Ken Robinson | 'Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative' | 'The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything'

On the recent fifth anniversary of TED Talks, it was announced that Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk is the most watched video to date.

Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

The author of Out of Minds: Learning to be Creative, a 10th anniversary edition of which was published in March, and The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Robinson has dedicated much of his professional life to helping governments, educational systems and businesses understand that creativity is not a fanciful luxury.

In this extensively revised and updated version of his best-selling classic, Out of Our Minds, Ken Robinson offers a groundbreaking approach to understanding creativity in education and in business. Robinson argues that people and organizations everywhere are dealing with problems that originate in schools and universities and that many people leave education with no idea at all of their real creative abilities.

Creativity in Decline

We have reason to believe that creativity is declining in America. Professor E Paul Torrance tracks creativity, not only assessing it in children but being able to predict creativity in future adults.In Jan. 2010, Newsweek wrote ‘The Creativity Crisis’, assessing Torrance’s theories and results:

Nobody would argue that Torrance’s tasks, which have become the gold standard in creativity assessment, measure creativity perfectly. What’s shocking is how incredibly well Torrance’s creativity index predicted those kids’ creative accomplishments as adults. Those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance’s tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers. Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University recently reanalyzed Torrance’s data. The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.

Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary has analyzed almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adult, finding that creativity scores rose until 1990. The downward decline of American creativity scores is constant since 1990. Most alarming is the fact that it is the scores of younger children in America — from kindergarten through sixth grade — who are losing the most creativity.

The potential consequences are sweeping. The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. Yet it’s not just about sustaining our nation’s economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others. via Newsweek

Sir Ken Robinson agrees. Out of Our Minds is a passionate and powerful call for radically different approaches to leadership, teaching and professional development to help us all to meet the extraordinary challenges of living and working in the 21st century.

In Britain secondary-school curricula is being revamped to emphasize idea generation, and Torrance tests are being used to assess progress. Newsweek writes:

The European Union designated 2009 as the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, holding conferences on the neuroscience of creativity, financing teacher training, and instituting problem-based learning programs—curricula driven by real-world inquiry—for both children and adults. In China there has been widespread education reform to extinguish the drill-and-kill teaching style. Instead, Chinese schools are also adopting a problem-based learning approach.

In America the strongest argument made by social conservatives is that the federal government has no business in education, that each state should determine how to best educate its children. If a state wants no science curriculum taught in its schools and insists on pure rote learning and strong discipline for students, that’s a states’ rights issue and a parental decision, argue the social conservatives.

Social Conservatives vs Creative Leaders

The speeches of educators like Ken Robinson is heresy and a threat to the moral order, even if America’s top companies all agree with him. CEOs say that American children are not able to fill the new jobs. They simply don’t have the skills and are lacking sophisticated ways of solving problems. 

It is true that a good education doesn’t guarantee creative success. Many of the world’s most notable success stories are dropouts like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson. Albert Einstein wasn’t good ar rote learning, writes Walter Isaacson.

Families can destroy creative passions. Paulo Coelho’s parents believed so fervently that his life would be wasted as an author that believed that they repeatedly placed him in a psychiatric institution where he underwent shock therapy, Robinson writes. Many American social conservatives are prepared to do the same.

Ken Robinson was interviewed this week in Fast Company. Read more of the educator’s thoughts on The Principles of Creative Leadership.