Summertime Reads: The Element, at Work


There are many books written and released around this time of year to entertain us on a hot, sunny, leisurely day at the beach with an ice-cold bevvy at hand. Some of these are written to educate, examine, and create dissent around current affairs, while others are written to inspire, entertain, or encourage us to think outside the box to better make sense of the world around us. Some books even manage to move the reader on a deep and profound level.  I recently devoured a book that for me, accomplished all of these.

The Element, by acclaimed speaker and thought leader Sir Ken Robinson, discusses the basic desire for us as human beings to connect to our individual “element.”  The Element, in essence, brings us to the core of our talent and as unique individuals, what we’re most optimized to do as a productive member of society.

The theme, admittedly au courant, is reminiscent of authors like Chris Guillebeau who encourage a similar aesthetic that our prime place of happiness and productivity exists where passion meets purpose.

In a reverse Marxist twist, Robinson taps into the education system and breaks apart the very formulaic systems created to educate, take stock of our talent, and train us for the job market. He explains that our element cannot be established with the current systems in place. He explains why standardized testing is a fluke on so many levels and convincingly provides reasons why the system’s measurements of strengths and intelligence are broken.

According to Robinson, unlimited variables exist that we do not acknowledge. From the importance of creative intelligence along with other possible “senses” – kinetics, intuition, and balance, to start – we cannot possibly come close to ascertaining a true path for each of the six billion human beings on earth with the methods currently employed.

What struck me repeatedly were the similarities between the flaws in our education system — and the unaddressed flaws in the construct of the present day working environment.

Robinson says:

“The current processes of education do not take account of individual learning styles and talents. In that way, they offend the principle of distinctiveness.”

In the prevailing 21st century business model of start-up culture and the race to IPO the next product, how does this fit in?

In many ways.

We hire programmers as modern-day line workers. They serve as mechanics, tasked with developing solutions and moving repeatedly in a reactive basis rather than a proactive one. Little regard is given to the creativity and underlying passion that this person may have as an individual.

We do not inspire our programmers, developers, managers, salespeople, and even designers to be proactive, to be curious, to learn, challenge, and be challenged. At a hot organization today’s talent is underpaid, uninformed,  yet highly in-demand for the technological advancement they afford.

“The dominant Western worldview is not based on seeing synergies and connections but on making distinctions and seeing differences. This is why we pin butterflies in separate boxes from the beetles — and teach separate subjects in schools.”

Do they know that their star PHP coder is a talented musician whose music-writing skills highly inform her coding process? What if they learned that their iOS lead is a voracious reader who has ideas on disruption that could change their business model in an extraordinary way? Or the Android developer for the keen eye for detail and process. By encouraging him to speak up, smoother processes could be incorporated company-wide to ease interdepartmental tension and streamline workflow. Even the office gossip has something to offer. Get him involved in human resources. Truly encourage everyone to make the workplace a better place by encouraging their personal strengths and passions.  Work will get done. People will feel satisfied and invested in the bigger picture. The payoff will follow – in gold.

“Elevating some disciplines over others only reinforces outmoded assumptions of industrialism and offends the principle of diversity.”

We can no longer restrict our employees to a rigid job title and subsequent duty. This is the time – we have the tools and opportunity to revolutionize the very way we work, think, live, educate, medicate, motivate.  It begins with creativity. It takes off with a dedicated team who believes.

“For more than three hundred years Western thought has been dominated by the images of industrialism and the scientific method. It’s time to change metaphors. We have to move beyond linear, mechanistic metaphors to more organic metaphors of human growth and development.”

To start, I highly recommend viewing Robinson’s TED talks on the subjects of creativity and education. Having seen these previously, it gave me some context along with a sense of his (excellent) wit, knowledge, and overall communication style that greatly informs the pace of the book.



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