Influence

With over 37 million views, Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk is one of the most watched videos in the TED library.

In his speech he makes an extremely moving case for building an education system that nurtures creativity and imagination.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Sir Ken to discuss how his beliefs can be applied to any business.

What I Learned

As Sir Ken entered the room his charming nature and witty humor helped calm my nerves. A man who has influenced millions had agreed to sit down with me for thirty minutes to share his knowledge.

Sir Ken helped me understand three main concepts that businesses can apply to create a culture of imagination and innovation.

Creativity is Putting Your Imagination to Work

I first sought out to find parallels between the lack of creativity in our education system and the lack of creativity in our enterprises.

Before providing specific examples, Sir Ken wanted me to truly understand his definition of creativity.“Creativity is putting your imagination to work,” he stated.

“You can think of it [creativity] as applied imagination.”

No matter how many times we host brainstorm meetings, creativity is not a part of our business culture until we act on our ideas. As business professionals we need to ask ourselves, are we able to generate ideas, create a vision and in the end add value to the company?


To help me better understand this concept Sir Ken said, “If companies are serious about innovation, they need to understand how innovation develops, they have to think practically about how creativity works, and they need to focus on the sort of innovations [their business] is interested in.”

After discussing the foundation of creativity in business, Sir Ken helped me understand how creativity can scale.

There is a Distinction Between Education and Training

While many organizations have research and development centers, how can this culture of creativity and innovation be scaled across the organization?

Sir Ken believes that education and training are the answer. But don’t make the mistake of using the two as synonyms. “There is an important difference between education and training,” he shared.

As he continued Sir Ken said that, “education is an organized process of learning.”

“Education is an organized process of learning.”

We has professionals learn in the workplace every day. We have the capacity to to retain information simply by interacting with our co-workers. However, we should not mistake these one-off interactions as education or training.

While education is the foundation, “Training is the application of ideas into particular skills,” he stated.

“Training is the application of ideas into particular skills”

To scale creativity within our businesses it is important for leaders to understand the skills, processes, and tactics involved in education and training. With an organized approach, businesses can instill creativity and innovation into their people through training.

Innovation is Not About Finding People that are Special

Building off our discussion about scaling education and training, Sir Ken shared one of the myths about innovation. The myth that creativity and innovative ideas only come from those people that are special. “Everybody has these capacities, but they have to be developed,” he said.

As professionals we need to encourage all our team members to be creative and bring ideas to the table. No matter if you are in leadership or an entry level role, your ideas can have an impact on the company.

“The good ideas come from surprising places”

Sir Ken shared that “The good ideas come from surprising places [within the organization].” However, “Part of this is giving people permission to have good ideas.”


If leaders are serious about building a culture of innovation, they cannot build creative departments and simply ask the rest of the organization to stand by.

“It has become common place to say it, [organizations] are very siloed,” he shared. As business leaders we need to encourage all members of the team to contribute to solving problems.

Our businesses will only grow if we are able to build bridges across disciplines and allow for creativity to thrive.

Tools Don’t Have Ideas

Organizations are beginning to purchase large pieces of technology to help them gain a competitive advantage. Tools that allow them to work more efficiently and accurately.

That being said, Sir Ken wanted me to understand that tools don’t have ideas. “If you give someone a guitar, there is no music in the guitar, music is within the musician,” he shared.

After sitting down with one of TED’s most prolific speakers, I began to see the building blocks for creating a culture of innovation.

How to Make Imagination Operational

As business leaders we need to truly understand creativity. It isn’t about buying new technology and building pockets of innovation. It is about making creativity a part of our culture.

Giving permission to all team members to provide ideas, organize formal education and training around idea development, and finally build multidisciplinary teams that allow our imaginations to run in the workplace.

That is how we will operationalize imagination, together.

Kyle Denhoff | @Denhoff_