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