The Element. How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything – Ken Robinson

The Element as described here is the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion. A kind of creative epiphany where doing what you truly love rubs sticks with what you have a natural ability to do.

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It argues that when someone hits this point, they are connecting with something fundamental to their sense of purpose and identity, a definition of who they really are and what they are meant to be doing with their lives.

That all has an air of ‘creative self help’ but Robinson uses stories from well known people such as Matt Groening, Mick Fleetwood, Meg Ryan, Paul McCartney and Richard Feynman, who would be considered at the top of their game, to ground it in some kind of reality. The theme amongst many of these stories is that they were in some way capable of recognising their own talents and work with those to become ‘elemental’ and ultimately the success that they are known for.

So why hasn’t everyone found their element then? Robinson suggests that we don’t really understand our own natural capacities to grow and change. We’re all born with imagination, intelligence, feeling, intuition and sensory awareness of which we only use a fraction. This lack of understanding being compounded by peer groups, culture and our own expectations of ourselves.

Throughout the book Robinson focuses heavily on education. There seems to be a thread of these highly creative people not doing too good through school and only discovering what they were able to do once they’d passed through the education system, or ‘recovered from their education’ as Robinson terms it.

Blaming education for sucking the creative out of people isn’t that much of a controversial view amongst creative thinkers and theorists (I subscribe to that for what it’s worth) but it is quite relevant here and a number of the stories bare out the link. You can find more by watching Robinsons Ted lecture on the subject here.

This book isn’t about finding the musician, cartoonist etc in each of us, or helping each of us find our ‘inner creative’ in the artistic sense. It’s about making you think about the distinctive talents and passions you have that could inspire you, and how understanding this can change everything.

He goes beyond finding this higher understanding of human ability and achievement through individual talent and passions in the Afterword – and I hope he writes a lot more on this – to suggest that as the world evolves, understanding our element will not only make us more fulfilled as individuals but the very future of our communities will depend upon it. The book is ‘a hymn to the breathtaking diversity of human talent and passion and to our extraordinary potential for growth and development’.

If you’re searching for that right thing, or find you’re often bored or just have that nagging feeling that there’s something missing – read this. It’s not a practical manual on self creative development – thankfully – but the stories will help you start to join the dots and think about connecting your own aptitudes and passions.

Title | The Element. How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
Authors | Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica
Publisher | Allen Lane
Publish Date | 2009
ISBN | 978-1-846-14196-6

Reviewer | Steven Bennett-Day

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Studio Culture: The secret life of the graphic design studio – Tony Brook & Adrian Shaughnessy

Designers are always musing the opening of their own studio, as the official description of this book suggests, it’s part of their DNA.


Rather than the usual focus on the studio’s output which is always well documented, this starts with the studio’s input, the people and their motivations.

In many cases the interviews do draw out some of the more interesting perspectives – you’ll certainly realise there’s no right path to running your own studio. From individual practitioners like James Goggin at Practise who began his studio straight out of graduation to Spiekermann’s Edenspiekermann with over 100 personnel – you’ll find approaches that will resonate or you’ll want to reject.

The myth that designers are ‘not very good at business’ isn’t completely shattered, but the cleverness, adaptability and perseverance that has led each of these 28 leading studios to where they are now is the strongest thread that comes through.

It’s clear the designers behind these studios are strong people. Some have weathered some pretty severe storms through a long career, and some are particularly driven by their vision and personal desire to create. Either way if you believe this is the path for you – be ready to have your mettle tested.

Studio Intelligence at the end of the book covers a list of stuff you might need to think about if you want to open your own studio. With all the world renowned experience covered this bit seemed a little thin, especially given the readership is probably well versed in what tools they may need. I’d suggest you can learn more about the intelligence by paying attention to the responses of questions such as “What is your attitude to growth?” and “Do you have a profit-share policy?”

One thing I enjoyed was the chance to peek into the physical space in which these studios operate. Ranging from parts of the family home to a detailed vision for a perfect studio with Spiekermann’s ‘Rundbuero’.

Overall, if you want to understand the drive, reasoning and stories behind well known studios, this book works, especially if you’re in that consideration cycle yourself. If however you want practical info on how because you’ve passed the point of thinking about it and know your own path you may need to get some good legal and financial support and step out.


As you would expect from anything created by these two authors and Spin, the design of the book is beautiful. A tactile cover, an unconventional dust jacket with lovely typography and layout throughout.

Title | Studio Culture: The secret life of the graphic design studio
Authors | Tony Brook & Adrian Shaughnessy
Publisher | Unit Editions (
Publish Date | 2009
ISBN | 978-0-9562071-0-4

Reviewer | Steven Bennett-Day

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Chief Culture Officer – Grant McCracken

The majority of large corporations are run by board members who are either from accountancy, economic and/or engineering backgrounds. Therefore western businesses like making rational decisions based on logic; understanding problems by analysing numbers, and generally using the attributes associated with the left hand side of the brain. These organisations are also sceptical about things which are difficult to measure or hard to quantify. Things like culture.


However, in Chief Culture Officer, Grant McCracken, argues that these are the very corporations that need to put cultural understanding at the heart of their senior management team.

An interesting and easy read, in the style of the popular economic books made famous by Malcolm Gladwell et al.  It is full of intriguing business stories that support McGracken’s theory that organisations need to be living, breathing corporations that are fully plugged into all aspects of culture.

Being a sucker for self-improvement books I loved the bonus section entitled A Tool Kit for the Rising CCO. A practical guide to improving cultural knowledge.

Overall the book is enjoyable, although whether or not that the CCO position will become a permanent fixture in all board rooms in the near future is debatable.  However it’s clear that those businesses that understand and anticipate cultural change will have a huge advantage over those that don’t take it seriously.

As with all successful business books these days, the brand is much bigger than just a mere book. Check out the website to find more about the author and the community he has created:

A very interesting business book, which at times is inspiring.

Title | Chief Culture Officer
Author | Grant McCracken
Publisher | Basic Books
Publish Date | 2009
ISBN | 978-0-465-01832-1

Reviewer | Sean Singleton

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The Laws of Simplicity – John Maeda

As the title suggests Maeda has taken a very practical look at simplicity producing a set of laws which you can view as a tool to understand what I’ve now really learned is the oddly complex subject of simplicity.


His intelligent observations on how we’re all drawn to clean, simple design, such as the iPod interface, and yet we still expect it to perform many complex functions forms the back bone to his laws. Namely the balancing of simplicity and complexity.

Simplicity has currency in the marketplace, as much now as it did when this was published in 2006. Perhaps being used a little too lazily to make complex decisions (I’m thinking of mobile phone tariffs here) appear to be simple. We like the thought of de-cluttering, it’s fashionable and attractive. Thankfully Maeda has avoided filling the book with re-purposed observations of brands and the case studies de jour, instead seeking to show you useful strategies of how needing less can lead to getting more.

One of the most immediately useful and powerful laws for a someone in a ‘creative’ position is the first one, Reduce. This is the notion of ‘improved’ not always meaning ‘more’ explored through a process of thoughtful reduction. He suggests a nemonic? device called SHE, Shrink, Hide, Embody where you lessen what you can, conceal everything else and embody a sense of quality through materials or messages.

My ‘ping’ moment was law ten – simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful. This was explained through a metaphor of rugby and champagne bubbles – the former alludes me but the latter I’m more comfortable with.

the laws of simplicity john maeda spreadThe book winds down by looking at the three keys – a cluster of technologies relevant to simplicity. The one that resonated most was ‘use less, gain more’ – illustrated by Maeda’s lovely story of “the businessman’s equivalent to playing chicken” where he chances how much life he can get out of his laptop on a trip by leaving his power cord at home – with urgency driving the creative spirit.

The final pages encourage a reflection on whether technology is shaping us more than the other way around so perhaps ignore the temptation to check your emails for a couple of hours and make time to read this.

If time is really precious read the first three laws then skip to ten.

Content is still infrequently added to:

It’s expected but nice to see the book itself fashioned with Maeda’s own art and symbols.

Title | The Laws of Simplicity (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life)
Author | John Maeda
Publisher | MIT Press
Publish Date | 2006
ISBN | 978-0-262-13472-9

Reviewer | Steven Bennett-Day

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Watching the English – Kate Fox

There’s a bit of a vogue at the moment for behavioural psychology in the advertising industry – which is no surprise, it’s a good thing. This book has been around for a while, but stands as brilliant insight into cultural anthropology.

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Anyone who works in a field that needs to get under the skin of people should view this as a must read, especially if you’re charged with understanding the quirks of the English. So if you’re a strategist, planner or creative in advertising, and you want to sell stuff to people in England this book gives you a very detailed short cut understanding into our nations ‘quirks’.

It’s beautifully written by Fox, a professional anthropologist, in a style that’s amusing, insightful and very down to earth. The way she details her research and anthropology in general makes it an easy read, but don’t let its un-academic tone allow you question the integrity, as she has a great ability to turn her very detailed research (and at some points you really can see how seriously she takes her research) into clever, witty prose about behaviour you will recognise as being very real.

If you’re someone who likes a bit of people watching, you’ll be surprised at how many times per page you will be nodding in recognition. If you have any interest in understanding the unwritten rules that determine our behaviours, and working in any creative industry you should, get a copy of this book. This is a much more interesting read that will give far more insight into how ‘social media’ works than you’ll find in any dedicated book on the subject.

There are no ‘standard’ case studies for you to paw over, it’s not that kind of book – but it’ll give you some decent hints on how to actually start thinking about how people engage with each other.

Title | Watching The English. The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour
Author | Kate Fox
Publisher | Hodder & Stoughton
Publish Date | 2004
ISBN | 978-0-340-81866-2

Reviewer | Steven Bennett-Day

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