, not linear, process.
Robinson therefore believes that the role of educators and managers, within this fast pace of change, is to alter the conditions. To act like gardeners, tending their garden and enable people to flourish. To create the environment where those who feel least confident of their abilities are encouraged,
This is no easy task, but Robinson left the audience with these final words:
Use everything you’ve got.
1. For a set of case studies where these ideas are being applied to education take a look at Thriving.org.
2. For a complimentary view of how technology, and in particular digital media, is empowering people and turning the world up-side-down read Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody: How Change Happens When People Come Together.
3. For a sense of some of what Robinson was talking about take a look at his TED Talk in 2006: