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Book review: Out of Our Minds, Learning to be creative

March 12, 2010

Out of Our Minds, Learning to be creative, Sir Ken Robinson, Capstone, ©2001

Yes, the author is the Ken Robinson of the TED conference talk fame—if you’ve not seen it, I urge you to do so. Robinson is a British educator (now relocated to Los Angeles) whose passion and mission is to revamp global education so that it stops killing our creativity. This book is a follow-up to one which more directly tackled that issue. In this one he takes on what creativity is and is not. Ken’s heritage as an academic and Brit shows through—neither in a negative way but both in the way he writes and how his writing reflects the way he thinks. He spends a chapter carefully building his definition for creativity: “imaginative processes with outcomes that are original and of value”. Using that he goes on to build an argument that says that all humans are inherently creative, that creativity is something that can be learned, and that creativity is something that can both be encouraged and stifled.

The weakest part of the book is the first third. It’s not badly written at all but it’s a little dated by the 1990’s examples he uses and some of the discussion doesn’t work too well if you didn’t grow up in a British school system. The middle part of the book is his careful building up of the definition of creativity, how it works and why he believes it can and should be done by everyone. Only in the last part of the book do we start to see a bit of the passion and enthusiasm that is so clear in the TED talk (and others, check YouTube). In the written medium, Ken’s enthusiasm seems stifled by his academic background—which, ironically, is something he spends a fair amount of time explaining why that outlook can limit creativity.

Bottom line on this one is a cautious recommendation: there is good stuff here, I’m glad I read it, but it’s not on my ‘most recommended’ list. That said, there are some very good ideas here, good enough that if you’re interested in the topic, you’ll want to read the book. I particularly enjoyed and benefited from his discussion of the relationship of the arts to physical sciences, how creativity is crucial to both and why creativity in each looks different but has common roots. Skim the first third so you can get the last third quicker because that’s where you see those ideas and glimpse his enthusiasm for them.

Note: for more material like this (including book reviews) check out my other blog Thinking About Thinking
4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2010 07:41

    I also read this book one year ago and I agree with you because the good stuf is in the final third and there are other parts a bit tedious to read.

    I think that most of people who have seen Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk about schools and creativity could be a bit disappointed reading this book because all the passion and enthusiasm of his talk is lacking in this book (at least in most of the pages).

    However, I totally recommend his last book “The Element. How finding your passion changes everything”. In “The Element” you can find lots of passion and enthusiasm and Ken Robinson doesn’t use an academic language. He explains dozens of stories that illustrate the points he wants to talk about. Besides, he talks about some interesting educational projects where creativity and motivation is boosted.

    I think this is a must-read book for everybody because we can realize whether we have found our element or not and, something really important, whether we can help others to find her element.

    By the way, congratulations for your blog. I’ve been reading some posts and I’ve already subscribed to it 🙂

    • March 22, 2010 08:59

      Carlos — thanks for the kind words. Doing this is not something I would expect that I would do but it’s proving to be fun. My reaction to Ken’s book would I think have been a bit different if I had read it when it was new. It would also probably be different if I’d grown up in England. But I didn’t. Ken’s still got some valuable things to say though just as you point out.


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