But what did he do before TED?
In 1998 he led the British government’s advisory committee on creative and cultural education. This committee investigated the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy. All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education was published to wide acclaim in 1999 and his input led to his knighthood in 2003. His work continues to promote the recognition of multiple types of intelligence and a move away from a testing-dominated system.
Robinson does not suggest students are underachieving: there are enough graduates to go around. But the fact that a strong economy is not there to greet them and that they may not have learnt much beyond how to be tested, the achievement is ultimately not useful. This means that along with creativity, our view of intelligence needs to be challenged.
How to Reintroduce Creativity to Education and Business
Robinson’s work in universities, government committees and with Fortune 500 companies has helped him come to the following conclusions:
1) Humans are diverse, therefore effective education systems should focus on variety and not conformity. Pupils should be treated as individuals, with individual interests and talents, and schools should move away from testing and standardisation.
2) Curiosity must be encouraged to help all humans flourish. Instead of spoon-feeding them facts, children should be engaged and then they will naturally want to know more. This depends on greater investment in teacher training and development. He likens a teacher teaching and nobody learning to a dieter dieting but not losing weight.
3) Human life is inherently creative. We thrive on different influences, hobbies, subjects and interests. The responsibility for defining content should be given to individual schools and teachers, rather than controlled by a distant authority.
On his website, Robinson defines his mission as:
“To transform the culture of education and organisations with a richer conception of human creativity and intelligence.”
His book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything is a New York Times bestseller. His earlier work Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative explains the underlying premise of his thinking: that humans are creative and unique and the way we are taught and the way we work is not fit for purpose.
True to his first established principle that an individual’s talents can be broad and should not be pigeon-holed, Robinson’s CV includes a humanitarian and political slant: he played a central role in the development of a strategy for creative and economic development as part of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland. Unlocking Creativity was devised with ministers for training, education enterprise and culture and was implemented with the backing of all political parties as well as by business, education and cultural leaders across the Province.
Robinson has made it on to the Thinkers50 list of the world’s top business thought leaders and while he works with governments and educations systems in Europe, Asia and the USA, he also works with leading businesses, the link between education and school never being far from his mind.
His study of education, creativity and the resulting impact on businesses and the economy is rooted in his role as Director of The Arts in Schools Project in the 1980s. This was the start of art education in England and Wales. In 2001 he moved to America and became Senior Advisor for Education and Creativity at the Getty Museum.