A Love Letter to Human Potential with Kate Robinson
Hey everybody, what's up? It's Chase. Welcome to another episode of "The Chase Jarvis Live Show" here on Creative Live, the show where I sit down with amazing humans, and I unpack their brain with the goal of helping you live your dreams. Our guest today is Kate Robinson. If you're not familiar with Kate, you should know that she is the daughter and co-collaborator of the one and only Sir Ken Robinson, who has among many storied achievements as the most popular Ted Talk of all time about why schools kill creativity. So, we thought in light of his passing not too long ago, we would bring his collaborator and his daughter, Kate Robinson, on the show to talk about the book that she completed with her father. It's an incredible book around the future of creativity. We talk about three myths of creativity, how the education system squashes it, and what you can do for yourself and your kids, your friends, your peers, the teacher's role in the revolution that we are experiencing right now. An...
d this book, "Imagine If," is an incredible thing that you should put on your radar. Our conversation today is deep and meaningful. Sir Ken's, this is a manifesto of sorts that Kate wrote in collaboration with her late father. You're gonna love this episode. I'm gonna get outta the way and let you enjoy yours truly with Ms. Kate Robinson. (upbeat music) (audience applauds) They love you! Kate, thank you so much for being on the show. Welcome.
Thank you. It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me on.
Coming from Windsor. Yes?
Yeah, just right by the castle.
Right by the castle. So, our conversation today has a couple of objectives. One, I have been interested in, as soon as I found out that you had been working closely with your father on the manifesto that he had been, had undertaken prior to his passing in 2020, I immediately wanted to have you on the show. Didn't even know when the book was out. I had just heard something that you were working on it. And so, first of all, I want to say a personal debt of gratitude to your family for being such champions for not just for education but specifically for creativity, and been a long time fan of your father's and the fact that you are, you have been collaborating with him prior to his passing and have put out a new book that we'll talk about today called "Imagine If: "Creating a Future for Us All." I want to start at the start though. For those folks who might be unfamiliar, maybe the 10 people on the planet who haven't seen your father's Ted Talk about school's killing creativity, I'm hoping you can just orient us a little bit and start at the beginning for I would say what you stand for personally as someone who's carrying forward your family legacy, but maybe in you and your father in what you stand for and why you think you're on the show, I mean, obviously the book, but, you know, you have some values that are, I want to share. So, talk to us a little bit about those values.
Okay, I would love to. So, I guess the first thing to say is that Dad was a speaker and a writer and an educator, an educationalist. He talked a lot about education and the ways in which he felt it could improve, putting it nicely. I suppose at its core, his work was... Well, when I was preparing to write the manifesto, I was reading through, rereading through all of his books and kind of going deep into everything that he had done. And his work very much was a criticism of the systems that we've created. And I'll talk probably a little bit more about that in a bit, just about the ways in which we created the world in which we live. So, it was a criticism of the systems that we've created that no longer serve us. So, in particular education, which he made the point was created for a time long gone past, you know, to suit the needs of the Industrial Revolution. But at its core, my dad's work was a real celebration of what we as a species are capable of achieving within the right conditions. I keep saying it was a real love letter to human potential. It was a look at what, look at what we're capable of doing, look at what we've achieved, and imagine what we could go on to achieve as a species if we created the conditions for every single person to thrive, rather than systematically kind of keeping them down. So that I suppose was the core of his work, but he had a few, a few contentions. The first was that we all have incredible powers of creativity. The second was that human cultures depend upon the diversity of our creative, of our talents and of our passions and of our skills. And the third was that if each and every one of us identifies with what our passion is, he called it the element, which he said was where your personal passion meets your natural aptitude. So, it's not enough just to be good at something. You have to really love it. And in the case of the element, it's not a case, you know, there's not enough to just absolutely love something. You have to have some skill and knack for it. So, but his feeling was that if we all identified what our individual element was or is, then the world would be a much better place. And, you know, there are all sorts of, that sounds kind of almost kind of light and fluffy, but actually when you boil down into the reasons why the world would be a better place, you know, they go the right way down to economic. There's a lot behind it. So, he was in education for a very long time. And people talk about the Ted Talk, as you said. He did three in total, but the first in 2006 is still the most downloaded Ted Talk of all time. He had a moment when the Pope did his when he thought this is probably the end of his reign. (everyone laughs) But he carried on. He used to joke that it was just him pressing replay over and over again. But he always used to say that, you know, you don't get asked to do a Ted Talk unless you've done something. 'Cause I think a lot of people thought his career started when he did the Ted Talk. And I think he was... I can't remember. I mean, he must have been his late 50s, if not early 60s when he did the first Ted Talk. Late 50s.
And he was already a Sir at that point?
Yeah, he'd been knighted years before. Yeah. By my neighbor Queen Elizabeth. And, but he'd done a lot, particularly there was one report called, he led a number of reports, but one in particular was called "All Our Futures," which was, it was commissioned at the time in by the then Labor Government by Tony Blair to kind of look at how to incorporate more creativity into the curriculum. And it was a huge report, and eventually the government kind of swept it under rug when it came out because I think they were looking for a quick fix, like, you know, do an hour of arts at the end of the week and problem solved. But what Dad and his incredible team came back with was this huge, you know, whole system overhaul recommendation that... So, the government swept it under the rug, but it really lit a fire in the sector here in the UK, all across the UK in the arts and education sector. So, there was that. And then he was involved in the peace process in Northern Ireland. So, he did a huge amount. But I think to answer the actual question you asked about core values-
No, this is exactly, this is exactly what we're trying to get to.
Yeah, so his, I mean his core values I suppose was, were optimism. You know, it was a real celebration of humanity. I think he had such a great love for humanity, and, you know, his primary goal was to advocate for creating systems that elevate each and every person within them.
There's a couple, well, thank you for sharing that backstory again. And just so I'm gonna say it in the most blunt way. That was an incredibly insanely powerful talk about the power of creativity in human spirit. And in the story that you just shared, or the backstory rather, you mentioned a couple things that I want to, you know, it's amazing, they're in my notes here, just the conditions, you talked about the conditions that set us up to be successful in pursuing our passion and unlocking the creativity which is in every person. So, I wanna talk about the conditions, and I also want to talk about, I think it's always important to start at the start with the definition because a lot of people when they think creativity, they think, you know, popsicle sticks and glitter and glue guns in, you know, in grade five or whatever or grade three.
Yeah, macaroni frames.
Exactly, exactly. So, you know, I know you have a definition in the book, and I thought it might be useful for us to start there so that when people are listening, they know we're talking about creativity with the capital C and not creativity with the small C. So what, maybe you can share that with us.
I can. And actually the definition came from that report originally, from the "All Our Futures" report in 1999. So, the definition of creativity that Dad used, that we use for everything that we do is the process of having original ideas that have value. And there are three key terms within that that are important I guess to talk about. The first is that creativity is a process. And, you know, a process is when two things kind of have a conversation with each other. You know, there are two aspects that bounce off one another. And in the case of creativity, it's idea generation and then idea evaluation. So, you're constantly coming up with a new idea and then evaluating it, going back to the idea, tweaking it, evaluating that, you know, chucking it in the bin, starting again. So, it's a process, it's a journey. So, it's a process of having original ideas. So it's, and, you know, it doesn't have to be original to the world. It doesn't have to be the first time anyone in humanity has done something. It can be. But it could also be original in the context of the person who's created it. You know, it could be the first time they've thought of something in a certain way. It could be original in the context of a peer group. So, that person, you know, the people that that person's sort of inspired by or working with. Or it could be original, you know, to humanity. And then the last, which is kind of the biggest or I guess most contentious point of the definition is that it has to have value. And value in this context means that it has to fit the purpose for which it's designed. So, if your goal is to create a beautiful building, beauty is one factor of it, you know, therefore to have value, it must be beautiful. But if it crumbles the second you open the door, it doesn't have the value that you're looking for. It has to be both beautiful and sound as a building. So, it's value in terms of what you're setting out to achieve. And that's, yeah, that's the definition that he used. So, the process of having original ideas.
Yeah. And well, what I, what... If I'm gonna editorialize a little bit, it's not just art, like art is-
Yeah, yeah. Art is a subset of creativity. But as soon, you know, there are people listening, I mean, to be fair, over 12 years of this show, we've weeded out most of the people who are not either identify as creators, you know, entrepreneurs, or at least are creative curious. Those people, we've weeded most of those people out after a dozen years. But there are some people who are listening or watching right now who I believe are, would call into question their own, the validity of their own like, am I creative? Especially people who've been coached through that system that was created by the factory and the farm for the 1900s for whom they were raised sort of with those values, and no judgment here, but they would call into question how creative they are or aren't. So, I'm wondering if you can, through the lens of your work, the work of your father, I'll just call it your family, talk to that person for a second and help them understand that this notion of creativity where they don't identify as possessing it or being able to engage in the process, talk to them for a second. And I would love to hear you let 'em know, let 'em know what you think.
Right, that's cool and deep. Yeah, there are three big myths around creativity that Dad talked a lot about. And the first is that creativity is about certain people, special people, the creatives. And we constantly enforce that in schools and particularly in businesses where you have the creatives, you know, people have-
The creative department, right?
Yeah. Or you say, "I'm a creative," and you're like, what does that mean? So, that's the first myth, and it is a myth. Absolutely everybody has powers of creativity. And I think it's that myth stems from the second myth, which is that creativity is about certain things, about certain subjects. Like you said, like popsicle sticks. Inherently, you know, you associate creativity with being the arts, with being, you know, art and music and dancing and making things. But actually you can be creative and you are creative in absolutely anything that involves human intelligence. I can give the example in the book of Dr. Amira Medi who's a neuroscientist who has worked with people who are born blind, congenitally blind, and he's through his systems, he's developed a way to help them to see using, I'm not a neuroscientist, but he's reverse engineered essentially ultrasounds. So, he takes sight and then turns them into sounds. And through this, people who have never seen before can look at a bowl of green apples and pick out the one red apple within it. I give that example because it's a great example of how a subject that we think of as being purely academic, and I can talk about the issue with the word academic as well, but a subject like neuroscience, which we think of not being creative at all, and he's, it's a great example of how it is, because what he's done is is he's identified a problem, he's come up with an idea, you know, he's gone through that process of trialing it and experimenting, and then at the end of it, come out with a solution. And I think that idea of it being a process and a journey is another reason why a lot of people think that they aren't creative because you kind of think if you don't get something right on the first attempt that you're just no good at it. And that happens a lot in school when there's a right answer or wrong answer. But actually it's a process. And ideas are very vulnerable when you're in the creative process. They can be squashed way before their time. So, okay, so the first myth was that it's about special people. The second is that it's about special subjects. And the third is that you're either creative or you're not, and there's nothing you can do about it, you're born with a set amount of creativity. When in reality, creativity is, you know, it's a part of the brain. It's like muscle. In the same way that the more you practice language, the better you get at the language. The more you practice and use your creative muscle, the stronger it becomes. And so there's a lot that you can do about it. And actually Dad's first book was called "Out of Our Minds," and the original subtitle they've changed it now, but the original was "Learning to be Creative," which at the time in like the 90s was controversial 'cause people were still at the belief that you can't, how do you learn to be creative? You either have it or you don't. But it's a pity that it is that issue with it being seen as being popsicle sticks and the arts, not to undermine that type of creativity at all, but it's you-
It's so limiting. It's just so limiting.
Yeah, and damaging as a result because it squashes progress.
Well, let's pull on that thread for a second, the idea of it being damaging. And if you connect the idea of, you know, creativity unleashing, you know, our human potential, this being a love, your book "Imagine If," being a love letter to humanity, and then think about squashing creativity, essentially we're squashing our humanity.
If A equals B and B equals C, then A equals C by the transitive property of mathematics, if I remember my math correctly.
There you go.
So, it's, and I love that we're talking about math while we're talking about creativity.
So, I think this is a good point to explore these beliefs and what we understand to be true, and some of the myths that inhabit our education systems, both, you know, I think I'm speaking for the US, you can be speaking for the UK, but just generally I think this is true on a global scale. So, this idea that the education system sort of teaches us out of our innate creativity and that it is, you know, based on a period as you, I think you talked about, industrialization or post industrialization. So, talk to us about the ways that education does the squashing.
The way it squashes. Yeah, it's a formal education systems, and I grew up in America, so I feel like I can speak to both.
I grew up in LA. The formal education systems as we recognize them, you know, most of them around the world were based on the Industrial Revolution. They were designed in its image. And as a result... The Industrial Revolution needed a certain type of person. It needed a kind of pyramid of people at the bottom. The majority of people they needed were workers, people who could operate the machinery and work. And in the middle were people who could kind of be managerial. And then at the top were the kind of really top level owners and people who were in charge essentially. So, education systems were at the time designed to kind of cater to the masses to a certain point, and then they would go off and work. Obviously we've extended that over time. And now most people are at school in their early 20s, if not, depending on the profession, a lot longer. In terms of how it squashes it today, the example that Dad gave, we often talk about education being like an industrial factory. And you recognize this from the books, there's a whole chapter on this. But we talk about education as being an industrial factory and you can kind of see why because there's a conveyor belt and kids get on at one end and then they move along it and get kind of loaded with other information and then there's various quality checks along the way. And then they have the final product that kind of gets shipped off into the world. There's a brilliant school in New York, a blue school who they like to think of education instead as being, trying to find the flint underneath rocket boosters, which a total aside, but I just really love that image. Getting a rocket pad and trying to find what lights and sets them off, which I love. But anyway, to go back to the actual point, Dad's issue with that metaphor, he used it himself 'cause you can see why it's caught on, but what gets made in a factory, you know, nuts and bolts and parts, have no opinion on what happens to them. You know, children do. We aren't inanimate objects at any age of our life. So, he felt that the actual analogy or metaphor to use was an industrial farm. So, the mass production of living things. The way that industrial farms work is they focus on yield, on output. You know, if you're doing plants, they focus on creating these massive fields of one type of crop, and they grow them individually, so you've got like all the cabbages in a line and then all the radishes in a line. And... I'm not a farmer. As I think what might be going on an industrial farm. But then they get sprayed with pesticides to keep the other, the natural, you know, the insects that would feed on them, and they kind of, they kill the ecosystem that's around them. And at the end you get these perfect cabbages. Thousands of them, perfect, uniform cabbages. But in the process, you've destroyed ecosystems. You've destroyed the top soil. You've destroyed the animal life and the birds that feed on the animals and the creatures that feed on the birds. Education does a very similar process to that. We teach things in subjects. So, you do maths from this time to this time, and English from this time to this time, and language from this time to this time. And I make this point in the book, but if you imagine in our day to day lives as adults if every 45 to 50 minutes someone rang a bell and made us stand up, pack our things up, and move to another room to do something totally different, you'd go crazy. You know, this kind of system where you can only do 40, I mean, you talk about creativity, you need more, depending on the task, but the thought that you'd just be getting into something and then you just have to stop halfway through, forget it until the next day. So, that's one way that it squashes creativity is it doesn't give you a chance to have a good run at anything. And some things don't take 45 minutes as well. Anyway, so industrial methods of education, you have subjects. And Dad was a big advocate for moving towards disciplines. Because with disciplines, you can be multidisciplinary. You know, you can talk about the similarities between things, you know, instead of saying that, okay, the sciences are very different from the arts. You can actually see how the arts and sciences are very similar. We talk about maths, there's a conductor in Miami who uses Fibonacci sequences when he's doing his music. You know, it's all intertwined in the real world. So, it's separating things out. And then the big one is this system of quality control, the standardized testing that comes in. And, you know, people who disagreed with Dad often did it because they felt like he was against assessment. He always said he didn't mind people disagreeing with him if they disagreed with what he actually said. That's fine. But if they made up what he, what they thought he said and disagreed with that, that was an issue 'cause he wasn't against assessment. But there's a time and a place for it. And I think the pressure that we put children under to meet these tests leaves very little room for much else. And it's not just the children, the pressure that gets put on the teachers to teach to the test. The whole system becomes toxic. There isn't enough space. And such a long answer, I apologize.
No, this is exactly what that is for.
The last thing I wanna say about it though is... A lot of the things that we do in formal education or in schools make sense from an admin point of view. It's very easy to say, okay, well, every subject gets the same amount of time and there'll be a test at this point and every child of this age should be able to do this. But it's, you know, if education is based on conformity, life is based on diversity. The natural world is based on diversity. And there's no space within, I say, there's no space within the system as it is. It's not, there's actually a lot more within the system than we think. A lot of what we do isn't actually dictated or mandated. It's just the way we've always done them. But it's seeing children as data points instead of humans.
Yeah, you know, the idea, to go back and borrow the analogy of the factory, like to the expectation that everyone who's the same age will be able to, you know, process and learn things at the same time. And the, it just, obviously, it's obviously so rigid. And, you know, if we want a, we want to output humans that are diverse, diverse in interest, diverse in thought, diverse in character because that is where our strength lies, then it it's foolish to think that a system that would be so rigid could output products that are so diverse. That's inherently-
It's not designed to.
Right. It's not that, it's not a stretch.
Yeah, and so, I'm fascinated by our ability and our awareness that this is the case. And then our inability, I would say, culturally, this is where you and your father were aiming to create a revolution. We can say these words and in many senses know these things, but we still struggle to produce the change that we want to see. Is it that there are people who do not actually want this change or is it that not enough people are aware for this revolution to take place?
Well, the first thing I would say is I struggle to believe that anybody, I mean, this might just be me being very naive, but I struggle to believe that anybody wakes up and thinks, "How can I screw over a generation of kids today?" I don't think anybody is resistant to it because they think, and I could, maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think that anybody up at the top is doing it because they think that this is...
There's no evil genius. There's no command in control.
Yeah, like let's just make 18 years of someone's life miserable because I can. I think people believe that the system, a lot of people believe that the system is fine as it is. There's a lot of belief that I got through it and yes, it sucked, but, you know, it was the making of me, or you just have, you know, it's a right of passage. You have to have those difficult years in your childhood. You have to have that teacher that's crushed your spirit, but you'll get through it and you'll be fine. The terrifying factor is increasingly people aren't getting through it. You know, suicide rates for teenagers are, is an all time high. And if you look at the studies of people asking teenagers, why, why there is such a mental health crisis in our young people, they will quite often cite the stresses of education and standardized testing and pressure to get into certain colleges in particular. But I don't believe there is an evil genius. I think, I think on one hand, it's a really hard to change a system because yes, this system isn't working and it's got far too many casualties in its wake, but it's functioning, you know, so if we tear it down, what if there's absolute chaos? So, I think there's fear to do anything that rocks the boat too much in case it has too much of a negative impact. But if you actually then look at the issues that the system as it is is creating, you know, the levels of dropouts, which I hate that term. I left school at 16. But the term, you know, people leaving the system of their own accord or not of their own accord, being excluded or expelled, you know, the crime rates, and then also the cost of these programs to get kids back into education, which very often rely on the personalized methods that my Dad and I campaigned for in the first place. It's very helpful.
That is, that irony. We should like put a, we should put a very, we should draw a circle around what you just said, because literally the system that is designed to help people only comes to their aid after they have not-
Yeah, fit within the most simple baseline, and I would call sort of rudimentary factory, right? Or agricultural, mass produced agricultural farm to use your better analogy. It's so ironic and sad that that is, that there's an acknowledgement that that is an effective way of, you know, of-
Yeah, and then, and this belief that we can do that on a one off basis after someone has left the building, so to speak, versus if you could scale that, wouldn't you be able to save on all of the sort of costs and drama and I would just call it pain and suffering later on. It's just, it's not lost on me. I'm sorry for interrupting. I just-
No, no, you're absolutely right. I love that you did that. You're absolutely right, it's ridiculous, you know, that we know that they work and yet we save them for special occasions when things are absolutely desperate. It's not a matter of there not being enough statistics or evidence that, and Dad would say a lot of the arguments that he made weren't new. You know, he was standing on the shoulder of the giants that came before him, and the practices he was campaigning for go back eons. But I think the other issue when you look at it from a political point of view is that there are other political agendas. You know, certainly over here in the UK, politicians don't stay in the job for very long. You know, they kind of, they're on their way to the next step up the political rung. So it's, what do they do in that time that doesn't mess things up too much for the next person or undo everything the person before them's done. So, it's a very difficult, it's a very difficult game when you look at it. But Dad put in the book, that rock and roll wasn't a government led initiative. You know, the governments didn't sit down and think you know what, if we can get people just really into this new beat, if we can just, you know, if maybe we'll put out a couple of songs, see if they get with it, and, you know... They didn't do that. We did. It came about, and then, you know, we fell in love with it and it became a thing. The same, you know, the same was true of same sex marriage. That wasn't a government thinking, you know it's a about time that people had these rights. It was the people demanding better. And eventually after years of struggle, the government giving in to a point, you know, and there's still a long way to go on that one. So, Dad's belief was he'd moved away, I think probably in part because of that 1999 report, but he'd moved away from working with governments because when it boils down to it, if you're a teacher in a classroom, to the children within your class, you are the education system. You know, they don't care what's happening even in the classroom down the hall, let alone the school down the street or the one in the next town or the next country or across the world. They don't care about PISA results or anything. They care about how they're gonna get from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM in the afternoon to get through the day, how they're gonna pass this semester, how they're gonna get through their exams, and whether or not they'll go to college. So if you, as a teacher, Dad's point was if you're within the system, if you as a teacher change your practice, change the way you approach education, to the kids in your classroom, you've changed the system as far as they care. And his feeling was when enough people do that, the system begins to break. And that's how revolutions happen. They happen from the ground up. And actually, you know, there is a huge movement towards it, but I think what is missing from the revolution that we're campaigning for is the voice of young people. You know, if you look particularly this generation that's in school now, if you look at what they've done already and what they've achieved, you look at, you know, School Strike for Climate or March for Our Lives, or, you know, the Young Voices of Black Lives Matter, if young people were to look around and realize actually they don't put up with this, you know, and educate themselves in their rights, you know, the UN Declaration of Human Rights that education should be to the fulfillment of the whole individual. I think that's when the revolution happens myself. I think a lot of people of, you know, of our age and above and below buy into it and believe it because they've had their own experience with it. But we do a very good job of telling young people they don't have a voice and that they have to get through this and we terrify them. You know, if you don't do this, you'll never go to college, and you'll never get a job. And it's a lie, you know, because so many people do. They get the grades and they go to the top college and they graduate and where are the jobs? You know, it's not the golden ticket they expect, you know, to sweep them through to retirement anymore. It's just, even the lie is old and outdated.
Even the fact that most of the jobs that the people who are in school now will have do not actually exist.
Don't exist, yeah. And the time of most people choosing a career or vocation and doing it, you know, from the minute they leave school until the day they retire is also, you know, that's gone. People change jobs so often throughout their careers. Yeah. It's, it's time.
Well, speaking of... No, go ahead please.
Oh, I was just gonna say, I think that's one of the saddest thing. I mean, Dad passing away, would've been, you know, on a personal level, there was never a good time for that to happen, you know, and he was only 70, so it definitely was not a good time in a personal level. But from a wider level, the tragic thing about the timing of his death I think is that there has never been a more important time for this message. You know, he said that the more complex the challenges of the world become the more creative we need to be to face them. And they're so complex at the moment. You know, they're so complex at this point where we are, you know, with the pandemic and with everything else that's happened. And the pandemic is one, you know, it's a massive one, don't get me wrong, but there's all the issues that were there before the pandemic that need addressing as well, and all the new ones that are happening at the moment as well. It is time. You know, we have come as far as we possibly can as a species down this path. We can't keep doing what we've been doing forever. We'll break, the planet'll break. Both things are already breaking.
That's one of the things that I love about your book is it's a call to action to address these things. And you mentioned the book just briefly in a couple of points and I've cited it one time. I wanna just call it out explicitly. It's called "Imagine If: Creating a Future for Us All." Collaboration between Sir Ken Robinson, your father, and you, Kate. And it's extraordinary. And I love the package. You know, you open with the quote of, you know, sorry, this is, or normally when you write a letter, sorry, this is so long. If I had more time, I would've made it shorter. But it's just an absolutely beautiful and 100 pages it's so digestible. And it does such a great job of packaging these ideas that we speak about. And I'm wondering if you can take us through the process of actually creating the book, given that this podcast is about creativity and innovation, and, you know, maximizing human potential. You write, you know, the concept and the process of writing the book is very, very difficult. And I'm wondering if you can lay out the story and the timeline a little bit for us. You know, your father had a big, had a life of service, you know, was knighted by the Queen, had his Ted Talk, and, you know, wrote several books in the process. But at some point, you know, pick up the narrative where, you know, your father got sick. He had been, you know, there's all the books and you decided that you need to package all this up. So, walk us through the creative process for the book and a little bit about the timeline so we can put it in space.
Well, so the book... The idea for the book came from Dad's agent, a man called Peter Miller, who passed away in August of 2021. I'm fighting the urge that this book might be cursed. But he passed away in August of 2021. And it was his idea that, you know, that there's so much to Dad's work, but it's almost daunting. So, what we needed was a concise, you know, sort of almost for beginners book that was just an overview of everything that he believed. And so the original contract with Penguin, I think, was for 10,000 words. This book, as tiny as it is, is 25,000 words, so I upped it a bit. It was a joke though for years, a family joke that if Dad told you he couldn't meet you because he was working on the manifesto, we called it the manifesto for years. But if Dad said, you know, "I can't, I'm working on the manifesto," he was just blowing you off because (laughs) 'cause he wasn't. You know, the original contract, 'cause the deadline was 2017, I think. So, it was this big thing in his life, because I think that thing because it's so hard to be concise and what do you put in it and what do you leave out? What you leave out is almost more important than what you put in it because you then have to kind of address it somehow. So, it had been this big mammoth thing in our lives for a long time, this tiny little book. And he got sick. So, my parents moved. They were in LA for 20 years. I moved back to London in 2012. They moved back to England. They packed up the house, sold the house, and moved back in March 2020, two days before the pandemic, the lockdowns over here started. And then in April, Dad got sick. And he was supposed to get better. He spent a month in hospital, he had surgeries, and then it went from, "you'll be fine by Christmas," to "it's spread and there's nothing we can do." So, we had two and a half weeks from prognosis to him passing away. Just before I think, I think he was worried he wasn't gonna get as better as he had hoped, so he had asked me to help him write the book 'cause we'd been working together for years. And we were like, "Yeah, we'll write it when you're better." And then he wasn't gonna get better. So, we spent a lot of the two and a half weeks, I got married in that two and a half weeks, which is crazy, but it was our last, you know, our last happy day, which was nice. He got to be there and give me away. But we spent most of it talking about the book. And he'd done a talk in May of 2020 organized by Tim Schriver called the Call to Unite. And it was done kind of to keep morale up, I think as well. You know, in May 2020, we kind of thought maybe it'll be a few more weeks of the pandemic. Maybe, you know, we'll just, come on, we've come this far, it'll be over soon. But I think Dad poured his heart into it 'cause he knew he was sick when he did the Call to Unite. And so he essentially said to me, that's the manifesto, it's that talk. And it's actually, that talk is essentially from the factory to the farm chapter in the book. So, we had I'd say a week maybe where we worked on it and then he got too sick to carry on working, and he left me everything, you know, so I have, I have everything. He was a hoarder. I have everything. Like, his tax returns from the 70s, which were not relevant to the book. But I, you know, we have things like the notes from the Ted Talks. And so one of our objectives at the moment is we're building an archive, that's an aside. And it was kind of terrifying, you know, 'cause how, and I knew it would be because I knew how do you, on one hand it's fantastic that, you know, he lived and breathed his work. So, on one hand to have his work live on is a way of me keeping him alive. You know, and he was my hero. He was my, you know, is my hero. He was the best person I've ever met. So, to have that little bit of him still going is selfishly amazing. But then how do you make big decisions? Because what he had was an outline. So, how do you make big decisions about what goes into it and what doesn't? And he wanted it to be kind of almost like the Holstein Manifesto, you know, a one page thing. I think Penguin wanted it to be a longer book and felt like it should be, and I kind of, I agreed with them on that. So, the book's, the first thing I did was how do I marry these two visions, Dad's vision of this being a 10,000 page book and now he's died and so it has to be a bigger book. So, I came up with the idea of manifesto statements. So, every chapter starts with a statement, and the idea is if you pull those 10 statements, that's the manifesto at its core. Those 10 statements are Dad's life's work. And then each chapter goes into it. And I reread all of his books. I read the books that inspired him, in particular... Chase, I just lied to you. I didn't, I tried really hard to read the books that inspired him. It would've been great if I did, but they're really dense.
Yeah, oh, for sure. I dropped out of a PhD in philosophy because of the density, the density of the reading broke me.
I would have to, you read Kant for like, you read three pages and you're like I, I-
I have to go on vacation now.
Well, his favorite book to his credit was a book called "Philosophy in a New Key" by Susanne Langer and I'm still on page seven. 18 months later. I just, and the seven pages have been life changing. So, you know, imagine what the rest have in them. But what I got from that was he had such a skill of making difficult, big concepts seem so succinct and relatable and understandable. So, that was a big thing, how do you take these big issues and make them relatable? So, I tried to read "Philosophy in a New Key," and then I did read "Emotional Intelligence." And then he kind of took over in a way, you know, it was for three, it took three months to write it, and I locked myself away. And it was like hanging out with him for three months. You know, I got to get his voice in my head and try and put his voice into my voice and my voice into his voice 'cause the whole book's written as him.
What's, can we talk about that editorial choice for a second? The decision, yeah, the decision for you to write it but write it in his voice. I think that's fascinating.
It's his book. You know, it's his manifesto. It's his, you know, I've helped to write it, but it's his lifetime of work. And I think he was so affable. You know, he was so personable. I remember asking him what, I used to be terrified of public speaking and... Made no part better by the fact that my father is one of the world's best public speakers.
One of the best ever.
That doesn't help. That doesn't help stage fright.
No, no slides, no notes. Just strolling around making brilliant jokes.
Yeah. And tying everything up in a bow. Yeah, that's a terrifying legacy when you get asked to do public speaking. And I remember asking (laughs) I remember asking him once for some tips, and he said, "Just go out and speak to people. "You know, they're just people. "Go out and talk to them," which is so simple, but it's, you know, you try so hard to present to people and pretend you're, you know, he'd just go out there as a person to person, which I loved. It had to be his voice. It couldn't have been... You know, and it had to be, and he'd started it. You know, so I completed it in his voice, but it had to be his letter to humanity, his celebration of us and his kind of action points and call to action. You know, his last little gift.
Well, I have to confess that the structure is brilliant. The idea that these 10 lines can become a manifesto if it's extracted, and each of them is their own. So, I'd like to just read a couple of the-
Yeah, please do.
You said there's one statement for each chapter. The first one is the human advantage. And the statement is, "Imagination is what separates us "from the rest of life on earth. "It's through imagination that we create the worlds "in which we live. "We can also recreate them." Another one that I will extract is the one that you mentioned earlier, the chapter on rock and roll and it's titled Be the Change. And the statement is, "Rock and roll was not a government led initiative. "Revolutions do not wait for legislation. "They emerge from what people do at the ground level." So, you can imagine the power of each of those. And there's eight of them. I won't give them all away, you have to buy the book.
They sound great in your voice. I should have asked you to do the audio book. No, that's fantastic.
If you ever wanna, I did my own stuff for my last book, "Creative Calling."
You did the audiobook?
Yeah, I did this one.
Such a grueling process.
How long is the book?
It's 300 pages.
No, no, I did 100 and I-
70,000 words I think. 75,000 words.
How long did that take?
It was like 40 hours of reading.
Oh my goodness. You kinda go into the future as well, don't you? Like, that feeling, you know, when you look at a word and it loses all meaning? School is a good one. If you look at school long enough, the letters float away and it means nothing. And you've got 70,000 words.
I'm like, who wrote this sentence? You can't even, I can't speak it, let alone read it. I'm like, oh God, I got no one to blame.
No, and it's too late to make any changes at that point.
It is, it is. It was far too late. The creative process is, as you talk about, you know, the metaconcept here is not lost in anyone that we're talking about, you know, a book about creativity. And that was a little bit of a... It was difficult for me in the same regard to write a book on it. And to hear you talk about doing that and then trying to carry a legacy of your father, Sir Ken Robinson, and put your own experience in there, and, you know, make it, you know, a thought for the future coming from a different generation, I can only imagine how complex that must have been, and that you did it in just a few months is nothing short of incredible.
Thank you for putting the work in. It is absolutely beautiful and tidy. I wanna, one last area I want to explore. And the relationship between creativity as in art and creativity the capital C that under pins the solutions to every problem we will ever know whether, you know, humanitarian, economic, racial, anything, right? We're gonna have to have creative solutions. Is there a succinct package that you can hand us as listeners and watchers right now, a roadmap, if you will. Like, this is a call to action, but in a nutshell, tell us what to do. What is the action that you want us to take? Of course, we're gonna buy the book. We're gonna read it. But this is-
In less than 25,000 words. A more succinct package. I will try. (Kate laughs) I suppose, you know, it kind of goes back to your earlier point around, you know, are people opting to tune out, or the book makes the case that we are facing two very real crises. The first is the crisis of the earth's natural resources, and the second is a crisis of our human resources. And that we have to address both. You know, we're stripping the world of its, of what we need to survive, and we're stripping ourselves of what we need to survive. I think to answer this question by answering your other question as well... It's very easy a lot of the time to tune out, you know, and we do that, I'm guilty of that. We do that with the way that we view the world and the products we buy, the foods we eat. So, I suppose the package is to get involved. We make the case in the book that if you're a stakeholder in education and everybody's a stakeholder in education because even if you think, you know, I run businesses that have nothing to do with education, you're hiring people. Someone said to me the other day, a man called Paul Lindly said, "Society is what happens when children grow up," which is very succinct and exactly right. You know, so all of us in one way or another is invested in what happens behind the closed doors of a school. And it's to get involved, and the simplest thing to do is to commit to figuring out what your own diverse talent and passion is because, you know, our cultures depend on each of us figuring that out.
It's brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And go back to the, you know, one of your early points about if, you know, how much better the world will be when we can all do that. And I say, when intentionally, rather than if 'cause, you know, my belief is that that is, you know, that is our ultimate destination is where everyone's doing the things that make them come alive, and we find the flint underneath everyone's rocket. Let's speak for just a second to the people who haven't found that for themselves or who are searching or had it earlier in life but have lost it. Would you speak to them for a second and let them know?
Yes, it's daunting. And I kind of went through my own version of that, again, you know, the legacy of having a dad like Dad, you know, and being known for talking about the element. People are like, "What's your element? I don't know. (everyone laughs) It turns out it's this. It's writing. But I think there's... There are a few things to say to it. The first is... I think one of the reasons that people don't dedicate the time and energy and resource to figuring it out, you know, and I can't speak to everybody in all circumstances because there are people, you know, for whom this is much easier than it is for other people, but for people who have the access and the resources or an easier chance to but maybe don't dedicate the time to finding what it is that they're passionate about because the time it'll take. I think the best thing I ever heard is that the time will pass anyway, you know, so where do you wanna be four years down the line, you know? With any luck you'll still be here doing something, so make it be the thing that you want to do. I think another thing is that I'm not sure that everybody has one. You know, there can be lots of things that you find passion, and not everything has to be a multi-billion dollar industry or even a career. You know, you can be doing it in the side moments, in the evenings, in the weekends. And, you know, aside from everything else that you have to do, what are the things that you want to do? Because you, it sounds so cheesy to say it, but boy, have I been made acutely aware of it in the past two years, you really only have one shot at life. You know, my dad was dying, and I almost feel, this is gonna sound really weird, but I almost feel fortunate to have learnt about death from him because I feel like I learned about everything else from him, so in some kind of strange way, it made sense to be watching him die, and, you know, even the mechanics of it. But one of the most incredible things is that I'm not sure he had any regrets. You know, in 70 years he lived every single one of his 70 days or 70 years, every single day of his 70 years. And one of the reasons for that was that he had polio, and, you know, he grew up in poverty. He had polio. He got polio from the speech therapist 'cause he had such a bad speech impediment as a kid that he went to speech therapy where they think he got polio. So, to go from speech therapy at four to becoming one of the world's top speakers, you know, is just incredible. But people used to laugh, you know, in Liverpool, in the 50s at him walking with a, you know, proper calipers like Forrest Gump on, and people would laugh. And he learned to just keep walking. You know, he never crossed the road. He never turned around and went back. He said that he'd learnt never to walk away from anything that frightened him. And I think that's a secret. I think a lot of people maybe do know what their element is or what their passion is and they're terrified, you know, because what if it fails or what if it doesn't work out or what if it's, what if people laugh? And it's about not walking away from, even if you're terrified because you don't know what it is, it's about not walking away from what scares you because the time will pass anyway, and at some point your time will come and it's what have you done whilst you were here? The other really lovely quote, and I will butcher it, but it has been circulating since Dad passed away, that he said was, "What you do for yourself dies when you leave this world. "What you do for others lives on forever." And one of the best techniques I was taught by my parents when I was trying to figure out, I left school at 16 and a whole other story, but was if you don't know what you want to do for you, what are you gonna go and do for somebody else? You know, go and volunteer or spend your time trying make other people's life better if you're in a position to do so. And it's amazing how often that is someone's element, is helping other people. It's amazing how often it can be that simple.
Brilliant. Thank you so much for being on our show and sharing your life, your wisdom, the work that you've done in collaborating with your father. Kate Robinson in collaboration with Sir Ken Robinson. "Imagine If: Creating a Future for Us All." It's a brilliant, brilliant little package. Again, it's so hard to do all that work in such a small space, and you've done it so well. Thank you for being a guiding light. These principles have in large part guided my life, the company that we've created in Creative Live. So, largely the first online art school basically to help people.
It's been a treat to read this and thank you so much. We're huge fans of you and your father. You can be a guest anytime here on the show. And I look forward to our paths crossing at some point soon. And is there anywhere else you'd steer people aside from buying the book "Imagine If," is there anywhere you'd like to direct the attention of the folks listening or watching?
So, we have an annual festival that we started called "Imagine If" conveniently, that we started last year. Last year, it was kind of a celebration of the life and legacy of Dad. But now it's a celebration of human potential that happens every year. This year, it's March. So, it's all of March. But there's content all year round. And so I'd go to Imagine-If.com.
Imagine-If. And what is the format for that celebration?
Well, at the moment, it's digital because, well, because COVID. Because it has to be. So there's things happening. It's across platforms, and it's various different sessions of people, you know, kind of having conversations like this. And there are webinars and Zooms and all that fun 2022 stuff. It's at various points over the month. And then as I say, there's content that happens year round. And it's, we've got an incredible community of people who join and, you know, who are living and breathing all the things that we talk about or who are hoping to. So, I guess that's the other thing I'd say, if you're trying to figure out what this looks like for you, then get out there and meet other people who are doing it already. Put yourself in the world you want to be in.
In this case that's "Imagine If."
Thanks again, Kate. So grateful for your time, and on behalf of myself and Kate and to everybody out there in the world, we both bid you adieu. (upbeat music)