The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

by Ken Robinson, Lou Aronica

Audio CD(Unabridged CD)

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The Element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the Element, they feel most themselves, most inspired, and achieve at their highest levels. The Element draws on the stories of a wide range of people: Paul McCartney, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, Meg Ryan, Gillian Lynne, who choreographed the Broadway productions of Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, journalist Arianna Huffington, renowned physicist Richard Feynman, and many others, including business leaders and athletes. It explores the components of this new paradigm: the diversity of intelligence, the power of imagination and creativity, and the importance of commitment to our own capabilities.

With a wry sense of humor, Ken Robinson looks at the conditions that enable us to find ourselves in the Element and those that stifle that possibility. He shows that age and occupation are no barrier and that once we have found our path, we can help others do so as well. The Element shows the vital need to enhance creativity and innovation by thinking differently about human resources and imagination. It is an essential strategy for transforming education, business, and communities to meet the challenges of living and succeeding in the twenty-first century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400110605
Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date: 01/01/2009
Edition description: Unabridged CD
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Lou Aronica is the author of several works of fiction and nonfiction, and he has collaborated on a number of books, including the national bestseller The Culture Code.

Ken Robinson, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation, and human resources.

Read an Excerpt


The Element

GILLIAN WAS ONLY eight years old, but her future was already at risk. Her schoolwork was a disaster, at least as far as her teachers were concerned. She turned in assignments late, her handwriting was terrible, and she tested poorly. Not only that, she was a disruption to the entire class, one minute fidgeting noisily, the next staring out the window, forcing the teacher to stop the class to pull Gillian’s attention back, and the next doing something to disturb the other children around her. Gillian wasn’t particularly concerned about any of this—she was used to being corrected by authority figures and really didn’t see herself as a difficult child—but the school was very concerned. This came to a head when the school wrote to her parents.

The school thought that Gillian had a learning disorder of some sort and that it might be more appropriate for her to be in a school for children with special needs. All of this took place in the 1930s. I think now they’d say she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and they’d put her on Ritalin or something similar. But the ADHD epidemic hadn’t been invented at the time. It wasn’t an available condition. People didn’t know they could have that and had to get by without it.

Gillian’s parents received the letter from the school with great concern and sprang to action. Gillian’s mother put her daughter in her best dress and shoes, tied her hair in ponytails, and took her to a psychologist for assessment, fearing the worst.

Gillian told me that she remembers being invited into a large oak-paneled room with leather-bound books on the shelves. Standing in the room next to a large desk was an imposing man in a tweed jacket. He took Gillian to the far end of the room and sat her down on a huge leather sofa. Gillian’s feet didn’t quite touch the floor, and the setting made her wary. Nervous about the impression she would make, she sat on her hands so that she wouldn’t fidget.

The psychologist went back to his desk, and for the next twenty minutes, he asked Gillian’s mother about the difficulties Gillian was having at school and the problems the school said she was causing. While he didn’t direct any of his questions at Gillian, he watched her carefully the entire time. This made Gillian extremely uneasy and confused. Even at this tender age, she knew that this man would have a significant role in her life. She knew what it meant to attend a “special school,” and she didn’t want anything to do with that. She genuinely didn’t feel that she had any real problems, but everyone else seemed to believe she did. Given the way her mother answered the questions, it was possible that even she felt this way.

Maybe, Gillian thought, they were right.

Eventually, Gillian’s mother and the psychologist stopped talking. The man rose from his desk, walked to the sofa, and sat next to the little girl.

“Gillian, you’ve been very patient, and I thank you for that,” he said. “But I’m afraid you’ll have to be patient for a little longer. I need to speak to your mother privately now. We’re going to go out of the room for a few minutes. Don’t worry; we won’t be very long.”

Gillian nodded apprehensively, and the two adults left her sitting there on her own. But as he was leaving the room, the psychologist leaned across his desk and turned on the radio.

As soon as they were in the corridor outside the room, the doctor said to Gillian’s mother, “Just stand here for a moment, and watch what she does.” There was a window into the room, and they stood to one side of it, where Gillian couldn’t see them. Nearly immediately, Gillian was on her feet, moving around the room to the music. The two adults stood watching quietly for a few minutes, transfixed by the girl’s grace. Anyone would have noticed there was something natural—even primal—about Gillian’s movements. Just as they would have surely caught the expression of utter pleasure on her face.

At last, the psychologist turned to Gillian’s mother and said, “You know, Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick. She’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”

I asked Gillian what happened then. She said her mother did exactly what the psychiatrist suggested. “I can’t tell you how wonderful it was,” she told me. “I walked into this room, and it was full of people like me. People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.

She started going to the dance school every week, and she practiced at home every day. Eventually, she auditioned for the Royal Ballet School in London, and they accepted her. She went on to join the Royal Ballet Company itself, becoming a soloist and performing all over the world. When that part of her career ended, she formed her own musical theater company and produced a series of highly successful shows in London and New York. Eventually, she met Andrew Lloyd Webber and created with him some of the most successful musical theater productions in history, including Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.

Little Gillian, the girl with the high-risk future, became known to the world as Gillian Lynne, one of the most accomplished choreographers of our time, someone who has brought pleasure to millions and earned millions of dollars. This happened because someone looked deep into her eyes—someone who had seen children like her before and knew how to read the signs. Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down. But Gillian wasn’t a problem child. She didn’t need to go away to a special school.

She just needed to be who she really was.

Unlike Gillian, Matt always did fine in school, getting decent grades and passing all of the important tests. However, he found himself tremendously bored. In order to keep himself amused, he started drawing during classes. “I would draw constantly,” he told me. “And I got so good at drawing that I was able to draw without looking, so that the teacher would think that I was paying attention.” For him, art class was an opportunity to pursue his passion with abandon. “We were coloring in coloring books, and I thought, I can never color within the lines. Oh, no, I can’t be bothered!” This kicked up to another level entirely when he got to high school. “There was an art class and the other kids would just sit there, the art teacher was bored, and the art supplies were just sitting there; nobody was using them. So I did as many paintings as I could—thirty paintings in a single class. I’d look at each painting, what it looked like, and then I’d title it. ‘Dolphin in the Seaweed,’ okay! Next! I remember doing tons of painting until they finally realized I was using up so much paper that they stopped me.

“There was the thrill of making something that did not exist before. As my technical prowess increased, it was fun to be able to go, ‘Oh, that actually looks, vaguely, like what it’s supposed to look like.’ But then I realized that my drawing was not getting much better so I started concentrating on stories and jokes. I thought that was more entertaining.”

Matt Groening, known around the world as the creator of The Simpsons, found his true inspiration in the work of other artists whose drawings lacked technical mastery but who combined their distinctive art styles with inventive storytelling. “What I found encouraging was looking at people who couldn’t draw who were making their living, like James Thurber. John Lennon was also very important to me. His books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works, are full of his own really crummy drawings but funny prose-poems and crazy stories. I went through a stage where I tried to imitate John Lennon. Robert Crumb was also a huge influence.”

His teachers and his parents—even his father, who was a cartoonist and filmmaker—tried to encourage him to do something else with his life. They suggested that he go to college and find a more solid profession. In fact, until he got to college (a nontraditional school without grades or required classes), he’d found only one teacher who truly inspired him. “My first-grade teacher saved paintings I did in class. She actually saved them, I mean, for years. I was touched because there’s like, you know, hundreds of kids going through here. Her name is Elizabeth Hoover. I named a character on The Simpsons after her.”

The disapproval of authority figures left him undeterred because, in his heart, Matt knew what truly inspired him.

“I knew as a kid when we were playing and making up stories and using little figurines—dinosaurs and stuff like that—I was going to be doing this for the rest of my life. I saw grown-ups with briefcases going into office buildings and I thought, ‘I can’t do that. This is all I really wanna do.’ I was surrounded by other kids who felt the same way, but gradually they peeled off and they got more serious. For me it was always about playing and storytelling.

“I understood the series of stages I was supposed to go through—you go to high school, you go to college, you get a credential, and then you go out and get a good job. I knew it wasn’t gonna work for me. I knew I was gonna be drawing cartoons forever.

“I found friends who had the same interests at school. We hung out together and we’d draw comics and then bring them to school and show them to each other. As we got older and more ambitious, we started making movies. It was great. It partly compensated for the fact that we felt very self-conscious socially. Instead of staying home on the weekend, we went out and made movies. Instead of going to the football games on Friday night, we would go to the local university and watch underground films.


Excerpted from "The Element"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Ken Robinson.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

The Element offers life-altering insights about the discovery of your true best self.” —Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
“Ken Robinson presents the theme of creativity and innovation in a way that makes you want to go out and make your dreams a reality. In his wonderfully easy-to-read and entertaining style he presents the stories of many who have done just that. . . . It is a book that lightens and lifts the minds and hearts of all who read it.” —Susan Jeffers, Ph.D., bestselling author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway® and Life is Huge!
“A great and inspiring book. It’s been said that an unexamined life is not worth living. True enough and Ken Robinson doesn’t let us off the hook. After the first page, you have to abandon your ego and look for your own gifts and graces.” —Warren Bennis, author of On Becoming a Leader: The Leadership Classic

“Robinson (Out of Our Minds), renowned in the areas of creativity development, innovation, and human resources, tackles the challenge of determining and pursuing work that is aligned with individual talents and passions to achieve well-being and success. . . . Motivating and persuasive, this entertaining and inspiring book will appeal to a wide audience.” —Publishers Weekly
“Ken Robinson is a remarkable man, one of the few who really look at and into you, so he makes you feel at ease and happy. I’m proud to be in his book as one of the people he feels attained the Element. Reading his book helps you pinpoint the search we must all make to achieve the best in us.” —Gillian Lynne, choreographer, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera
“While the world is changing faster than ever, our organizations, our schools, and too often our minds are locked in the habits of the past. The result is a massive waste of human talent. The Element is a passionate and persuasive appeal to think differently about ourselves and how to face the future.” —Alvin Toffler, author of The Future Shock
“A brilliant and compelling look at creativity, and the path to succeed in the global world of tomorrow.” —Harry Lodge, co-author of Younger Next Year

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Element 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 85 reviews.
TerBenn More than 1 year ago
I heard Dr. Ken Robinson discussing his book "The Element" on Huckabee, and immediately ordered it at B&N online. I awaited it anxiously and was very pleased that it arrived promptly! My anticipation was well founded! Dr. Robinson's book was a GREAT read! I am at a point in my life, having worked in the same field for over 25 years, that I have begun entertaining the idea of pursuing another line of work along some of my interests. "The Element" gave me a fresh and insightful perspective into what is likely to provide me with the greatest level of satisfaction and feeling of achievement. Dr. Robinson did an artful job of weaving the stories of real people, many of them celebrities or people of notoriety, into his thematic presentation. He adeptly utilized inspiring true life accounts of people who have found "the element" to illustrate his persuasive arguments in each chapter. He paints a very convincing picture of how people are happiest in life when their abilities or competencies intersect their passions or most gratifying pursuits. In short, he guides the reader through "I get it!"... "I love it!"... "I want it!"... "Where is it?!" Fortunately, or tragically (I'm still mulling this over!), about the time I was ready to charge out and begin a new career, Robinson allowed for the fact that a person can still feel very fulfilled through pursuing their passion as a hobby or outside interest and not just through making it their life's work. Reading "The Element" was undoubtably time well spent! I seriously hated putting it down and, when I had finished it, thought that it ended almost too soon. However, Dr. Robinson did a masterful job of making his point, and providing genuine inspiration, in an appropriate amount of time. The length is perfect... long enough to be convincing... brief enough to leave you wanting more. Nice job. Dr. Robinson is certainly in "the element". Pick up a copy soon and BUY it, don't borrow it, as you'll want to have it on your bookshelf for periodic review!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The premise that people all should do their element is pretty common knowledge. The vignettes were interesting, but for me not much different that a gathering of profiles that I have read in various magazines. I guess I was expecting a more "how to find your element" rather than just examples of people in their element.
eejs More than 1 year ago
Excellent book. All parents and educators should read this. Explains why we need to make changes to our educational system to allow for and develop creativity and right-brained thinking as we progress in the 21st Century. Many examples of people who did not fit into conventional/technical/math/science curriculum, but became highly successful and have made an impact in the world when they found their "Element." Reading this and Daniel Pink's "A Whole New Mind" will inspire you to want to make changes and to do away with all the technical testing required by Bush's No Child Left Behind law.
VirginiaMcHugh More than 1 year ago
Robinson's insight into creativity is innovative and motivating. He inspires us all to uncover and follow our inner passions in our daily life and work. Using anecdotes as well as thoughtful reflection, Robinson's humorous tone keeps the pace fast without diluting his message. This is a must-read for anyone who feels victim to monotony.
randomaccess on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Yet another "find your passion/do what you love" book, which makes a case for the importance of doing something you're passionate about (duh!), but with little advice on how to go about doing it. This one adds a deserved dig at our educational system.
jugglingpaynes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For anyone who has seen Ken Robinson's TED talk, some of the anecdotes in this book will sound familiar. The book is full of stories about men and women who have found their element, their passion. It offers advice on how to find your own element, as well as the obstacles that keep us from it. I was particularly interested in the section on standardized testing. I have been an opponent of standardized tests for a long time, and I have rarely heard a better argument against them. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to help guide a child (or themselves) toward a more fulfilling life.
dmcolon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you've ever heard Ken Robinson's famous Ted talk, The Element is pretty familiar ground. To some extent, it is an elaboration of that talk. Robinson stresses the importance of creativity and how schools systematically sap creativity out of students. The book is sprinkled with interviews with celebrities, scholars, authors, and the like. I really didn't learn anything new from the book, but Robinson does a good job making his case. He doesn't really outline much specific in terms of educational practices, but he does pose the problem to us. Robinson asks: how do we harness our creativity to face the challenges we face as a society? In that sense, the Element raises what is perhaps the single most important topic of our age.
GShuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is really just his opinions on this topic for he only uses anecdotes to support his points. While it was uplifting at points it also felt long and drawn out. It was interesting hearing about the famous people who were having a hard time in school only to find their calling later in life. (He does a lot of school bashing) While this is not a self help book he does explore what is involved in finding your element and valuing the pursuit of it in others. There are better books on this topic.
cepheid36552 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love this book! It is SO inspiring. I think everyone should read this at some point in their life. It is never too late to make a difference with your life.
Doey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cute stories; extraordinarily little substance
buchowl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was a disappointment to me. It was filled with inspiring stories about people who had found their passion/life's work against the odds, but the book had no direction or advice about finding what that passion is (some of us need a little help in that area). Then, after multiple chapters of inspiring stories, the book launches into a discussion on educational reform, then to environmental issues and finally to population statistics. While informative (and depressing) I'm not sure what exactly that has to do with finding your life's work or playing to your strengths (unless education/the environment/population issues ARE your passion). Nice book, important information but not the correct forum/vehicle.Recommended for someone who is well aware of his/her strengths and passions but needs a push to go for it. Skip chapter 11 and the afterword unless global/educational issues are of interest to you.
sgtbigg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is not the usual type of thing that I read but I picked it up in the library on a whim. Dr. Robinson explains that those who do what they love are happier in life, no surprises there. He then goes on to give multiple examples of people who have had great success in life after doing poorly in school. The point being that schools do not do a good job of developing talents outside of math, science, and reading. While I agree with Dr. Robinson¿s assessments, once he made them he really had no where else to go so he kept making them in different ways. The book was relatively short but I got bored with it about half way through, once I got the main point it became somewhat depressing to hear about people doing what they loved and making a living at it. All in all it wasn't a bad book and Dr. Robinson injected a good bit of humor throughout. Bizarrely, some of his writing reminded me of Douglas Adams.
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E-reader_ More than 1 year ago
After hearing a speech by Sir Ken Robinson I purchased this book. It is worth the read. He expounds on his work in creativity. The latter half of his book seems to veer off; however, it is a book I would recommend. I especially would recommend it to parents of young children.
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This book is so good that, although I borrowed the library copy, I may end up buying it. For anyone out there that knows they are meant to be doing more with their lives but, up to now, feels a bit sidetracked by life (education, friends, family...) this book will help you understand why you've ended up where you are, and give you some insight into how you can step into a more fulfilling life. BUY IT NOW!
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RolfDobelli More than 1 year ago
According to author and education consultant Sir Ken Robinson, today's educational systems promote only certain types of learning and recognize only certain types of intelligence and creativity. Yet people are happiest when they follow their talents and do what they love. Robinson, writing with co-author Lou Aronica, describes this avenue to fulfillment as "the Element," the intersection of ability and passion. He uses stories of artists, scientists, athletes and musicians to support his theory. While Robinson makes a strong case for finding your Element, he doesn't tell you how to get there. Since he relies on case histories of the famous, some readers might feel more distanced than motivated. Nonetheless, getAbstract recommends this thoughtful self-help book, which challenges traditional views of intelligence and creativity.
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