The Element

Summary Written by Chris Taylor

The Big Idea

Chicken Cordon-bleu Makes a Terrible Chicken Nugget

"Howard Gardner has argued to wide acclaim that we have not one but multiple intelligences. They include linguistic, musical, mathematical, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal (relationships with others), and intra-personal (knowledge and understanding of the self) intelligence."- The Element, page 43

‘IQ’ and other standardized testing may be the singular most crippling tool on our future. I love Robinson’s comparison of standardized testing to Fast Food. When you order fast food, you always know exactly what you’re going to get. It’s reliable. Not good for you, not enriching, but reliable. If the chicken nugget comes out the right size, right temperature, and with the proper amount of batter, it gets served. If not, it get’s put back through the system or tossed out with the trash. A beautifully prepared chicken cordon-bleu does not pass chicken nugget standardized testing. When we use one form of measurement at the exclusion of all others, we marginalize and disregard other forms of brilliance.

More and more research studies are proving that human beings have multiple forms of intelligence. But we don’t really need studies to prove this to us – we know it inherently already. Some people are naturally gifted athletes. A couple of our friends may be more “emotionally intelligent”; able to determine the root of a disagreement or cause of pain before the rest of us. My good friend Sean has a brilliant musical ear – writes fantastic songs, and is virtually self taught.

So what does an IQ test teach us? For a great many people, it teaches (incorrectly) that they are dumb. Since the only tests we use in education are one dimensional (focusing on math, science or language), there’s nothing to refute the results (I’m dumb), and we go through life believing it to be true. If science has shown us that there are many different types of intelligence, why do we insist on testing only one?

Sir Ken Robinson suggests that if you’re not happy in our current role in life, it may be because you haven’t yet found your “Element” – that place where natural aptitude meets passion; you haven’t yet identified that natural intelligence that you do have. And everyone has something. (If you believe you don’t, there’s a good chance you haven’t “recovered” from your formal education yet)

Whether it becomes our full time career, or a recreational activity, Robinson believes passionately (as do I) that finding your Element and deliberately including it in your life will lead to a happier, fuller existence.

Insight #1

Seek Out Flow

"'The key element of an optimal experience,' he says in Flow, 'is that it is an end in itself. Even if initially undertaken for other reasons, the activity that consumes us becomes intrinsically rewarding.'"- Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as quoted in The Element, page 92

We discussed Flow when we looked at Daniel Pink’s recent success, Drive. Quite coincidently, I find myself revisiting the topic in The Element. Perhaps it’s not so coincidental after all, when you consider that Pink and Robinson are both tackling the same issue from different directions – we need to figure out (and quickly) how to succeed as individuals and as a society within the new rules of business in the 21st century.

A recap for those who missed the Drive article (which you can find HERE, by the way): Flow – a term coined by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – is the state we’ve all been in at one point or another where the task we’re engrossed in becomes all consuming. (It’s also often referred to as being “in the zone”) We lose track of time and sense of self, becoming solely fixated on the task at hand. It’s a wonderful state, and one which most of us don’t enjoy nearly often enough.

Flow is the signal you’re in your element. Be aware of it. When you realize you’ve been engrossed in a certain activity, reflect on it. (TV, by the way, is not an activity, ACTIVE being the core of the word. TV is a “passivity”) What aspects of what you were doing excite you? Taking inventory of these may give you a list of indicators as to what your Element might be.

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Insight #2

Find Your Tribe

"Finding your tribe can have transformative effects on your sense of identity and purpose. This is because of three powerful tribal dynamics: validation, inspiration, and what we'll call here the 'alchemy of synergy."- The Element, page 114

Before he became the legend he is today, Bob Dylan had to move from his home town of Minnesota to New York City and experience Woody Gunthrie records. Meg Ryan was terrified of public speaking until she moved to LA and met her acting coach. Surrounding ourselves with the people that “get” what makes us tick – people that share our passions and aptitudes – is a huge step to finding your Element. The right people will challenge us, encourage us, and inspire us to live and play in our Element. You need to get out there – to sign up for courses, classes, volunteer groups, whatever. If you’re drawn to a particular activity, industry or discipline, try it out. We all spent 12 – 20 years being indoctrinated with the belief that a lot of activities are “silly” or “pointless”. We need to get over that. You need to take the first step, by reaching out to people who are already doing it. Then, let the tribe inspire and push you to live in your element as much as you can.

The theme here is active participation. Until the education system is overhauled to the purpose of identifying and cultivating individual intelligences, it’s on us, as individuals, to actively seek out that which makes us most satisfied in life. We can’t wait around for “luck” to sneak up on us and present us with our perfect form of happiness.

Read the book

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Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources. He works with governments in Europe, Asia and the USA, with international agencies, Fortune 500 companies, and some of the world’s leading cultural organizations. In 1998, he led a national commission on creativity, education and the economy for the UK Government. ‘All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education’ (The Robinson Report) was published to wide acclaim in 1999.He was the central figure in developing a strategy for creativity in education and economic development as part of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland, working with the ministers for education enterprise and culture. He was one of four international advisors to the Singapore Government for its strategy to become the creative hub of South East Asia.For twelve years, he was Professor of Education at the University of Warwick in the UK and is now Professor Emeritus. He has received honorary degrees from the Open University and the Central School of Speech and Drama; Birmingham City University, Rhode Island School of Design, Ringling College of Art and Design and the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. He was been honored with the Athena Award of the Rhode Island School of Design for services to the arts and education; the Peabody Medal for contributions to the arts and culture in the United States, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal of the Royal Society of Arts for outstanding contributions to cultural relations between the United Kingdom and the United States.In 2005 he was named as one of Time/Fortune/CNN’s Principal Voices. In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts. He speaks to audiences throughout the world on the creative challenges facing business and education in the new global economies.His new book, a New York Times Best Seller, ‘The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything’ (Penguin/Viking 2009) has been translated into eighteen languages.

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