Saturday, March 19, 2011

Can creativity save us?

On my list of New Year's ‘resolutions’ this year was to meet Sir Ken Robinson. With that thought written on the first page of my notebook, it seemed the whole universe conspired to make it happen. On 16 March, I shook hands with the great man himself and thanked him for the inspiration he’s given me and my dear colleagues to our organisation, MojoLife.

Like many people concerned with the future of education and how we develop human potential and, moreover, what happens downstream in our organisations and economy, I first came across Sir Ken Robinson on TED. I subsequently read some of his acclaimed books on education and creativity.

Amongst his’ hymns’ to creative learning and education transformation, Sir Ken wrote an important book called The Element. It explores the idea that each and every human being has unique talents that should be identified and nurtured. When people do both what they are best at, and what they love to do, they flourish. Then they are in their ‘Element’. This is important for our human potential – as the Dalai Lama said, ‘Now you’ve got this life, what are you going to do with it?’

There are around 7 billion people on earth and this human population boom is unprecedented (it is estimated that 10% of entire humanity that has ever existed is currently living on earth). Meanwhile, natural resources become increasingly scarce. People need to be able to adapt, grow collaborate and leverage new skills in order to survive in these tumultuous times. New skills for 21st century survival and growth are needed – I wrote about this in an earlier post. Given the requirements to create and nurture a human life – all that the generations before us have, nurtured and endured to enable this is a miracle. Each miracle, each person deserves to live a life and contribute to humanity all it can – and be fulfilled in doing so.

For me, enabling people to connect with their Element is central to the purpose of education (much has been written about the need to fix education, but I’m not going there; if I were to I would recommend you read this incredible book by Richard Gerver – another education hero of mine - he also has a blog). Helping individuals to connect with their passion and purpose, and to grow and flourish, is in the heart of to anyone concerned with developing human capacity

Sir Ken said, ‘Human resources are like natural resources - they lie deep below the surface’. I envisaged this as an oil well. Like an oil well, gifts and talents need to be released and channelled before the true potential of a human life glimmers. We don’t know what we’re capable of until we are ‘untapped’ and have chance to find out.

The teaching profession enjoys, or should enjoy, the great privilege of identifying and nurturing talent. For many people, sadly, their talents are neither identified nor nurtured. They never, or rarely, get to enjoy being in their Element, spending their lives in a job they don’t love before retiring and wondering what it was all about.

Redundancy and life change often enable people to take a different path and make conscious choices about how to redirect their energies and creative potential – this is something that MojoLife helps people to do. Given the social, economic and environmental challenges we face it would seem that we need to harness our people potential much more effectively than we have been doing lately. Deep within all of us, I believe, is a creative spark waiting to be ignited.

So, can creativity save us? The pain with creativity is that it is often perceived as something that is superfluous to needs, it is ‘fluffy’, a leisure activity, something to be enjoyed but not necessarily integral to the ‘mechanics’ of daily life. Certainly in the education system young people are often prompted to study ‘more academic’ subjects rather that art, drama, music etc. So the message about the value of creative skills and art is muted from early on in our learning lives. Yet we all have an art. Seth Godin, who has been described as a ‘humanistic marketing expert’, extends the idea that we are all artists – we all have an art through the value we create for others in our work, be it in creating a product or delivering a valued service well.

I believe nurturing creativity can save us because it will enable us to unleash our imaginations and tap into our intuition and unique abilities. Our creative growth will enable us to reach the depths of new possibilities and a coexistence that will add up to something in spite of living on an overcrowded planet. Connecting with our inner creativity, gifts and spirit is not a new idea – it’s an ancient art, old wisdom requiring a renaissance to lift us above and beyond the industrial age. Unleashing human potential through creative education and learning will be critical to us navigating the digital age, which has only just begun.

Does what you do resonate with your spirit? Why shouldn’t it? If you’re still with me (thank you!) I’d like to leave you with this - as much as I love Sir Ken Robinson, Nelson Mandela says it with immeasurable beauty:

Nelson Mandela - Inaugural Speech

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond all measure
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God
Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking,
so that other people won’t feel insecure about you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.

It’s not just in some of us, it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give
Other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others too.

With warmest wishes to you all - long may you be in your Element!
Sara Knowles, 18 March 2011

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