The Element – How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

Author: Ken Robinson

Penguin Books 2009, 260 pages

This book is aimed at anyone interested exploring their own potential and the potential of those around them. It is about how passion, imagination, creativity, values and luck influence on career decision-making.  Sir Ken Robinson is one of the world’s leading speakers on the development of education, creativity and innovation.  In his book he shares a wide range of stories of how people such as Paul McCartney, Paolo Coelho, Meg Ryan, dancer Gillian Lynne and screenwriter, Matt Groening found their ‘element’.  He describes ‘ the element ‘ as ‘the place where the things you love to do and the things you are good at come together’.

Essentially, ‘the element’ has four features or components that are extremely good pointers for career planning and decision-making:  Aptitude (I get it), Passion (I love it); Attitude (I want it) and Opportunity (where is it?).

The examples that Robinson gives of people finding and following their passion are inspiring. One girl, whose parents thought she had a learning disorder, brought her to a Psychologist. According to the Psychologist, the girl had no learning difficulties, but ‘she had to move to think’. The girl, Gillian Lynne, then discovered dance and went on to become a world-class choreographer.  This story reminded me of my kinaesthetic learners. Robinson’s book is full of wonderful stories about people who overcame adversity or physical disability or did not make the grade at school and yet went on to achieve great things. His message is that all barriers are surmountable once we have found our path or our ‘element’.

There are great stories of  ‘late bloomers’ and those who keep their element ‘on the side’ while working their day job.  This is particularly relevant for adults who have a concern about their age. Robinson cites the example of award-winning writer, Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner while still working full-time as a doctor.

On a personal level I was struck by a section of the book entitled ‘Finding Your Tribe’, and by how competitors and collaborators can help shape our element. Having just been to a Guidance Counsellors’ conference, I am reminded of the importance of connection, tribe and the creative exchange of ideas with like-minded people.  Robinson also emphasises the important role of mentors in recognition, encouragement, facilitating and stretching people.

The school system comes in for criticism for creating a hierarchy of subjects and killing creativity.  Robinson argues that each of us needs to individually and collectively discover our element by developing the powers of our imagination and nurturing our creativity. This book is an easy-to-read book, full of inspiring stories that offers a colourful lens through which to view the world of work, creativity and learning in a more joy filled way.

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  • Philip January 31, 2013  

    I’m a big fan of Ken Robinson’s work.

  • Beth Wilkins February 9, 2013  

    Thanks for the recommendation, I am definitely going to read this book.

  • Joolz Lewis February 14, 2013  

    Beautiful – thanks for the recommendation Dearbhla! Passion is so important. I recently ran a seminar at Brunel Uni for their ‘Women into Business’ programme and talked about how passion and strengths expressed through our work is how we make a difference, and how we make this world a better place. Thanks for helping our young people find this out for themselves – it’s a gift and a blessing.

    • dearbhla February 14, 2013  

      Thanks Joolz. Well done on your promotion of passion in the business world. Keep going with your efforts to inject spirituality in the workplace!

  • Tracey February 15, 2013  

    I never heard of Ken Robinson before and after reading this blog I definitely want to read this book! I think it will help me decide what kind of a career I want to do in my life. The part that sticks with me is ‘the element’ has four features or components that are extremely good pointers for career planning and decision-making: Aptitude (I get it), Passion (I love it); Attitude (I want it) and Opportunity (where is it?)”. These four things will be taken into consideration now when it comes to the deciding! Thank 🙂

    • dearbhla February 15, 2013  

      Thanks Tracey you are welcome to the book. Glad you liked it!