One of the biggest blessings in my life was knowing Sir Ken Robinson. His recent passing is a loss on so many levels. Sir Ken was the most-watched speaker in TED’s history, with his 2006 talk "Do Schools Kill Creativity?," being viewed online over 60 million times and seen by an estimated 380 million people in 160 countries. I think its magnetic impact was because there are many creative people, like me, for whom the formal education system just did not work. As he said, “the consequence is that many highly talented creative brilliant people think they are not”. His TED Talk confirmed that I did not fail in my education, my education failed me. He helped me move on from that deep-down feeling of being academically inadequate. With a successful creative and entrepreneurial career, I am lucky that my strange way of thinking has been an asset, not a liability. But it was still cathartic to have Sir Ken explain why my educational experience was unsettling.
I was in LA at a dinner party with my family at our friend Ken Hertz’s house when he mentioned that Sir Ken Robinson was a dear friend and a client. Having heard me waxing lyrically about how totally great I thought he was, Ken Hertz sweetly arranged for me to meet him for lunch the next day. It is not always good to meet your heroes. But in this case, it was totally wonderful. Hours passed as our families bonded, a friendship was established and I was lucky enough to work with him and his daughter on various projects over the last few years.
You only need to watch any of Sir Ken’s talks to see the unique way he mixed dry wit with impactful and deeply thoughtful statements. He had a wicked sense of humor with immaculate timing. A story would always have slip roads of side-splitting anecdotes. But this humor wasn’t just fun to be around, it was a super smart way of him ensuring people would be listening deeply and be so engaged, that he could get his point across so memorably.
I’ve been very lucky to meet many successful and well-known people. But it was a first for me to see how this Professor and educator had groupies! So many people wanting to meet him and share their stories about how he helped them feel better or understand more about their own journey. Each one was met with kindness, gratitude and a brilliant one-liner.
He was a beacon and a hero for creativity. He described creativity as ‘original ideas that have value’. The 380 million people who have watched his TED Talk heard him describe the story of Gillian Lynne—a world-famous dancer, choreographer and businesswoman who could have so easily been told as a kid to sit down, take medication and stop fidgeting. An enlightened psychiatrist recognized her need to move and create - and so she flew.
Creative people need to fly. Our children need to not be constrained by systems but supported by them. They need to think freely, to create, to fail, to try. Education needs to educate the whole being, not just one side of the head as Ken reminded us. Creative thinking is more important in this challenging world than ever before. It takes the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Just last month he said, “If you get the conditions right, miracles happen. If you say it’s a miracle, it sounds as if it’s an occasional, rare thing. The truth is in education, they happen every day. You are in the miracle business, and it’s the best business you can be in.”
Ken, it was a privilege knowing you and loving you. And I promise your global family will help you deliver on your expressed wish that this miracle business continues and grows to help our next generations fly.
Sir Ken Robinson (March 1950-August 2020): A New York Times bestselling author, he led national and international projects on creative and cultural education across the world, unlocking and igniting the creative energy of people and organizations. Sir Ken was the most-watched speaker in TED’s history, with his 2006 talk "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" being viewed online over 60 million times and seen by an estimated 380 million people in 160 countries. He was named as one of Time/Fortune/CNN’s ‘Principal Voices’; acclaimed by Fast Company magazine as one of ‘the world’s elite thinkers on creativity and innovation’ and ranked in the Thinkers50 list of the world’s top business thinkers. In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts. http://sirkenrobinson.com/
Jackie Cooper is Senior Advisor.