Thursday, December 02, 2010

Book Review on The Element

This is an excellent 2009 book by Sir Ken Robinson on creativity, multiple intelligences and finding your passion which he defines as "the element". The element or our human potential is "where the things you love to do and the things you are good at come together (p.8). Based on numerous interviews conducted by Robinson and his co-author Lou Aronica, this book is both a collection of success stories of people who dropped out of the education system and made good, and a subtle critique of the inflexibility and ineffectiveness of the education system. However, the authors did not specific which education system as they drew examples from both side of the Pacific. They seem to be aiming at a generic education system. (see Sir Robinson's lecture in TEDS).

Similar in essence to Outliers: The Story of Success (2008) by Malcolm Gladwell, the authors however argue that a passion for success is a combination of being in the element; doing what you like to do in the area you are talented in. While this true in the people they have selected for interviews (usually those who were miserable in school and those who dropped out), there are however two other groups of people which was ignored in the book. The first other group is school dropouts who did not succeed as spectacularly as those mentioned. The implication is that they did not succeed because they did not find their elements. The second group is that those people who stuck through school, graduate, get a higher education and are now pillars of society (clerks, lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc). The implication is that these people have not found their elements and are now unhappy in their lives.

While I agree some of the principles of many of the things the authors espoused, I believed their arguments are too generalised and giving it a label (the Element) does not make it better. Like Gladwell did in Outliers, these specially chosen interview subjects are chosen specially to provide their theories. However, what was obvious from the people interviewed in both books are their determination and perseverance to achieve their dreams no matter the cost. The lesson I draw from them is the indomitable power of the human spirit.


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