We have been looking at this fascinating talk by Sir Ken Robinson that is provocatively titled, “How Schools Kill Creativity“.

If you have not been able to watch it  yet I would encourage you to take 20 minutes out of your schedule to understand the important points he makes. If you have already seen it then watching it again I am sure would still give you valuable insights for your own life and those who you care about.

I live in Britain which is notoriously famous for being suspicious of hype (and often rightly so), but I make no exaggeration when I say that understanding and applying what Robinson is saying could be powerfully transformational.

In Part 1 we looked at how education systems around the world focus on the same hierarchy of subjects with science and mathematics at the top, followed by the humanities and then at the bottom the arts. This is based on the assumption, firstly, that this is the order for the most useful subjects to get a job and secondly, that academic ability is the best way to measure intelligence.

While in of itself that is not necessarily a bad thing, one unintended consequence of this is that it creates a fear of failure or of simply getting something wrong. This can lead to a lifetime of self-imposed resistance to going outside my comfort zone or of trying something new. We tell ourselves, “I am no good at…(you fill in the blank)” and we can so easily give up.

For me one of my personal limitations was that I believed while at school that I could not communicate adequately in written English. It seems so trivial now, but at the time I felt that my expression and communication were inadequate. I desperately tired to improve, but found myself continually marked down.

I now know the reason was because I was not writing according to the unspoken rules of the system which were to get the grammar and punctuation exactly right. At the time I thought it was all about being more creative and imaginative. It seemed the harder I tried  the more I could not get past what felt like a glass ceiling.

What that eventually created in me, along with other negative experiences, was a lack of confidence in  my ability to communicate both in the written and spoken word. I decided that I was literally a hopeless cause in that area.

Although this is a relatively trivial example in the grand scale of things, it is rather like the analogy of dealing personally with major surgery and minor surgery. When it is happening to you and you realise you are the one being operated on, then it is all major surgery!

Some people can certainly grow past these external limitations. (for some amazing examples see Do You Still Believe Your Old School Report?) But the sad fact is that most do not.

And that is the case whether I am successful or not- how ever you want to define success. (See How Would You Define Success? Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 along with What Are The Ingredients for Lasting Success in your Life and Career? Part 1 and Part 2).

When I am successful in one area or field then I fear making a mistake and falling from my pedestal. Or I assume that I am good in other fields that have nothing to do with my area of expertise. In that case I am then at risk of pride and arrogance. Alternatively, if I get things wrong then I am too scared to step out and try something new. In a sense that is also pride and arrogance as I assume I know myself completely.

But what if one of the main purposes of education is to teach us how to handle fear, uncertainty and discomfort?
The better I am able to handle those awkward painful feelings the more I will be able to grow and develop. The reality is that many people do not know how to handle those feelings and so opt to live in their comfort zone where it feels safe. The American philosopher and writer Thoreau has described that as ‘lives of quiet desperation’.

In school we are use to taking lessons and then being tested. In life it is the exact opposite. We face a test, or maybe we should say challenge in our work or personal life or relationships. Until we pass that test we cannot move on to a greater level of growth. God and the universe has an uncanny way of bringing us face to face with our limitations and shortcomings.

The natural tendency is to blame myself or blame others. To criticise or complain, but not to take responsibility. I don’t like the feeling of fear, uncertainty and discomfort and so I try to find a way to run away from it and avoid it.

James Allen wrote in 1902:

“People are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.”

In an increasingly complex and confusing world one of the most important skills necessary is to learn how to pick yourself up when things don’t go the way you intended or hoped for. We need to learn how to lose and fail well so that we can then move on and grow. We will look more at that in a future post.

How about you? What thoughts, questions and issues do the video and the reflections above stir within you?