The Element: On Common Sense, Imagination, Creativity and Finding Our Element

If you are intensely curious about the relationship between  Creativity, Imagination, Flow, Intelligence and Finding your passion, The Element by Ken Robinson is a must read.

Ever since I first heard Ken Robinson’s TED talk, I was hooked to his ideas. Almost everything he said resonated with me and I could not consume enough of his talks, interviews and videos. So when I found out about his book “The Element”, I immediately got the Kindle version.

I have read 5 chapters so far and felt that even before I complete the book, I should share a few snippets. I hope you find the book and read it so that we can have several conversations. It changed my idea of intelligence and I am sure it will change yours too.

On finding our Element:

I believe strongly that if we can each find our Element, we all have the potential for much higher achievement and fulfillment. I don’t mean to say that there’s a dancer, a cartoonist, or a Nobel-winning economist in each of us. I mean that we all have distinctive talents and passions that can inspire us to achieve far more than we may imagine. Understanding this changes everything. It also offers us our best and perhaps our only promise for genuine and sustainable success in a very uncertain future.

Being in our Element depends on finding our own distinctive talents and passions. Why haven’t most people found this? One of the most important reasons is that most people have a very limited conception of their own natural capacities. This is true in several ways. The first limitation is in our understanding of the range of our capacities. We are all born with extraordinary powers of imagination, intelligence, feeling, intuition, spirituality, and of physical and sensory awareness. For the most part, we use only a fraction of these powers, and some not at all. Many people have not found their Element because they don’t understand their own powers.

Why students never get to explore the full range of their creativity:

Most students never get to explore the full range of their abilities and interests. Those students whose minds work differently—and we’re talking about many students here; perhaps even the majority of them—can feel alienated from the whole culture of education. This is exactly why some of the most successful people you’ll ever meet didn’t do well at school.

Common Sense and Creativity

One of the enemies of creativity and innovation, especially in relation to our own development, is common sense. The play-wright Bertolt Brecht said that as soon as something seems the most obvious thing in the world, it means that we have abandoned all attempts at understanding it.

On Intelligence:

taking the definition of intelligence for granted is one of the main reasons why so many people underestimate their true intellectual abilities

most people have a narrow view of intelligence, tending to think of it mainly in terms of academic ability. This is why so many people who are smart in other ways end up thinking that they’re not smart at all.

On creativity:

The highest form of intelligence is thinking creatively.

Creativity is very much like literacy. We take it for granted that nearly everybody can learn to read and write. If a person can’t read or write, you don’t assume that this person is incapable of it, just that he or she hasn’t learned how to do it. The same is true of creativity.

Creativity is a step beyond imagination because it requires that you actually do something rather than lie around thinking about it. It’s a very practical process of trying to make something original. It may be a song, a theory, a dress, a short story, a boat, or a new sauce for your spaghetti. Regardless, some common features pertain.

On Imagination:

Imagination underpins every uniquely human achievement. Imagination led us from caves to cities, from bone clubs to golf clubs, from carrion to cuisine, and from superstition to science.

Imagination is “the power to bring to mind things that are not present to our senses.”

Through imagination, we can visit the past, contemplate the present, and anticipate the future. We can also do something else of profound and unique significance.

Imagination is not the same as creativity. Creativity takes the process of imagination to another level. My definition of creativity is “the process of having original ideas that have value.”

On the media we work with:

People who work creatively usually have something in common: they love the media they work with. Musicians love the sounds they make, natural writers love words, dancers love movement, mathematicians love numbers, entrepreneurs love making deals, great teachers love teaching. This is why people who fundamentally love what they do don’t think of it as work in the ordinary sense of the word. They do it because they want to and because when they do, they are in their Element.


Robinson Ph.D., Ken (2008-12-01). The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

2 thoughts on “The Element: On Common Sense, Imagination, Creativity and Finding Our Element

  1. Dorai, indeed it is a must read. I totally endorse your views, just this sample is well… fantastic

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