Episode 6 - Sir Ken Robinson, Creativity and Innovation Expert
Sir Ken Robinson, Creativity and Innovation Expert
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Susan Bratton: Welcome to DishyMix, I’m your host Susan Bratton. On today’s show, you’re going to get to meet Sir Ken Robinson. Ken is a PhD and an expert in the area of creativity and innovation as well as leadership, three things that I absolutely love. I saw Ken at the Ted Show, he is an amazing speaker and the work that he does globally is interesting and will be applicable to you today.
On the show we are going to talk of course about creativity and innovation. We are going to talk about reorienting the national education system, one of Ken’s major platforms. He is going to tell us why we are out of our minds. We might talk about Tea [?] and Rock Stars and the Singaporean Government, and of course, we have to get to the bottom of what it’s like to be knighted. Perhaps, Sir Ken will give us some of his orator’s speaking tips.
Sir Ken Robinson: That’s my big concern, that education is meant among other things to develop people’s natural abilities, and I believe it really doesn’t do that. In many cases, it divorces people from their natural talent. To focus on them in the traditional school setting, very many brilliant people are weaned away from the very talents that excite them. I’m sure people listening to this have had these experiences, being pushed away from doing certain things like art or music, because there is a belief that these things aren’t very useful for getting a job.
It’s worth thinking about this, the kids starting school this year will be retiring roundabout 2070. I don’t know anybody who has got the faintest idea of what the world will look like in 2010, let alone 2070. If you want to boil it down in two minutes, it’s about two things. It’s about habits and habitats. I mean by habits, the routines that we follow during the course of our daily life, the more we do the same thing everyday, the more we think the same way.
The Blue Hawaii package gets you the Elvis impersonator, the use of the chapel, three songs, a Hula girl and smoke we were told, which is a puff of dry ice as you come in the room. I was saying, for another $100, we could have had a pink Cadillac.
Susan Bratton: Welcome Sir Ken.
Sir Ken Robinson: Thank you Susan, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Susan Bratton: Now Ken, you’re in LA today, calling in from your office in LA?
Sir Ken Robinson: I am, yes, in Santa Monica.
Susan Bratton: In Santa Monica, beautiful. Do you have a view of the ocean?
Sir Ken Robinson: I have a view of a blank wall at the moment, but I know the Ocean is not far if I need to go and see it.
Susan Bratton: I got it. So, Sir Ken, you have worked all over the world, you started out in the UK, worked a lot in Ireland, you’ve worked for governments, you’ve worked for international organizations, Fortune 500 companies. What you have always worked on is innovation and creativity and a lot around education. Can you just fill our listeners in on a little bit about who you are?
Sir Ken Robinson: Yes, well I am originally from Liverpool in England. I suppose my way into all of this was not really creativity generally, but the arts; and that was the area that always interested me. Particularly, the importance that the arts have for kids growing up and in education, and it developed from there really to a bigger interest in creativity and how that might be of importance in not just education, but in the cultural sector and the corporate sector. So, I suppose it has been a process of organic development, from one set of core interest into a much broader set of interest.
Susan Bratton: So, when I saw you speak at Ted, you were really focused on the fact that creativity has been leached from the educational process. Primarily based as I understood it on the industrial revolution and creating factories for the education of our children. You called for a change to that process. I would like to hear what your idea of how we should be educated. What is that?
Sir Ken Robinson: Well, education has to do several things. One is, to enable people to lead a life that has meaning and purpose and has some economic independence and to contribute to economic development. The other is to help to build communities, and to help to promote cultural understanding. I think that’s all fairly clear for education.
The problem is that we have in most of our countries, a very narrow form of education, and it’s getting narrower. That’s my big concern, that education is meant among other things to develop people’s natural abilities, and I believe it really doesn’t do that. In many cases, it divorces people from their natural talents.
Susan Bratton: So, instead of learning critical thinking and learning how to tap our native creativity, we are being forced to learn memorization and rote skills and heavy up on math and reading, and not enough in the arts. I think that’s your position, is that accurate?
Sir Ken Robinson: Well, I’d want to quantify that honestly, because this isn’t an argument against math or against science. I think math and science are tremendously important, and potentially tremendously courageous. It’s a twofold thing. One is the force of education reforms has been to narrow education, so it only focuses on certain sorts of disciplines including math and science. It doesn’t encourage them to be taught very courageously. So, the net effect is that some disciplines are pushed out completely, like the arts, and the ones that are left tend to be taught in a very narrow sort of a way.
For both reasons, I think we have to really think fundamentally about what we are doing in education, because these things are completely, in my view, against the interests of individuals and of countries.
Susan Bratton: How many children are in school in just the U.S. right now?
Sir Ken Robinson: I don’t know what the exact figure is.
Susan Bratton: Approximate.
Sir Ken Robinson: I can tell you for example, where I live now, LAUSD, the LA Unified School District, there are something like 800,000 kids in public schools just in this part of the country.
Susan Bratton: So, if I let you just take those 800,000 kids and completely change U.S. LAUSD, I think I got that right. What would Sir Ken Robinson’s school would be like? Take me to school, take our listeners to school.
Sir Ken Robinson: Okay, well, there would be some major differences. One is that the curriculum would be much more broadly based. You would certainly be doing science and math and technology, but you would be doing them in different ways. There would be much more emphasis on project work, on discovery, but you would also be doing art and music and dance and theatre. You’d be doing interdisciplinary sessions, where you would be learning math through theatre; you would be using math as a way of enhancing learning and dance for example. So, that would be a much more dynamic curriculum, much more broadly based.
Secondly, it would be much more tailored as you are getting older to your particular interest, because people have very different talents and abilities. I think they should be allowed to focus on them. In the traditional school setting, very many brilliant people are weaned away from the very talents that excite them. I’m sure people listening to this have had this experience of being pushed away from doing certain things like art or music, because there’s a belief that these things aren’t very useful for getting a job.
Susan Bratton: Right, you can’t earn a living as an artist. How many times have you heard that?
Sir Ken Robinson: That was true once, it’s not true now. It’s completely untrue as it turns out.
Susan Bratton: Right, especially with industrial design, and all the product innovation is now based on as much about its beauty as its functionality.
Sir Ken Robinson: Yes, and I would like to come back to that. So, that they’re a much broader curriculum, which would be much more interactive and dynamic. It would be much more tailored to the individual talents and interests of each pupil in the school. The other thing is, I wouldn’t have people divide it up the way they are now. One of the things that I find is always worth asking yourself, is what is it in any given system that seems obvious and that you take for granted? That’s often where the problem lies.
Susan Bratton: So, separating by age is your…
Sir Ken Robinson: Well, one of the big issues is exactly that in schools that we still think in education, that one of the most important things people have in common is how old they are. If I can say it, this is especially true in America. Some of you, the third graders are in every respect utterly different from fourth graders and from seventh graders. Well, I know seventh graders who would outperform people in the 12th grade according to what the task is. So, I think you’d see – in my ideal school, you would see much more inter-age learning, and not just across the conventional case of 12th grade. I would have more adults involved in education; I would have schools as adult learning centers.
The good news about all of this by the way is, it’s not a theory. You find schools like this all over the world, really good schools which are outperforming conventional schools in almost every way.
Susan Bratton: Are some of those schools things like Montessori and Waldorf, and some of the classic concept schools we have heard about or are they individual schools in unique pockets?
Sir Ken Robinson: Well, some are, some of the things I am talking about you’ll find in Waldorf and Montessori and Freinet [sp] schools certainly. There is a great program for example in Oklahoma and Arkansas called A+ schools, which is focused on whole school reform through integrating the curriculum much more and through a sustained process of professional development.
Multiple schemes where people are recognizing the need to think very differently about how people learn and what they have to learn. The problem, if I can just characterize it, is that most of our national systems of education, I don’t just mean in America, but worldwide. It’s worth remembering it, were invented pretty much in the 18th and 19th centuries to meet the needs of the industrial economy. In many ways, they’re based on the principal of industrialism.
Now, they are about a linear process of planning, it’s like a production line, it’s about conformity. It’s about educating people in batches. I’m always keen to say this that actually in some ways the industrial period got the balance better than we do now. If you look at the great moments in industrial development, it was a fusion of science and technology and design, much more so than it’s being encouraged in the current school system. Our school systems have become kind of impoverished as they have got older. So, I really plan to revitalize them.
Susan Bratton: So, I was thinking about, if that was the industrial revolution model, what is the model today? I was thinking about us being this globally interconnected knowledge economy. Is that what you think – I was kind of thinking about Alvin Toffler and the seventh wave and Future Shock and all those great predictions, he was so on it, it was beautiful work. I am thinking that, that’s kind of what informed what I consider our culture to be today. Am I on target, and what does the school look like now, if that’s true?
Sir Ken Robinson: Well, you are on target. I loved all of Alvin Toffler’s work in the 70’s and 80’s, his first great book was Future Shock. One of my great pleasures living in Los Angeles is, I have got to know and become a great friend of Alvin Toffler. He lives around the corner from me.
Susan Bratton: Nice, and he is on the speaker circuit too. I have always wanted an opportunity to hire him as a speaker, he is such a love, and his wife is Heidi, right, is that her name?
Sir Ken Robinson: Heidi, yes. They wrote most of their books together. In fact he wrote a new book recently called ‘Revolutionary Wealth’.
Susan Bratton: I haven’t read that.
Sir Ken Robinson: It’s a very good book. In fact I’ll put you in touch with him if you would like me to.
Susan Bratton: Beautiful, thank you.
Sir Ken Robinson: He is a great man. Yes, what it comes to is that, if you think of it. If anybody listening to this program has children of elementary school age, it’s worth thinking about this. The kids starting school this year will be retiring roundabout 2070. I don’t know anybody who has got the faintest idea of what the world will look like in 2010, let alone 2070. Now, when I was growing up as a kid in England in the 50’s and 60’s, the 1950’s not the 1850’s, there was a reasonable expectation of what your working life might be like. That’s why we had an education system that was shaped the way it was.
Susan Bratton: Predictable.
Sir Ken Robinson: Yes, roughly predictable. By the way, about 80% of people in the industrial economy were doing manual work.
Susan Bratton: Do you think that’s in retrospect that we think it was predictable and that they had no idea what the future would bring, just as we have no idea today?
Sir Ken Robinson: I think there was a reasonable expectation.
Susan Bratton: More so than today, you are saying.
Sir Ken Robinson: Yes, that the majority of people would be doing heavy manual work, the minority would be doing office type work. A few people would go off and do eccentric, creative jobs. A reasonable expectation is that if you got a job, you’d have it for as long as you needed it, if it was a professional job. For example, if you just look at the declining value of the university degree. In the 60s and the 70s, even into the 80s, a university degree was complete guarantee of a secure job, it isn’t now.
Kids are leaving college now, I think you are better off having a college degree, there is no question about it, but it doesn’t guarantee you a job for life at all. It’s not because degrees are any easier to get than these to be [xx], or they are not honestly, but what I do know is that more and more people have them, because of the massive expansion of education and of the knowledge economy. A figure I came across a while ago, as I was writing a piece about this in Britain, is that the combination of population growth and the changing nature of work, that then pushes as you say to a knowledge economy has massively expanded higher education around the planet.
So, in the next 30 years, more people will be going to university than the total number since the beginning of history. So, what’s the university is going to be worth when we have all got one?
Susan Bratton: Ultimately, it’s using the power of your full potential, whatever that is, right?
Sir Ken Robinson: I’m not trying to point Susan really. When people talk about getting back to basics, I just wish we would. Going back to basics to me means, recognizing that there is an economic revolution happening, and the only way we can contend with this is by having a much richer, and a much more accurate sense of human capacity, and we should be developing all of our talent. The good news is that we can do that, we know how to do that, and the best way to prepare our kids for the future is to have them firing on all cylinders. To really know what they are good at, and to be confident they can do that.
Susan Bratton: Well, moving from it, we have about two minutes till we go to commercial. Moving from the education system and working with our children to create and tap into their full potential, think about the people that we have listening to our show today. They are working, now they probably have children, but we are all still raising ourselves, right? No matter how old we are, we are still raising ourselves, and one of the things that I would really like to do in the next minute or so is, to get your advice about how we as individuals and as managers, and as leaders in business can further the creativity of ourselves and our peers, use imagination. What can we do to change our lives? We were raised in an industrial revolution school, so we are kind of tamped down. Help us, help us Sir Ken.
Sir Ken Robinson: Okay, well if you want to boil it down in two minutes, it’s about two things; it’s about habits and habitats. I mean by habit, the routines that we follow during the course of our daily life, the more we do the same thing everyday, the more we think the same way. So, one of the ways of unleashing your creative capacity is to do different things, stimulate your imagination, do things you wouldn’t normally do. If you never go to an Opera, go to one. If there are some books you have never read, go and read them. If there are people in your building you have never spoken to, go and speak to them. If you go the same way to work everyday, go some other way.
Open your mind to new possibilities and new experiences and do things you haven’t done before, because often, being creative is finding a new medium of expression for yourselves, and the people who achieve most I think have found their medium, they are in their element, and they love the thing they do. So, open yourself out to new experiences and question the things you take for granted, so change habits.
Secondly, it’s habitats. Really the environment we live in, the environments we work in, the way we configure the desks, the buildings, who we relate to, has a huge effect on how we think and how well we think. Redesigning your office space, redesigning the physical relationships between you and other people can have a huge liberating effect on your whole creative capacity.
Susan Bratton: So, you told me when we started the show that you were staring at a blank wall. How creative are you today?
Sir Ken Robinson: Well, I am staring at a blank wall so I can listen to you.
Susan Bratton: So, you are not moved by anything else, you are not trying to tap into your email while we are doing the interview, right?
Sir Ken Robinson: I refuse to do it. It’s also a blank wall on which we are planning to hang some pictures very soon, so I am also thinking about them.
Susan Bratton: Nice, what kind of pictures?
Sir Ken Robinson: Actually, they are some recent wedding pictures.
Susan Bratton: Okay, perfect. We are going to go for a break now, because I want to thank my sponsors. We have some new sponsors on the show, and I am so, so pleased to have their support, so I want to give them plenty of airtime. Soon as we come back, we will talk about those wedding pictures. This is your host Susan Bratton, and I am with Sir Ken Robinson and we will be right back.
Susan Bratton: We are back, it’s Susan. Thanks for staying tuned to Dishy Mix, and we have Sir Ken Robinson. He is an innovation and creativity expert, a fabulous international problem solver and wonderful speaker. At the break, he brought up the fact that he is hanging some wedding pictures. So, Sir Ken, tell us about those wedding pictures, because a little bird told me some news about you.
Sir Ken Robinson: Well, I am from Liverpool, and so is my wife, but we didn’t know each other when we both lived in Liverpool full time, but we have been together now for 30 years. At the end of January, we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, so we are trying to workout what to do. My wife is a major Elvis fan, and she had never been to Las Vegas, so we thought we’d go to Las Vegas, and we did and we got married again at the Elvis chapel. We took a whole crowd of people with us, she flew some of my family out from England, they were about 25 of us, and I highly recommend it by the way.
We had the Blue Hawaii Package. The Blue Hawaii package gets you the Elvis impersonator, the use of the chapel, three songs, a Hula girl and smoke we were told, which is a puff of dry ice as you come in the room. I was saying, for another $100, we could have had a pink Cadillac, but we thought that was a bit tacky honestly. We thought [laughter] how about we lower the tone?
Susan Bratton: Right, just a little over the edge.
Sir Ken Robinson: A great friend of ours, this guy named Nick Egan, who was closely involved with The Sex Pistols and Malcolm McLaren, and Vivienne Westwood. He is a brilliant designer, helped design the whole event for us and he has done some wonderful prints and collages of the whole occasion and of our lives together. So, that’s what’s going to go on the wall.
Susan Bratton: Well, that sounds absolutely lovely. If you ever post those to the website, you will have to let us know about that. I think you are working on a new website, aren’t you?
Sir Ken Robinson: We’ll have a new website up in about six week’s time and these pictures will be on it.
Susan Bratton: Oh fantastic! So, tell us what the URL is, because six weeks will go by like this, and we will be ready to see your site.
Sir Ken Robinson: Perhaps predictably, it’s www.sirkenrobinson.com
Susan Bratton: Okay, so it’s your existing site, you are just going to update it?
Sir Ken Robinson: We are going to completely redesign and re-launch it, yeah.
Susan Bratton: Oh good, very exciting. Well, we want to see the Elvis photos, so thank you for that. Well, let’s see, speaking of Liverpool and Elvis and all of those things, you have some pretty famous friends. You certainly have met and worked with Paul McCartney in one of his organizations. I think you have done some world speaking engagements with Mick Fleetwood. Tell us the most interesting things we’d like to know about that.
Sir Ken Robinson: Well, one of the things that interest me is; how many brilliant people didn’t come upon their brilliance till they discovered that particular talent. For example, Paul McCartney went to school, it’s called Liverpool Institute in Liverpool, and that’s now a school for the performing arts. He wasn’t particularly turned on or excited by school. He was telling me -- I was there recently for a degree ceremony -- that he couldn’t stand music at school, but then of course he discovered his own music and became Paul McCartney.
Mick Fleetwood was somebody who had a really bad time at school, I mean he was very popular, but he just could not get his head around a lot of the things that were asked of him. All he ever found himself doing was tapping on cushions, and his father had the great foresight to buy him a set of drums and to encourage him to do that, and he literally left home at the age of 16. They let him leave school; he went to London with a couple of drumsticks, and found his way into a band, and that was the beginning of Fleetwood Mac. I love all of that. People really only come into themselves, when they discover their element, the thing that really is a portal to their own central talent.
Susan Bratton: Is there any way that you have seen successfully, for people who maybe are in a position in their lives where they are not happy, and they know they are not fulfilling their life purpose, but they can’t figure out what it is that they are really good at. How do you get from point A to point B to really manifesting your unique capabilities?
Sir Ken Robinson: Well, I’m writing an entire book about this very thing.
Susan Bratton: Well, there you go.
Sir Ken Robinson: There will be details on the website. [Laughter]
Susan Bratton: So, what’s the book called, does it have a name yet?
Sir Ken Robinson: It does, it’s called ‘The Element.’
Susan Bratton: The Element, and is this about tapping into your true potential?
Sir Ken Robinson: It’s exactly that. It’s about how you find, discover and develop your own talent, and also how you do it for the people that you love and are close to.
Susan Bratton: Yes, like your children.
Sir Ken Robinson: Yes and how your children can do it for you too. One of the reasons -- when I work a lot with corporate organizations on innovation strategies, I work a lot with cultural organizations, that’s one of the reasons I came originally out to Los Angeles. Education is almost a huge influence for everybody, and parents of all sorts and in every part of the country want the same thing for their kids. Many of them are subjecting them to this very narrow form of education, because they think it’s the right thing. Very often, kids are giving us messages about this, they are unhappy, they are uncomfortable, they are turning up, but they are opting out eventually.
I wouldn’t say all of them, but many of them. It’s because increasingly formal sorts of education don’t connect with the way kids learn, how they think or who they really are. So, a big piece of this for me is giving people back to themselves, giving them access to their own talent. I am convinced, the more that people are so to speak in their element, the more successful they become, because it’s literally transformative to themselves and their own world. Mick Fleetwood transformed his world, and transformed the world by finding the thing he did best.
Susan Bratton: It’s interesting, I think you call it an element, I think about it as the essence of a person. That’s really what Dishy Mix is about. I want to get to not what you do for a living, but what your essence is, and who you really are, because if you’re in your essence, you’re truly authentic, and that’s what resonates with people. You and I are doing the same kinds of things, searching for essence and searching for what that just right feeling is for any individual. That is an unbelievably powerful thing that manifests itself in so many ways in your life, right?
Sir Ken Robinson: That’s right.
Susan Bratton: It really, really makes you happy. Well, you gave me a good Segway. You’ve written previously a book before this new one that’s coming out called, ‘Out of our Minds - Learning to be Creative.’ What would one learn if they read your book?
Sir Ken Robinson: Well, ‘Out of our Minds’ is really an attempt to set out in some detail the broad strokes of the conversation we have been having. It’s about education and about how we need to transform it in the organizations that we live in and we work in. So, it looks a bit at the origin of this, it looks at how the whole world is shifting on its axis particularly through the growth of new technology, and the huge rise in population around the world, and what we might do about it.
Now, I have called it ‘Out of our Minds’ for several reasons. One is, that I think that many people end up not feeling at home in their own talent, they don’t know what their talent is. So, anyway they are displaced from themselves, they are out of their minds in that sense. The second is, that most governments seem recklessly bent on making the situation worse with national reform programs. I think if we carry on doing that, we are literally out of our minds.
Susan Bratton: Well, you’ve recently, and maybe not so recently, you worked with the Singaporean government to help them actually become a creative hub in Asia. You were one of only four people they called in to do this, I think I read that right. What did you do and how did it work?
Sir Ken Robinson: Well, there are three of these initiatives that are probably relevant; one is, when in the UK I was essentially involved in a big program there. When Tony Blair was elected 10 years ago, he talked about making Britain a great hub in Europe. So, I was asked to put together a national commission and a national strategy, which we did. It was a fantastic process I believe, and we came up with a really good strategy called, ‘All our Futures.’
I was involved similarly in a process in Northern Ireland as part of the peace process; that was called ‘Unlocking Creativity.’ That involved working with politicians from all sides of the political divide and the religious divide in Northern Ireland. My relationship with Singapore was that they had determined a few years before to develop themselves as the creative hub of Southeast Asia. Their deputy prime minister put this forward as a plan; and they had created a strategy called Creative Singapore. So, as you said, I and three other people were brought out a couple of times to meet the key players there to look at the strategy. To look at the institutions there and to advice them on how they might move forward with it.
Susan Bratton: Did they act on it?
Sir Ken Robinson: Well, I wouldn’t like to say that people always do as I tell them to do, though I would like to think they do. I think they did, I thought they found the advice helpful and the strategies that we provided were useful. Of course, it’s a complex process. I’m actually doing something very similar just now in the state of Oklahoma. Oklahoma is I think a very interesting example of this; it’s just this year celebrating its centennial.
Susan Bratton: Oh yes, I have heard about that.
Sir Ken Robinson: So, it’s the first 100 years of its statehood. Of course, during the course of this year, they are celebrating all that they have done in the past 100 years. I gave a series of talks in Oklahoma a few years ago and it led to a series of conversations around the state, which has now resulted in the project I have helped them design called the ‘Greater Oklahoma Project.’ They want to restyle themselves as a state of creativity, and I find this really fascinating, because there were huge creative resources in Oklahoma, and they want to grow and develop them.
So, then the task is to develop a process to make that happen. To me, it’s exactly the same process, whether it’s you personally, your family, an organization or a state, and it’s this. I think it all comes to some conception of organic growth. When I spoke at Ted last year as you mentioned, Al Gore was speaking about the ideas that led to the movie, ‘Inconvenient Truth.’ Al Gore properly I think has pointed out the causes and the consequences of the climate crisis in the natural world. It’s an immense and I think potentially catastrophic challenge that we have to deal with.
I believe, if I had to characterize it, that there is an exactly parallel crisis in the field of human resources. I call it ‘The other Climate Crisis,’ and it has the same origins. I think that we have used a very partial set of our own natural resources; many of us don’t really know the full extent of what we are capable of doing. Education contributes a lot to that. We have taken small aspects of ability and we have enshrined them and promoted them, and often to the neglect of other things. We now need to resurrect them.
Now, my interest particularly is in the area of creativity, but one thing I have been talking about in Oklahoma, is that for it to be a state in history, it has to embrace the whole state and every sector, science, technology, the arts and so on. The thing is, if you are a leader, if you are running a state or a company, or a family or a school, you can’t make people develop, you can’t make them creative, you can’t make them find their talent. Any more than a farmer makes a plant grow. I mean a farmer or a gardener doesn’t make a plant grow, the plant grows itself.
You don’t stand around attaching petals and roots to this thing, it grows itself. What you do, if you’re any good, is your provide the ideal conditions for growth.
Susan Bratton: Right, you nurture the growth.
Sir Ken Robinson: The great conditions under which it will grow. We know that’s possible, because we know how easy it is to provide conditions under which things wilt and die. So, a part of this is climate change. It’s creating different social climates, different institutional climates, where people give it their best and become their best. So, to me the process is climate change, and that’s what we tried to argue for in Singapore, and in the UK, and in the Northern Ireland, and now in Oklahoma. It’s what I believe great leaders do; they understand the optimum conditions for growth.
Susan Bratton: Beautifully said, and I’m glad to see that you’re working all over the world, and at state and government levels, and I hope that you have tremendous impact. We have just a few remaining minutes to have a conversation, and of course everybody wants to know what it’s like to be knighted. You were knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Sir Ken Robinson: I was.
Susan Bratton: What was it, seven years ago? I didn’t know about that.
Sir Ken Robinson: No, it’s four.
Susan Bratton: Four years, just four years ago?
Sir Ken Robinson: Yes
Susan Bratton: Hot damn. So, tell us all what it was like, put us in that situation, how did you feel, were you nervous? Then, I want to know how your life changed, tell us the story.
Sir Ken Robinson: Well, firstly, it’s a great experience. It was unexpected and I knew a number of years ago that somebody had suggested or people had suggested this, but it’s a very long process. After somebody has been nominated, there is an internal processing in the government where they check out all nominations and see if this is a good case and so on and so forth, and then eventually a recommendation is made to the prime minister I understand, and then the prime minister makes a recommendation to the Queen, and the Queen makes a decision.
I was called by the British Councilor General in Los Angeles to say that the Queen wished to offer me a knighthood. I must say I was astonished and thrilled. It’s very funny actually, because he used a sentence I have never heard. He said, “I’m calling to say that Her Majesty wishes to appoint you as a Knight Bachelor.”
Susan Bratton: Oh, knight bachelor, okay.
Sir Ken Robinson: I didn’t know what that meant, I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “That the Queen is offering you a knighthood,” and he said, “Formally I’m asking, ringing to ask if you would accept.” I said, “You know, I think I will.”
Susan Bratton: Why yes!
Sir Ken Robinson: I think on balance, I think I will. Anyway, I went to the palace, I took my wife, my mother who was alive then, she died two years ago, she was a wonderful lady, and my wife’s first cousin who is really like a elder brother. It’s a wonderful ceremony; it’s like a grand commencement truthfully. There are about 300 people in the grand ballroom of Buckingham Palace, a military orchestra, and other people who were receiving other awards that day. There were three of us I think being knighted that day. The three of us who were being knighted were taken to a separate room and we were rehearsed, and told what would happen.
What happens is, that your name is called out; you cross the floor and face the Queen and bow. The Lord Chancellor hands her a word, and you are literally touched on the shoulders, and then she places a medal around your neck. Then we were told in the briefing that when you have received the accolade, which is the formal expression for it. We are told, Her Majesty will have a brief informal conversation with you. I thought, “Well, exactly how informal is this going to be?”
We are in Buckingham Palace with a military orchestra, we are facing a platform full of soldiers, beefeaters and officials and the Queen, and we are going to hangout for a bit. It seemed to be unlikely it would be a very casual conversation, but she was terrifically good I have to say and we spoke for several minutes, she asked me about my work, and I explained it to her. Then, I can just offer this as a tip, we were told that after a few minutes of conversations, where he said, “Her Majesty will give you a firm handshake to indicate that the conversation has ended,” and I can recommend this to you by the way. If you find yourself in a social situation where you want the conversation to end, give somebody a firm handshake and thank them, it works wonders.
Susan Bratton: Right, you are done.
Sir Ken Robinson: You are done. Anyway, I think she is an extraordinary woman, and so we have the handshake and the conversation, and then we went to The Ritz, my wife and my mother and a cousin, and met a whole group of friends for dinner and a party. It was a wonderful experience.
Susan Bratton: What was the necklacy thing that they put around you?
Sir Ken Robinson: It’s a medallion on a rather beautiful ribbon. I accepted really because it was for my work in the arts, and I worked in these fields for about 30 years now, and particularly in the field of community development and using the arts as forms of social change. It was never because I thought you’d get any acknowledgement for it. I just think it’s inherently important to do these things. So, it was a genuine privilege and an honor and I accepted it for my family and all the people I think I was representing in the work I have done.
Susan Bratton: How do you feel about being a sir now? Are you proud of it, or does it feel funny, or have you gotten used to it?
Sir Ken Robinson: Truthfully, I don’t think about it all the time anymore. There was a time when it was in Ireland, I thought about it a lot, because when the Councilor General spoke to me, he was asking if I would accept, and I said I would, and then he said the official announcement will be made in five week’s time on Her Majesty’s birthday. He said, “Until then, this has to be completely confidential, you can’t talk to anybody about it. Fortunately, my wife was in the room, so we could talk about it. So, we went through all kinds of emotions for five weeks, and then we were thrilled. Other people thought it was such a big thing, and I think it is truthfully.
But it’s like everything else, things settle down and I don’t insist on the title, but I do think it’s a privilege and an honor, so when I think about it, I’m very pleased about it.
Susan Bratton: I am too, and I can’t think of a more lovely human to have received it.
Sir Ken Robinson: Thank you.
Susan Bratton: It has been a privilege and an honor for you to share yourself with us today, thank you so much for that Sir Ken. We are going to check out your website, we can’t wait to see your remarriage pictures. Congratulations on being in love with your beautiful wife for so long.
Sir Ken Robinson: Well she is, and she is now Lady Robinson of course.
Susan Bratton: Oh gosh, of course. How delightful that is?
Sir Ken Robinson: It really was a joint effort and a joint achievement.
Susan Bratton: Oh absolutely, there is a lot of support that goes into that. That’s great. Well, I also encourage our listeners to see you in action on your video podcast or a vidcast on Ted.com. It’s absolutely wonderful, you gave a stunning performance. I ran out of time to ask you about your oration tips, but I want to leave on the high of your knighthood and your wife’s ladyship.
Sir Ken Robinson: Thank you so much.
Susan Bratton: Thank you Ken, it was great, have a great day, and to all of you who listened today, I hope you had a really fun time and I will look forward to sharing someone else fabulous with you next week. Have a great day.
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