The Element - Book Review

Today I finished reading ‘The Element – How finding your passion changes everything’. Before I do my first book review, let me tell you how I came to know about Sir Ken Robinson, the author of this book. I like to watch TED talks on Youtube. As one watches one talk after another, more talks are suggested by youtube. One such suggestion was ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity’. This was a TED talk given by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006. Sir Ken Robinson is a British born Educationist who is now living in the USA. His life work is in the area of public education.

In the book, ‘The Element’, Sir Ken Robinson gives persuasive stories and examples of how finding ones’ passion and pursuing the same, can catapult one to the heights of fame, or if not face, heights of satisfaction. He gives numerous real life stories of actors, dancers, writers, painters, musicians, entrepreneurs and even from his own life to show how these people found their passion and excelled in their chosen field.

Most of the book is then filled with examples like this:
XYZ was a very average child in his school. Most of his teachers in school had written him off. Somehow someone found that this child has a particular streak in him. He encouraged him to pursue that field of work. The boy found it very satisfying and slowly more and more opportunities came along the way. Finally, he turned out to be this great musician or painter or dancer that he is today. 

In this book, he defines something called as ‘The Element’. The Element, according to him is the meeting point of aptitude and passion. When a person is in his element, he loves what he is doing and in doing it, he feels he is in his authentic self. Then, he feels that time passes differently, he feels more alive, centered and vibrant!
I think this is very similar to What Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described as The Flow.

Sir Ken Robinson says that the Element is different for everyone and each one has to find it for himself. The Element has 2 main features and 2 main conditions.  The features are aptitude and passion. The conditions are attitude and opportunity. Only when the 4 meet together, then one can identify his element. Further, he defines a sequence that goes like this - I get it (Aptitude) ; I love it (Passion) ; I want it (Attitude) ; Where is it (Opportunity)? When all these are met in a particular field of work or activity, one finds his element. He says to be in the Zone is to be in the deep heart of the element.

One of the biggest impediment to the Element is ‘What will people think’.  This is what stops people from going forward and pursuing their passion. He talks about finding the tribe, or the people with similar interests is of paramount importance to sustain and nurture the element. He goes on to describe an important and very common factor among all people who have found their element – Everyone had a mentor. A mentor can have any of the 4 roles – Mentor brings recognition. Mentor brings encouragement. Mentor facilitates growth by giving advice/tips. Mentor stretches and pushes the mentee beyond his limits. Again, the author has substantiated each of these with examples and stories.

In the rest of the book, he discusses if someone does it for money (as a professional) or for the love of it (as an amateur). Again, he says, many people who have found their element have taken it as their vocation. But he gives some examples of people who found their element in their hobbies. They do not pursue it for their livelihood. He states that such people are quite satisfied and also perform well in their day jobs because they have an overall sense of fulfillment. And in some case, a transformation happens, wherein an amateur becomes a professional.

Towards the end of the book, he becomes quite pedantic as he describe what ails our education system and various models. He discusses a Reggio School model which is interesting. His main case is that the current education system which tries to compartmentalize and standardize everything does not nurture creativity. It rather stifles the same. At the end, he exhorts the readers to discover their own element.

I liked the book very much. Apart from the concepts that I have mentioned earlier, some new learning for me which standout are 1) one can try to find one’s element by checking which activity or field of work are the 2 features and 2 conditions satisfied, 2) find a tribe in that field and 3) get oneself a mentor in that field.  The numerous stories and anecdotes in the book can keep you engaged and motivated. Overall it is a good read. I would recommend it to you!

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes EverythingThe Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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  1. Thanks for writing this great blog. Very true about the pointers mentioned. I had read a similar book, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell which talks about putting a lot of time to whatever you are passionate about will definitely make someone successful. The Maths is at least giving 10,000 hrs of your time. However, it is also important to have the right space & opportunity as some well luck for some one to succeed.
    As example even Bill Gates had invested nearly 10,000 hrs before he started his first company.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Sambit. Yes, Malcom Gladwell also says similar things. The gist remains the same. If you are passionate about something, you put the required effort and shine! However, the open question for all of us is, have we identified our passion or element??


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