Do You Have an Undiscovered Inner Genius? What I Learned From Sir Ken Robinson

Donald Miller

Last year I happened to run into Sir Ken Robinson in a bar in the Caribbean. I was speaking at a small conference, taking a break and suffering in the warm sun on a perfect beach (this rarely happens in my life. I live in Portland, Oregon remember. I deserved this) It began to rain and a few of us ran for shelter in the beach-side bar where I struck up a conversation with a fascinating, distinguished woman who lived in L.A. She was a novelists and was wrapping up another book and we talked about our writing process.

An hour or more later, her husband joined us and a couple hours after that I realized I was having drinks with Sir Ken Robinson and his wife, more proof that I am the Forest Gump of spiritual writers.

For those of you who don’t know who Ken Robinson is, he is attempting to reform the education system in the west. And he is as bright and witty in person as he is in his TED Talks (He’s the most watched TED speaker of all time) and has twice the charm. In fact, he’s so fascinated with people it was difficult to get him to stop asking me questions and to talk about his work.

Sir Robinson’s book is called The Element and it’s about finding your passion, finding that thing that fuels your creativity and drives your engagement. He believes our current education system was designed to produce workers for the industrial revolution and is ill equipped to help people find and cultivate their inner genius. He is well stocked with examples of dancers, painters, singers and novelists who nearly failed out of school and yet went on to create works of genius. He also believes most of us have a genius we haven’t discovered and may never discover without some help.

I knew even as we were talking I’d found my element in life. I like to write, make movies, and help people find their passions and organize their creative and personal lives.

Ken believes that each of us have an element, as in “she’s really in her element when she’s interacting with clients in the field” and when we find it, our work is fueled by our inner passion.

You can watch Ken’s TED Talk below, or pick up his book here (non-sponsored link.) I do hope you find your element. There’s nothing like waking up and doing what you love. It may take some sacrifice, but it’s worth it.

Some question that might help you discover your element are:

  1. What do you spend your time daydreaming about?
  2. What’s a project you’ve worked on in which you lost track of time because you were so consumed by the work?
  3. If money weren’t a hindrance, what work would you do?

Do you believe you have an inner genius? Do you believe the education you received helped you tap into that genius? What would it take to move you over to a field of work that would most align with your passions?

* If you’d like to join the thousands who are finding their passions in their work and lives, consider registering for a Storyline Conference today. To find out more, click here.

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.

  • ChrisBrown

    at 21 I was working 12+ hours a day running a $1.7m HVAC company. Middle of my 22nd year I had moved to Mammoth Lakes, CA to snowboard everyday. Yesterday was the best day of the season and day 83 for me. I’ve never been happier, I’ve never felt more alive, I’ve never connected to G-d so well, and I’ve never consistently scared the crap out of myself more often. Im going to Hawaii for the summer then likely back to Mammoth. I’m totally following my passion and loving it oh so much.

    • Judi

      Everybody likes to play. I’d be happy too if I didn’t have to work for my pay.

      • ChrisBrown

        I work for my pay. Im poor and happy and it’s glorious.

  • I like him- That is all!

    • I probably should elaborate a bit on that. I have a strange story that made me think very much of Ken Robinson.

      I teach in a University to make a little bit of money on the side while I am doing my PhD. This is biomedical sciences. There was a practical class with a histologist from the local hospital. A histologist is the person who looks at your tumour biopsy or whatever and tells the doctor if it’s cancerous. I never imagined Ken Robinson’s “element” would manifest itself so starkly. But this man just WAS a histologist. He weilded his knife with skill and precision; he spoke passionately about ovary cysts and the importance of the laboratory in patient care. The cornerstone role that the pathologist plays in diagnosis. I never imagined such a person existed; probably because I feel so out of my element in biomedical sciences.

      I’m sure Sir Ken would have told that story better. How apt that you of all people should have met him.

      PS. I’m currently learning a relatively minority language and appreciated the broad range of subtitle options. #studymaterial 🙂

  • Neill


    I think you’ve had enough experiences that it makes you the Forrest Gump of writers. No need to add the spiritual in there.

    Sir Ken is definitely awesome. I got to see him from far, far away during the National Family Literacy conference. I’m jealous that you got to pick his brain for an hour.

  • I love TED talks… This talk by Ken Robinson is one of the better ones I have seen. Thanks for sharing Donald.

  • I homeschool my kids, and I often get asked about the whys and hows of our “school.” The most telling question an adult asked me one time was, “So how are your kids ever gonna learn to sit in a chair for eight hours to do a job they don’t like?”

    • Haha that did not happen did it? funny

      • Fortunately, it was my hygienist and she had her hands in my mouth at the time, so I was not forced to come up with a reply. Which was good, as I had none. Pretty sure my eyes bugged out of my head, though. 🙂

        • Does she like being a hygienist..??

  • Ender

    I cannot thank you enough for posting this video.
    It relates to my life in so many ways.
    I wish I could meet him and talk to him! Or you, for that matter 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing this video and story. I had not heard of him, but I am headed to see more of his TED talks now…very inspirational!

  • “Do You Have an Undiscovered Inner Genius?” Why yes, yes I do… 😉

    I’m going to track down his book and watch a few of his TED’s.

    By the grace of God, I do get to do what I love each and every day. I teach 5th grade and coach middle and high school volleyball. It just doesn’t get better than that in my book. I love. LOVE. my job!

    On a side note – One of the reasons why I love traveling on my own is because some tremendous adventure always awaits that I’m not too distracted or over-planned to experience…love the story of meeting them in the Carribean.

  • I’m pretty sure about my passion. The trick is figuring out how to live it while supporting a family.

    • chris

      @Adam G .. i feel EXACTLY the same way… just dont know how to achieve it, while giving my family the life they deserve

  • Reading this post reminded me of my responsibility of recognizing that genius in others around me. I often think about how talented my friends are, but hardly ever take the time to encourage them to pursue their passion. I really need to step this up – thanks, Don!

  • What a wonderful way to meet Sir Ken Robinson! I’ve been a fan of his for a few years since I saw his first TED Talk. I love his wit. And ditto what shellybell says about traveling alone- I have met some of the most fascinating people while traveling alone.

  • Judi

    Sometimes a person’s “passion” is not the same as the thing they do to make money.
    And, shouldn’t our “passion” involve service to our world in some small way? If it doesn’t, then aren’t we being just a tad bit selfish?

    • Shelley

      In my lifetime, I’ve met a handful of people whom I would really call “Self-actualized” the old psych term for “living their passion.” Strangely, every single one of them were actually making a living doing what they were wired & inspired to do. I think talent finds a way and is received by a grateful world – however odd that may sound. And although they were paid for it – ALL of their careers were a tremendous service and blessing to others. AND, all of them at one point told me, “I LOVE what I do so much – I CANNOT believe I get paid to do this!” I find those common statements/experiences to be fascinating. I think they speak to your question. We were designed by a great God who created us to have passion and purpose!

    • Direct service is all we tend to think about: volunteer at a food bank, put clothes in the clothes drive, build a house for people in mexico. What about people who pour their lives into something excellent that we all benefit from? Amazing music that can inspire you when you are down, buildings full of artwork, the chef who cooks your anniversary dinner… Are those people just taking for themselves, or do you get something out of it? Methinks we are awful quick to call other people selfish when we benefit immensely from their work.

      • Shelley

        Excellent point, Michael! My grandfather was an Optometrist. He always told me that everyone, regardless of their occupation, can have a calling – a ministry in the service they provide. To him this meant doing something you love, with honesty, integrity and excellence. I still meet people today who miss my grandfather and say they wish they still had him as their Optometrist. He plainly WAS called to be an Optometrist!

  • When I am speaking publicly … I am on a natural high and I think to myself: THIS.IS.WHAT.I.WAS.MADE.TO.DO! and I’m so grateful!

    This also rings with something I wrote today about having enough (

  • Sir Ken Robinson is one of the top three people I’d love to have coffee with and you just bump into him.

  • I’m like the Forrest Gump of Digital Strategists. I end up learning from all sorts of strangers.

  • I first heard of Sir Ken Robinson in a class I took on creativity at university. I completely agree with him that we have a highly flawed educational system that only highlights and engages the genius of certain people.
    Thanks to a very caring and gifted English teacher in high school, I discovered that writing is my element, and that is what I want to do more than anything. Thanks for posting this and thanks for the great books! I hope to have a few of my own some day.

  • Awesome reminder and great post.