Book Review: Out of our minds by Robinson Ken(2010)
Introduction: The essence of the book
“Out of our minds” is an interesting read that speaks about imagination and creativity (pgs.
139-166) and its role in development and providing relevant solutions to the world problems
and specifically in leadership (pg.219). The author talks of the evolution of imagination and
creativity in a human being from childhood to adulthood. He argues that while most children
believe they are creative, most adults do not consider themselves creative. He therefore goes
ahead to elaborate on the character and attributes of education that different education systems
have; and the effect of this on the creativity of individuals as they grow older (pg.49).
In a nutshell his arguments stipulate that education systems are tailored to produce labor for
the existing economy and this puts individuals in a mold that destroys their creativity (pgs.49-
108). The aim of this book is to challenge the readers to realize their true creative potential.
Robinson ends the book by saying that, “It is often said that education and training are the
keys to the future. They are, but a key can be turned in two directions. Turn it one way and
you lock resources away, even from those it belong s to. Turn it the other way and you release
resources and give people to themselves. To realize our true creative potential…we must learn
to be creative.”
Book review-Out of Our minds by Ken Robinson
As we celebrate Robinson’s literary achievement, first I disagree with the idea of creativity
as a goal which we need to pursue and an as a necessary end to embrace. Thinking about
education as Robinson’s main example of things that kill creativity, we need to remember that
even education as a concept was itself a creative idea once that was embraced and celebrated.
However with time, we are able to see the ills of an education system as elaborated by the
author. Therefore, by having creativity as a goal we run the same risk in the future.
Secondly, I disagree with the author’s generalization of the ills of education. Both formal
and informal educations have had tremendous success acting as custodians of important
societal information. Education acts as a working medium of passing this information from
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one generation to another. Furthermore, many new ingenious inventions have been discovered
through the education system that the author criticizes in this book, “Often we are educated
out of creativity.” (pg.49). Overall, as much as I would not throw out all of the books content
as that would be ‘throwing out the baby with the birth water’, I would recommend the readers
to read this book with a critical mind as some of the arguments are not entirely accurate- or it
may be a case of seeing two sides of the same coin.
Out of our minds is an out of the norm book. It is a paradigm shift. Reading the book, I get
the urgency and spirit of the writer. I can sum up the arguments presented in this book into
one phrase, “Everything must change!” Essentially the book challenges us to examine and
question the current education system in relation to its relevance to our day to day lives.
Dan Roam in his book, ‘The back of the Napkin’ (2009) explores the use of pictures to aid
the process of problem solving. Roam’s book, validates the idea of creative thinking which
Robinson’s book, ‘Out of our minds’ is advocating for. Roam brings back pictures into the
boardroom and makes the process of solving a problem visual and fun. “In two minutes,
you’ve captured your own idea, shown it to others and passed it along. That’s how visual
thinking works, and that’s how to solve problems and sell ideas with pictures.” Roam (2009,
pg256) I agree with the call to creativity as it appeals to more of our senses making us more
engaged in our work process. The assumption here is that this will translate into an effective
decision making process in which the decision makers own the process more.
One of the education related themes that Robinson explores is assessment. He argues that
the role of assessment is dichotomous in nature; a description of one’s performance and a
comparison of one’s performance. He also says that assessment plays three roles- diagnostic,
formative and summative (pg.277). The problem is that while assessment tests one’s ability to
recall knowledge, it fails to take the creative side into account. “The net effect is to increase
the emphasis on some forms of learning and to lower the status of others.” Robinson (2010).
From my experience drawing, doodling and coloring despite being enjoyable and relatively
easy to enjoy, is a kindergarten thing. The boardroom is a place to PowerPoint slides, and
projector screens to maintain a generally intellectual theme. This is a social construct that
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shows the accuracy of Robinson’s arguments.
Looking at the myriad of challenges facing the world today, the challenge is to use these
learning paradigms to find solutions for the world systems both at a local or international
level. The greater challenge is how to ensure every individual is personally involved in the
process of looking for solutions and implementing them in order to deal with things like
pollution on a day to day basis.
Recently, while working on a project management class project on seeking for solutions to
the problem of lack of housing in South Sudan, my group and I had to brainstorm on possible
sustainable solutions. Part of our challenge was to integrate the knowledge we have received
in our university education while maintaining a ‘free spirit’ that will allow us to dream of new
and probably non-conventional solutions. We read widely and sought advice from different
quarters. The surprising thing is that most books and advice we received encouraged us to
look up what has already been done and pick a most suitable option that would be relevant
in the South Sudan context. While I appreciate the value of learning from others to avoid
re-inventing the wheel, it is interesting to note that there was hardly any encouragement
to dream of new ideas and seek new crazy and exciting ideas like building sustainable tree
houses in South Sudan or living in a sustainable hot air balloon! A serious indication that
what Robinson refers to as ‘creative culture’ has been eroded as we grew up and experienced
Therefore in the ‘Out of our Minds’ spirit , the questions we constantly need to engage with
are; How do we learn from others while creating room for and encouraging a culture of
creativity? How do we exit the proverbial box and maintain a culture of “thinking outside the
box”? How do we maintain an education system that is not restrictive but frees everyone to
engage in the creative mess that gives unlimited chances for individuals to try out new ideas
both in school and in the workplace? How?