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Do Schools Kill Creativity? In celebration of the late Sir Ken Robinson

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In the short weeks between my interview with Creativepool and its subsequent publication, a man I’d often described as a hero passed away.

The death of Sir Ken Robinson, eminent educationalist and academic, was slow to be picked up on by the media. Several days had gone before the obituaries gathered momentum, eventually appearing alongside heartfelt speeches by surprising folk from all walks of life. The delayed reaction was like a curious echo to his own sardonic observations of life as an educationalist: frequently ignored, and famously, rarely invited to dinner parties.

Sir Ken’s gift to education was in his ability to bring to life the diverse nature of creativity and its vital importance in education systems, everywhere. It’s a sad irony that despite being Ted’s most watched speaker, inspiring some 380 million viewers with his talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” and commanding respect from educationalists worldwide, his recommendations were rarely adopted by policy makers.

Do schools kill creativity?

Since the very first time of watching, Ken’s valuable messages have never been far from mind. In fact, these last few weeks I’ve been overwhelmed when recounting just how many ways its content changed my thinking, changed the way I work, or contributed to my life in some enriching way. I’ve re-quoted endlessly, forwarded to countless people, and watched it myself so many times I have occasionally wondered if the millions of views are in fact, all mine.

Ken’s explanation of the nature of creative thinking as distinct from academia helped me value my own style of intelligence - the experiential ‘learning-on-the-job’ kind, which has led to me opening career doors to other non-traditional learners as a result.  

It helped me understand why I’d struggled at school yet became a curious and avid adult learner. And to explain more succinctly how our own creative business operates working behind the scenes as solution finders: our lot is not creative arts but creative thinking, and it’s exactly that quality and breadth of definition that Ken advocated capturing.

I have occasionally wondered if the millions of views are, in fact, all mine.

The talk includes a story of choreographer Gillian Lynne. A beautiful story for the way it describes some people's need to move in order to think, and thus capturing an aspect of diversity often left undescribed. Again, in our business this shows up as thinking through making, not thinking in front of computer screens or sitting down, a vital distinction especially now, when the world seems geared to have us permanently labouring in front of a screen.

And finally, the case for creating the right environment for innovation and experimentation, which has never been more relevant or timely. “If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original.” Powerful, essential advice in a climate where despite a desperate need for pioneers in every sector we remain unforgiving of failure. The result? Iteration, in place of innovation. 

For the few people left in the world who haven’t seen this legendary talk I recommend you treat yourself. It’s 20 minutes of golden quotes, of warmth, of wit and of genuine wisdom.

For those who have already, I encourage you to indulge again and to share. There is a profound relevance for humanity here, not just for schools. Let’s hope at least posthumously, Sir Ken’s legacy continues to resonate and finally inspires lasting change.

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