By Theo Winter
As much as I enjoy the fabulous new TED Talks, I often find myself returning to Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”, the single most watched talk on the TED website. Last count, it’s racked up over 80 million views (across TED and YouTube), and I think I’ve watched it myself 4 or 5 times. Admittedly, it’s possible I just like the sound of his voice and his sense of humour, but the more I listen and immerse myself in his thinking, the more convinced I am that this guy is not only a masterful presenter — he is deeply wise. I may write a future post analysing his presentation style, but because I’ve seen others do that (see here and here), and because communication skills are not really my forte, all I will say on that topic is to watch this video essay: One of the Best Videos on Persuasion. Here I just wanted to share what I believe are some of Robinson’s most thought-provoking quotes. Excuse my slightly off-putting conversational grammar. Many I’ve transcribed directly from TED Talks, interviews, and lectures, but you should also be able to find some correctly spelled sentences.
About the Thinker Besides being TED’s most watched speaker, Sir Ken Robinson is a globally recognised expert on creativity and education, named by Fast Company magazine as one of "the world's elite thinkers on creativity and innovation” and has been ranked in world’s top business thinkers by the Thinkers50 list. In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts. Among other things, he is the author of “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” (2009), "Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education" (2015), and "Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative" (2001). For more about Ken, see SirKenRobinson.com
If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original.
I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value.
I think of creativity as putting your imagination to work and innovation as putting good ideas into practice.
Creativity now is as important in education as literacy.
One estimate in America currently is that something like 10% of kids, getting on that way, are being diagnosed with various conditions under the broad title of attention deficit disorder. ADHD. I'm not saying there's no such thing. I just don't believe it's an epidemic like this. If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low-grade clerical work, don't be surprised if they start to fidget, you know?
Children are not, for the most part, suffering from a psychological condition. They're suffering from childhood.
I believe profoundly that we don’t grow into creativity; we grow out of it. Often we are educated out of it.
I heard a great story recently — I love telling it — of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was six, and she was at the back, drawing, and the teacher said this girl hardly ever paid attention, and in this drawing lesson, she did. The teacher was fascinated. She went over to her, and she said, "What are you drawing?" And the girl said, "I'm drawing a picture of God." And the teacher said, "But nobody knows what God looks like." And the girl said, "They will in a minute.”
What these things have in common is that kids will take a chance. If they don't know, they'll have a go. Am I right? They're not frightened of being wrong. I don't mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original -- if you're not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this. We stigmatise mistakes. And we're now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.
Picasso once said this, he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.
The second principle that drives human life flourishing is curiosity. If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners. It's a real achievement to put that particular ability out, or to stifle it.
The role of a teacher is to facilitate learning. That's it. And part of the problem is, I think, that the dominant culture of education has come to focus on not teaching and learning, but testing. Now, testing is important. Standardised tests have a place. But they should not be the dominant culture of education. They should be diagnostic. They should help.
The Element is about discovering your self, and you can't do this if you're trapped in a compulsion to conform. You can't be yourself in a swarm.
Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it's the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardising in the way we educate our children and ourselves.
Imagination is the foundation of everything that is uniquely and distinctively human. It is the basis of language, the arts, the sciences, systems of philosophy, and the all the vast intricacies of human culture.
We have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education, and it's impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.
The gardener does not make a plant grow. The job of a gardener is to create optimal conditions.
Human organisations are not like machines, though they’re often represented that way. They are more like organisms. They thrive on feelings and sentience and aspirations and motivation. And like all organisms, they flourish under certain conditions and they wilt under other ones. Great leaders I believe are not like industrialists; they’re like farmers. Farmers know that you cannot make a plant grow. The plant grows itself. What you do is create the conditions under which it will do that.
All technologies are neutral. What counts is who uses them and what they use them for. Any material, any tool in the hands of an artist, can result in a work of art.
The Element is the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion.
Whatever your aptitudes, the greatest source of achievement is passion. Aptitude matters, but passion often matters more… If you love doing something, you’ll be constantly drawn to get better at it.
The point is not to be the best, but to be the best you can be.
Ultimately, the two most important questions to ask yourself in the search for your passion are: what do you love, and what do you love about it?
Civilisation is a race between education and catastrophe.
I was amused to read recently, for example, that nowadays being British “means driving home in a German car, stopping off to pick up some Belgian beer and a Turkish kebab or an Indian takeaway, to spend the evening on Swedish furniture, watching American programs on a Japanese TV.” And the most British thing of all? “Suspicion of anything foreign."
One of the essential problems for education is that most countries subject their schools to the fast‐food model of quality assurance when they should be adopting the Michelin model instead. The future for education is not in standardising but in customising; not in promoting groupthink and “deindividuation” but in cultivating the real depth and dynamism of human abilities of every sort. For the future, education must be Elemental.
These days, anyone whose real strengths lie outside the restricted field of academic work can find being at school a dispiriting experience and emerge from it wondering if they have any significant aptitudes at all.
Many schools are organised as they are because they always have been, not because they must be.
The dominant Western worldview is not based on seeing synergies and connections but on making distinctions and seeing differences.
Educating children by age group assumes that the most important thing they have in common is their date of manufacture.
What you do for yourself dies with you when you leave this world, what you do for others lives on forever.
I hate the expression — is hate a strong word? — I hate the expression 'drop out.' If you’re running any kind of enterprise and you lost 30% of your clients every year, you might wonder whether it was the stupid clients, or the enterprise. To call these kids drop outs, makes it sound like they failed the system. And it’s much more accurate to say that the system has failed them.
And I think the reason so many people get depressed and lost, is they have lost the connection to themselves. They have no sense of purpose. Carl Jung said this. He said in his 30 years of professional practice, there wasn’t a single person who came to see him whose malaise he said couldn’t in the end be attributed to a loss of faith in religion. Now I don’t think he meant — I certainly don’t mean in quoting him — organised religion. I think the word I would use and perhaps he would have accepted is spirituality, a sense of your spirit. He said that in the end nobody ever got well without a sense of spiritual connection.
Between 1970 and 2000 the population of the Earth doubled, from three to six billion… there was a really good program on the BBC a few years ago called 'How Many People Can Live on Earth?’ … if everybody on the earth, they concluded, consumed food, fuel, and water - all 7.5 billion people - at the same rate as the average person in India, the earth could sustain a maximum population of 15 billion people. If everybody consumed at the same rate as the average American, the earth could sustain a maximum population of 1.5 billion.
[On the collapse of empires] In the middle of the 19th century, Britain had the largest empire in human history… if you had gone to the court of queen Victoria in 1870 and said this empire will be over in the generation, you would have been laughed out of the building, but it was.
Matthieu Ricard, do you know of him?… he became a Tibetan monk… he said he used to have all these people come to the house all the time when he was a kid, his father was a very prominent philosopher, he said he had Samuel Beckett come to the house and Albert Camus, this great raft of French intellectuals used to come to the house and have dinner with them and he said it was heady… he said there was something about it that never quite struck him until he saw a news report of some Tibetan monks who showed up in Paris and he said they looked incandescently happy… they were exuding this sense of happiness whereas all these intellectuals going to his house where as neurotic as you could imagine anybody to be, you know, they were the smartest people in the Western tradition but they looked completely wracked with uncertainty and anxiety, smoking themselves to death and drinking vast amounts of booze and pronouncing on the principles of a good life… Matthieu is officially recognised now as the happiest person on earth.
[on the Dalai Lama being asked a question] He thought about it for about a minute, we all kind of mentally leant forward, all 2,000 of us, thinking this is going to be great… and he paused and we waited for what we know is going to be something sensational and then he said ‘I don’t know, I haven’t thought about that’… and I just thought it was wonderful of him to say ‘I don’t know’ because in our culture, not to know is to be at fault socially, isn’t it? People pretend to know lots of things they don’t know because the worst thing you can do is appear to be uninformed about something, to not have an opinion.
One problem with the systems of assessment that use letters and grades is that they are usually light on description and heavy on comparison. Students are sometimes given grades without really knowing what they mean, and teachers sometimes give grades without being completely sure why. A second problem is that a single letter or number cannot convey the complexities of the process that it is meant to summarise. And some outcomes cannot be adequately expressed in this way at all. As the noted educator Elliot Eisner once put it, “Not everything important is measurable and not everything measurable is important."
About the Author Theo Winter works as Client Manager, Writer & Researcher for DTS International. He enjoys a wide range of movie genres including Science Fiction, Science Fiction Action, Science Fiction Adventure, and Science Fiction Thriller. By far the most important thing you need to know about Theo is that his favourite colour is yellow.