The Element: A book review by Bob Morris

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica
Viking Adult (2009)

What we can accomplish when “drawn effortlessly into the heart of the Element”

Why did Ken Robinson write this book? He explains in his Introduction: “My aim in writing it [with Lou Aroniva’s assistance] is to offer a richer vision of human ability and creativity and of the benefits to us all of connecting properly with our individual talents and passions. This book is about issues that are of fundamental importance in our lives and in the lives of our children, our students, and the people we work with. I use the term the Element to describe the place where the things we love and the things we are good at come together. I believe it is essential that each of us find his or her Element, not simply because it will make us more fulfilled but because, as the world evolves, the very future of our communities and institutions will depend on it.” Throughout his narrative, Robinson cites dozens of examples of people who have made the best of themselves and of others by embracing “a richer conception of human capacity.” They have embraced the Element.

At one point, Robinson poses an important question to his reader: How are you intelligent? “Knowing that intelligence is diverse, dynamic, and distinctive allows you to address that question in new ways. This is one of the core elements of the Element.” When people are in what is often referred to as “the zone,” they are deep in the heart of the Element. “We become focused and intent. We live in the moment. We become lost in the experience and perform at our peak. Our breathing changes, our minds merge with our bodies, and we feel ourselves drawn effortlessly into the heart of the Element.” I vividly recall Michael Jordan sinking one three-point shot after another (“all net”), especially in playoff games. The same can be said of creative and performing artists as well as athletes who have found a “new richness and balance to their lives…a more dynamic, organic conception of human existence in which the different parts of [their] lives are not seen as hermetically sealed off from one another but as interacting and influencing each other.” They are “on a roll” because everything “clicks”…they are in the Element.

Ken Robinson urges his readers to find the Element in themselves and to encourage others to do so. “If we fail at that, we may get by, but our lives will be duller as a result.” The greater challenge, Robinson suggests, is to develop – consciously and rigorously – our powers of imagination and creativity “within a different framework of human purpose.” He concludes his brilliant book and I conclude this review of it with an especially appropriate observation by Michelangelo: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

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