Sir Ken Robinson has a remarkably optimistic and inspiring view of humanity.  For Robinson—author of The Element , former professor of education and popular TED speaker— we are all brimming with the capacity to excel.  And in his recent presentation at the World Innovation Forum, he explained the profound impact leaders can have on unlocking these talents in others.

As a performer, Sir Ken Robinson seems more comedian than thinker.  “Ten years ago people didn’t Tweet, did they?”  He asked the crowd, pausing for effect. “If they did, they were discouraged.” 

He’s funny, but his ideas are better.

A man of poise (the cadence and distinction of his English accent help here), Robinson pushes a profoundly simple idea: We are all capable of much more than we imagine, but it takes those around us to release our potential.

That’s not to say Robinson’s words are all rosy. He cautions that we’re losing ground, losing talents and losing ideas.  He warns that the presumption that we must live linear and conforming lives is “suffocating our humanity”.  Rigid ideology pervades our education system, and produces robotic thinkers rather than creative minds.  And our encouragement that others do as they’re told, tow the company line and work the established curriculum has us squelching a vast storehouse of creative potential. 

“Part of the first role of a leader is to facilitate the creative abilities of every member of the team,” Robinson said.  We harbor a utility but need to be matched with a purpose, and that is where a good leader comes in. The role of the leader is to identify individuals’ purpose and liberate their skills, so they can find their passions, connect with their organizations and strive to deliver inspiring solutions.   

“The second role of the leader is to facilitate and form great creative teams. …If you want people to come up with ideas, you have to nurture them and give them the tools to do it.” This is the leader’s challenge for Robinson—to rouse employees through a supportive culture and watch them succeed.

Robinson’s hopefulness was palpable. After all, we are capable of great things when we turn our attention to inspiration and achievement as opposed to focusing on arbitrary rules and antiquated systems. (You should see his critique of the education system that has millions of views.)

And if Robinson’s own words don’t do it for you, perhaps the exchange he had with the Dalai Lama will: “To be born at all is a miracle.  So what are you going to do with your life?”

Dan Leidl is a managing partner of Meno Consulting and co-author of the forthcoming book Team Turnarounds , to be published in July of 2012 by Jossey-Bass. Email him with comments and ideas for future pieces, or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

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